As I was bingeing Killing Eve the other week, it occurred to me that something far stranger than Jodie Comer cutting off willies had happened. Emerald Fennell (who took over from creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge to write Season Two) had stealthily introduced Jess, a highly experienced MI6 agent in Eve’s operation (played by Nina Sosanya). Jess is many things—smart, sardonic, impeccably-dressed. She is also pregnant.
It’s not earth-shattering that she’s pregnant. But what’s incredible is there’s no mention of Jess’s pregnancy whatsoever until episode four—when she travels to Amsterdam to investigate another gristly murder Villanelle has committed in Amsterdam. The pregnancy is almost suggested as a reason Jess shouldn’t go—until Eve checks herself, and they all shrug it off. It’s clever, full-frontal feminism. Jess, in that moment, arguably becomes the most transgressive character in Season Two.
“It’s only marginally better than shoving a pillow up your t-shirt”
Back out in the (sur)real world, it seems most of the maternity lines of major brands in Britain have been using regular models with fake bumps strapped on—generally made out of foam or padding in case you were wondering—instead of actual pregnant women. It’s only marginally better than shoving a pillow up your t-shirt, a simulation that totally ignores the very real physical changes a woman’s body goes through when there’s a baby growing inside her. In Killing Eve, actress Nina Sosanya is also not pregnant, but in the context of a fictional television series, that seems more acceptable: especially as we learn true facts about pregnancy thanks to Jess (such as the fact a growing foetus takes calcium from its mother’s teeth, the reason pregnant women are entitled to a full year of free NHS dental care).
This conversation started very recently: Love Island (whatever that is) fans spotted one former contestant Arabella Chi modelling maternity clothes for Asos. She was not pregnant. It sparked a whole campaign for honest maternity advertising, #PushItOut, lead by model and mother Louise Boyce, who joined forces with Joeli Brearley. They called out brands—Asos and Boohoo among them—who were guilty of presenting images of unrealistic bumps. Where are the cankles, the puffy cheeks and lips, the stretched buttocks and swollen thighs? There has been an outcry in the media from women who know that this is not what pregnancy looks like.
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Does my bump look real in this? The gorgeous model on the left is selling a maternity swimsuit wearing a fake foam bump – and that’s me actually pregnant on the right. These false representations do not embody the diversity of body shapes that are all natural when pregnant. Real bumps come in all different shapes and sizes and, rather than celebrating this, the retail sector seems to be ignorant to the pressures women feel to look a certain way while their bodies are undergoing an enormous physical transformation. I have spoken to many women who have found this shopping experience so unrelatable, that they’ve considered dieting while pregnant. For others, it has caused anxiety and depression. On top of this, pregnant models like me are out of a job the moment we start to grow a bump. I’m campaigning for brands that use fake bumps on their models to state this as a disclaimer on their websites and to include more pregnant women in their shoots. I feel there needs to be a change within the maternity fashion industry – if you agree, please sign the petition in my bio, share share and share some more. Expecting mothers should expect more 🤰🏼 #PushItOut #MamaStillGotIt #Maternity
Spuriously, brands suggested they didn’t want to use pregnant models over concerns for their well-being. “It’s not a disease,” as one model, Sylvia Flote, accurately put it in an interview with the BBC.
In my mind, prosthetic bumps aren’t only about continuing to convey unrealistic standards for women—even when their body is going through a complete Kafka-level metamorphosis. It’s also—as the response from brands disingenuously implies—about the way we treat pregnant bodies in society. Brands are trying to sell pregnant woman clothes for their fluctuating shapes, but they’re denying us the right to see and celebrate those miraculous transformations. Many women say they feel they’re most beautiful when pregnant. Pregnant women have been muses to artists for centuries. In contemporary culture, we seem to have gone backwards.
“Pregnant women can drive cars, do the shopping, even, as I remember my midwife telling me, go horse-riding”
For many of us, life begins in hospital. Pregnancy is medicalized, referred to as a “condition” and treated with trepidation. Some care and respect of the pregnant body is of course appreciated and, clearly, as Baby on Board badges prove, it’s needed. But pregnancy doesn’t stop you from doing things—just like being the “weaker” sex generally doesn’t. Pregnant women can drive cars, do the shopping, even, as I remember my midwife telling me, go horse-riding (I am not advising anything here). Women have run marathons while pregnant. Olympians have competed while pregnant. Serena Williams won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant.
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They say the last thing to grow on a fruit tree is the fruit 🍏🍋🍒I feel the roots of my fruit tree have been planted and they’re spreading 🌳 Thank you everyone who has supported, shared and spoken up about the #PushItOut campaign ‘Honesty in Maternity Advertising’. I’m so pleased I’ve raised awareness and made YOU feel better when shopping online for maternity🙌🏻. I’m excited to see what happens next – stay tuned and please share some more and sign the petition in my bio 👆🏻#MamaStillGotIt #Press @thebump
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer a pregnant lady your seat—but there’s a whole lot of ignorance about what pregnancy actually does to your body, and hiding the truth from consumers is not going to be an effective strategy for changing that. If in doubt, let the pregnant woman herself lead the way.
Boyce and Brearley’s campaigning has worked, to an extent—Asos will now put a disclaimer on their faked pregnancy pictures. “Great,” said one friend when I shared the news, “now they just need to add the disclaimer that says their ‘pregnancy shapewear’ is completely fucking unnecessary, and we’ll be cooking with gas!”