You’re pregnant – something which may not have happened easily for you. Your hormones are raging, the to-do list is growing longer and nothing fits you anymore. All of a sudden, you need a temporary new wardrobe to dress your beautifully growing bump, breasts and backside.
But shopping for maternity clothes online can be a minefield. On so many occasions, when they arrive, the clothes that you have ordered from reputable high street retailers are nothing like they seemed in the pictures.
A big part of the problem, I think, is that maternity brands from ASOS to Boohoo are using non-pregnant, ‘straight-size’ models to sell their pregnancy clothing, attaching fake foam bumps to their washboard stomachs in a move that would be comedy gold if it wasn’t so seriously affecting the mental health of actual expectant mothers.
These false representations do not embody the diversity of body shapes that are all natural when pregnant. I have spoken to women who have found this shopping experience so unrelatable, that they’ve considered dieting while pregnant. For others, it has caused anxiety and depression.
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 been a model for 23 years and, having endured and conquered an eating disorder in my late teenage years, I feel there needs to be a change within the maternity fashion industry. Perhaps the biggest irony is that, whenever I have been pregnant, I have been perceived as unfit or unsuitable for the expectations of a model on set – what if I gain weight on my face for example? I am currently expecting my third child and, when I told my followers on Instagram that I could no longer work as a model at 16 weeks pregnant, I received an overwhelming response.
A lot of other mothers follow me, and broadcasting this industry secret caused uproar. I received hundreds of messages from pregnant women thanking me making them realise that their bump was normal. A model contacted who told me that she modelled maternity clothes with a fake bump until she was actually pregnant, and then the brand replaced her with someone else wearing a foam bump!
The average woman in the UK wears a dress size 16, meaning that the average pregnant woman is a 16 with a bump on top, plus expanding breasts, bottom, arms and ankles. Yet the majority of images selling us clothes show a young, size 8 model wearing a fake bump and a padded bra. Of course, I don’t blame the models themselves because they are simply doing their jobs.
Yet on these models, the garments do not look like they actually will do on pregnant bodies in real life, and it’s the hormonal mothers-to-be that end up feeling despondent and dejected as a result of trying to dress their changing body shape.
As much as pregnancy is a miraculous blessing it can also be a roller coaster ride of anxiety-riddled hormones. We all know we will gain weight; fact. Pregnancy can be a confusing and stressful time, so the least we can do is give women a break from the constant expectation that they must look thin and toned to be considered acceptably beautiful.
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. Shoppers want transparency, and it’s important that the bodies of real women are well-represented across the retail sector – including in the selling of maternity products.
I’ve teamed up with the organisation ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’ on a new campaign to put an end to discrimination in the maternity fashion industry. “It’s frankly ridiculous that pregnant models can’t get work as a pregnant model,” says Joeli Brearley from Pregnant Then Screwed.
“It is discriminatory and it has a negative impact on a new mum’s body image. We demand transparency so that women can decide where they want to spend their cash – with the companies who value pregnant women and want to celebrate their changing bodies, or with the companies who think real pregnant bodies are not good enough for their clothes.”
We want to get this message across and have started a petition called ‘#PushItOut – ‘Honesty in Maternity Advertising’ that I’m hoping will raise more awareness and eventually make a difference to the images pregnant women are presented with.
I am currently 29 weeks pregnant and I look gloriously enormous, but I feel awkward as I’ve started shopping for swimwear for an upcoming summer holiday. Luckily for me, I have inside information and I know that these brands are using fake pregnant models. But I worry for the women out there who think these models are actually do represent what a ‘normal’ pregnant woman looks like, with their small pert breasts and tiny neat bumps? It’s time for expectant mothers to expect better.
Louise Boyce started this petition