The public fat-shaming of Kim Kardashian — always there, but certainly amped up now during her pregnancy — has been well-documented, but little has been said about what might be called the corresponding (and overwhelming) “pregnancy-fashion-shaming” that has risen up along with it.
Take this Go Fug Yourself slideshow, in which Fug Girl Jessica Morgan writes, “there is something about a pregnant woman in a tight jumpsuit that just makes me feel like I’m getting Too Much Information.” But why? Comments like these suggest a fashion policing that reflects an unease with pregnant bodies — particularly ones that are neither especially diminutive nor modestly covered.
It is perhaps natural (though not altogether inoffensive) that many have pointed to Kim K’s close-fitting dresses and tops and wondered how it’s possible that a pregnant woman can live in clothes like that, but much of the criticism goes beyond what The Cut’s Kat Stoeffel called (and admitted to participating in) that kind of curiosity-based “uncomfortable-shaming” and into nastier territory.
This type of judgment is magnified in Kardashian’s case (and admittedly wrapped up in a great number of other issues having to do with her as a public persona), but it’s a general trend that seems to be getting worse. New York magazine writer Jessica Pressler (and stylish pregnant person) wrote in an email to BuzzFeed, “Most women have always thought of pregnancy as the One Time in our entire lives that we are allowed to stop worrying about looking cute and thin, and you can see that kind of eroding. It’s not enough to create new life these days; you have to look great doing it as well.”
For the most part, celebrities that earn praise for their maternity wear fall in two camps: first, the ideal, the Kate Middleton mold, which is to remain impossibly thin, seemingly not pregnant at all, all while conservatively and “tastefully” dressed. And for those whose bodies do not remain dutifully thin while pregnant (this means stick arms and legs, with a cute little bump in the middle), the style frequently deemed most appropriate by fashion and gossip bloggers is to wear loose-fitting sweats and the odd blazer, like Jessica Simpson has done during her pregnancies. The common denominator in both options is the minimization of the woman’s pregnant stomach and her attendant curves.
To dress otherwise — to highlight one’s pregnant stomach, and one’s generally larger breasts, for example — seems to elicit a certain discomfort. It’s hard to imagine that that unease is separate from the fact that pregnancy is possibly the most prominent visual example of female sexuality there is. Being visibly pregnant is “sex personified,” Jane Marie, beauty expert, writer, and person who is currently pregnant, wrote in an email. “I’d always dreamed of being pregnant in a bikini, but in reality it’s almost … pornographic?” But for Jane Marie, this is something worth embracing — “I’m getting in touch with my inner fertility goddess,” she wrote.
During her pregnancy, Kim Kardashian has, as one would think was expected, continued to dress like Kim Kardashian, which is to say she is generally fashionable and tends to prefer form-fitting, occasionally painful-looking outfits. It’s fashion editors’ job to continue commenting on the fashion of pregnant women, and it’s not that they need delicate handling, as such: “Pregnancy is not a miracle,” said Jane Marie. “So I don’t think pregnant women deserve special treatment.” But still, surely, there must be a difference between calling to end all fashion critiques of famous pregnant women and insisting that such critiques be drained of fashion editors’ distate for the pregnant body itself. How much of the hate, in other words, comes from Kim dressing like Kim, and how much comes not from the outfit in question, but the amount of her pregnant body it highlights?
It seems, after all, that the way Kim dresses is challenging norms in some way. As Pressler said, “I’m grateful to Kim at least for taking away attention from [the Kate Middleton model] with her crazy outfits. Maybe that’s why she is doing it. Which makes her a hero.”
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