New feature: Images of pregnancy, representations of birth

// 5 August 2010

Pregnant celebrities post for photoshoots, we have childbirth-focused reality TV shows – but, argues Sara De Benedictis, only a sanatised, product-driven version of natality has gained the limelight

Once hidden and masked in the home, images of pregnant women now flourish in broader society, especially in celebrity magazines. Dressed up for the red carpet, dressed down for the nude photo shoot, caught unawares in candid camera shots and, of course, the postnatal weight loss article.

And the average woman’s experiences are receiving a heightened level of attention, with television programmes such as Channel 4’s One Born Every Minute claiming to place the (painful) ‘truth’ of natality on prime time television with unprecedented graphic depictions of childbirth. But before we crack open the celebratory champagne and clink our glasses to the final recognition of a role that has been historically and socially deemed inconsequential, and just something women ‘do’, these representations mask the social and cultural inconsistencies that continue to cause troublesome gender issues.

Stephanie Lawler points out in Women, Power and Resistance: An Introduction To Women’s Studies, that women have always been judged and measured in relation to their capacity (or not) to bear and raise children, whilst there are certainly physiological elements to this, the cultural meanings inscribed on pregnancy and motherhood change over time.

Pregnancy and childbirth have not always been so visible in society, as Imogen Tyler notes in her introduction to the birth issue of Feminist Review, natality was once viewed as a stoic experience and traditionally relegated to the home or hospital.

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