My pregnant body: sexualisation and sanitisation

This is the third in a series of posts by Yasmin, a pregnant feminist who is sharing her experiences of pregnancy with us, in the hope that she is not alone in her thinking!

a naked, sexualised photo of Monica Belluci on a magazine coverAs I entered my second trimester, 3-6 months pregnant, I began to notice what seemed to be a leery quality in the gaze of a few men. It may seem odd to some to suggest that the pregnant body is in some ways hypersexualised. Or to others who are not feminist, that there should be a problem with being considered sexual when pregnant because, after all, you are fat and men/women can still find you attractive. The more noticeably pregnant I became, the more I could discern a look from many men that suggested the recognition that some man had “possessed” me; that I was concomitantly fertile yet safe ground.

Women, in particular, would begin to comment, publicly, on how my “boobs are so big”, how “great” it is, as though this is the primary bonus of the whole process. It may seem like I am moaning again, but I find the talk problematic because it reinscribes as acceptable the objectification of the female form. Pregnancy requires that breasts be recognised as part of the female anatomy that is not simply there for aesthetic or sexual purposes. They are preparing to become functional entities, yet even now, there is an emphasis from without to maintain them as purely sexual.

In my previous post I wrote about the pressure on women to retain a sexual allure during pregnancy and in some ways, this is intensified throughout this particular stage. The famous talk of the “glowing” mother-to-be may well be true for some; for others, however, it is another objectified status that women are supposed to happily strive for. In not attaining it, one is deemed to be less than.

One pregnant feminist friend relayed the following story. During an antenatal class with one of the UK’s leading charities in this area, couples were shown footage of mothers breastfeeding. One male participant chose at this point to ask why a more “attractive” woman could not have been shown. This was greeted with titters of nervous laughter.

It is paradoxical that this focus on and hypersexualisation of my pregnant chest will in a few months’ time become even more acute. The stress upon large naked breasts as primarily fit for pornographic content like page three and top shelf magazines will mean that I will feel uncomfortable when bearing them to feed my child.

I myself had a female colleague, during lunch in the staff room, ask me whether I planned to shave my vulva in time for the birth. I explained that at the moment, I cannot SEE my vulva and did not relish the thought of taking a razor to it blind, as it were. How odd it is that I am supposed to care about the aesthetic state of my vulva at a time when, because I am in agony, I will really not give a second thought to who sees it and in what state.

A beautician confirmed my fears, telling me that a number of women close to their due date visit her for a Brazilian wax. Odd, then, that it is at this particular juncture, when the female body is perceived to be truly “woman”, that the vulva is required to be taken back to its prepubescent form. To justify this, some women are fed dross telling them that it is for the benefit of the baby because a bald vulva will lessen the risk of eye and mouth infections that can be obtained by having pubic hair come into contact with these regions.

The “lovely” roundness of my belly and breasts, more importantly, detract from the more troubling conversations women could have about how difficult pregnancy can be on the female body. I should feel grateful and happy that I am now allowed to eat “whatever” I want and have a large chest to boot: clearly every woman’s hidden desire. Yet, when I say that there are many complications people are visibly uncomfortable. I am not supposed to talk of the piles, constipation, bloating, heartburn, back ache, nosebleeds, sensitive gums, varicose veins… this list is, sadly, not exhaustive.

The sexualisation therefore goes hand in hand with a sanitisation of what actually can and often does happen when women are pregnant. (I will, in my next blog, discuss this in further detail.) And, as is often the case, the women are presented the carrot of attractiveness to tempt our concentrations away from more pressing matters.

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