Women, as well as expectant mothers, are redefining preconceived notions on how they celebrate their bodies. Celebrities are helping in changing the status quo, too, thus, helping pregnant women across the continent embrace their changing bodies without losing sight of their individuality…
By Sybil Fekurumoh
Culture largely influences the behaviour of the people within African societies, especially women. There are preconceived ideas about how women should present themselves during the gestation period and even after childbirth. Even as pregnancy and childbirth are events that are celebrated with utmost sacredness, as an integral part of the life cycle, many African societies mostly acknowledge the pregnancy period while holding on to certain beliefs that, for the safety of mother and child, pregnancy should be concealed or hidden.
For several reasons, the reason for concealment is rooted in superstitions. For example, women in African societies would want to hide their pregnancies for as long as possible for fear of being harmed by “evil eyes” or that enemies would bewitch or cast a spell on them. In several Nigerian cultures, such as with the Yoruba ethnic group, pregnant women wear pins on their clothes or other protective bands as they believe that it would ward off evil spirits and make charms set for them ineffective. There are also other myths like avoiding collecting gifts from others before the child is born, or not allowing anyone to touch the expectant mother’s growing stomach. Some also believe that celebrating a child before birth may jinx the pregnancy, thereby leading to a miscarriage.
For others like working-class women, the concern is that pregnancy and childbirth would make women less productive. There is also the assumed impending risk to some organisations should women give birth and go on maternity leave. Thus, many women would have to hide their pregnancy for as long as possible for fear of losing their jobs. Then, there is the conservative and modest status placed around women’s bodies — pregnancy or not – that is influenced by both culture and religion: that pregnant women and mothers should automatically assume a motherly disposition as a caregiver and a nurturer, sometimes losing their sexuality or individual selves in the process.
But these are fast changing. Women, as well as expectant mothers, are redefining preconceived notions on how they celebrate their bodies. Celebrities are helping in changing the status quo, too, thus, helping pregnant women across the continent embrace their changing bodies without losing sight of their individuality. From baby bumps reveal and photoshoots, organising baby showers, to completely ditching the mundane and unflattering maternity wears, women are now showing pregnancy with a glamorous flair, rather than with a clandestine or lacklustre disposition.
In the past, say twenty to thirty years ago, it would have been unheard of for African women to boldly display their baby bumps in photographs or videos and announce for the world to see. Now expectant mothers are welcoming to the idea of photographing their pregnant bodies as a way of immortalising the experience and sharing the moment with others. The pregnancy photoshoot is now considered part of the journey to parenthood that should be documented. Among many modern women, especially celebrities, the big reveal of the baby bump is anticipated, and snippets and videos of the pregnancy journey are shared on the Internet. Sometimes, many become viral trends.
An example is the “Duduke Challenge” popularised by the Nigerian musician, Simi, in 2020 which had many pregnant women making videos of themselves dancing and showing off their protruding bellies.
Women are also now embracing outfits that boldly reveal, rather than conceal their pregnancy. Many are now shedding off clothes that fall into the stereotype of maternity garbs, doing away with the expected flowing maternity gowns, and picking up tight-fitting bodices, crop tops, shorts, etc. Nigerian musician, Sheyi Shay, reinvented maternity outfits in her style, wearing a crop top and a pair of jogging trousers to the O2 Arena, showing off the bump in a see-through dress in a music video, or posing in nothing but a sequence robe for the cover of Blanck Magazine.
American singer, Beyoncé, has also taken up the unconventional style of flaunting her baby bumps. She made bump reveals on her announcement of her twin babies, Sir and Rumi, where she wore a veil, brassieres, and underwear. The photoshoot made a political statement.
Perhaps the most radical that has been referenced lately in pregnancy fashion is superstar, Rihanna, who made very bold statements about her pregnancy by wearing sheer dresses and crop tops, ultimately showing off her swollen belly.
Some may argue that embracing a new style ignores the realities, changes, and challenges that come with pregnancy. Sure, there are unexpected changes and complete transformation that occurs during this period.
But, surely, these changes are not all there is to be pregnant. That pregnancy can completely alter a woman’s appearance and cause changes in her doesn’t make it less of an occasion to be celebrated. While some others may argue that dressing in revealing clothes is indecent or there is a need to tone down a particular style, the ultimate decision as to indecency during pregnancy falls on the expectant mother. Choosing to reveal a pregnancy to the world should be viewed the same way as sharing the good news of a new job, marriage, car, etc.
However, it is difficult to shake away outright superstition, culture, and religious beliefs overnight. For example, still, some women may choose to do a baby bump photoshoot, but only share the photographs when the baby arrives. But it is necessary still to break the stigma surrounding women’s bodies and give women more autonomy over their bodies. In the words of Anne Christian Buchanan, “To be pregnant is to be vitally alive, thoroughly woman, and distressingly inhabited. Soul and spirit are stretched — along with body — making pregnancy a time of transition, growth, and profound beginnings.” By all means, pregnancy should be celebrated.
Sybil Fekurumoh is a creative writer. While she isn’t studying, she’s actively promoting SDG-4s — Quality Education. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @toqueensaber.