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Bizarre Intersection of Pregnancy, Sexualization, and Infantilization à la French Vogue

Ah, where to begin? The April issue of French Vogue features British model Lily Donaldson in a photo spread that nearly robs me of words. With a psuedo-pregnancy going on, Donaldson is shot smoking, tossing a baby doll, and engaging in other (not so) motherly behaviors, often appearing quite childlike in the doing.

That's right. Smoking is not good for baby. Is this shot supposed to be making a serious anti-smoking statement? I really don't get it. I love that Donaldson has a half-smoked cigarette in her right hand as well as her mouth...

 

Is it just me or is this the ultimate crossroads of sexualization and infantilization? She is clearly supposed to seem childlike AND sexy, which is just plain creepy. Plus there's the whole pregnancy factor to consider (and though it's really, REALLY hard to tell, I think she is supposed to be pregnant here).

 

What is this photo saying!? Looking sexy for the camera triumphs over catching baby? I don't know how to begin to analyze it. The following just may take the cake so far as eliciting dumbfoundedness.

Is this supposed to be some sort of reference to ejaculation a la Trojan (it may be hard to see here but there is a stream of 'milk' on her arm)? Astoundingly, that's the most logical answer I can come up with (no pun intended). The whole high-heeled domination of the rocking horse also makes me uncomfortable.

And once again, there's the pregnancy issue. It would be one thing if 'average-looking' women who were actually pregnant were used in a high fashion photo shoot (sans objectification, sexualization, infantilization, etcetera). However, an image of a 'pregnant' woman (who is thinner than most women who aren't pregnant) wearing dangerously high heels, playing with a baby doll, and looking hypersexualized is pretty unsettling.

What do you all think? What is this collection saying about motherhood? Pregnancy? Women? Beauty?

Jezebel has more.

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Comments

18 comments have been made. Post a comment.

A more positive take...

I think your criticism is valid (particularly on the point of infantilization), but I had a much more positive response when I saw this on Jezebel (might have been context - they viewed the shoot positively).

While fashion shoots in mainstream magazines are almost necessarily problematic, I thought this was an interesting deconstruction of our exaltation of motherhood and pregnancy. It's taking ideas about what is healthy and good for mothers and turning it on its head. It's allowing women to privilege their sexuality and freedom to smoke and be sexual and do drugs (the last image is a direct reference to shooting up, imo - an interesting intersection of motherhood and danger) over abstract ideas of motherhood.

The obvious fakeness of the babydoll and the belly is important. It's taking pregnancy and motherhood out of context and making it abstract. This is not a literal mother being irresponsible - it's a young woman, looking at motherhood flippantly, making it a more trivial choice when she is expected to take it Seriously and make it a Major Life Decision.

And I frankly don't see a problem with making pregnancy sexual. Why shouldn't it be? In a sexualized context, why is bringing pregnancy into it problematic? The issue for me is the overall infantilization and the hypersexualization (though I don't have a lot to say about that or the thinness - it's been said about Vogue shoots again and again, and you hit the nail on the head with infantilization).

I don't want to make the claim that this is feminist, but I like that it's critical of the role of motherhood and the expectations placed upon mothers and expectant mothers. It's interesting, and more than I would expect from a fashion magazine not named Bust.

I think I agree with your interpretation

When I was pregnant, I realized how controlling everyone is about the pregnant bodies of women. After doing much research on the safety risks (ridiculously low), I continued to eat soft cheeses, sushi, and lunch meats while pregnant. Several people acted as though I was practically beating my own stomach with a baseball bat, when in reality, anything bad happening to me or the baby based on these decisions was so unlikely as to make a five minute ride in the car seem horrifyingly dangerous by comparison. Doctors (and other women) don't act as though these minor things are decisions for which others can choose differently than they advise.

Also, I was disturbed by the small group of people I spoke wtih who made it clear that pregnancy is the opposite of sexual, despite the fact that it results from an expression of sexuality. It wasn't like they were saying, "I don't find pregnancy sexy." They were saying, "Motherhood is unattractive, and I can't imagine you could want sex when you have a curled up inside you."

While this spread obviously has some feminist issues, it does seem rather brilliant in certain senses. It makes one think differently about pregnancy, which is something that is difficult to do.

In reference to when she has

In reference to when she has the milk on her arm: some commentors at Jezebel say that that's what mothers do when they want to test the milk to see if it's too warm. Personally when I saw it, I didn't think "ejaculation" but "shooting up."

even from a non-feminist standpoint

...I am just totally annoyed by the irresponsible mixing of metaphors all up in this photoshoot

____________
Kjerstin Johnson, editor-in-chief
Did someone say "Comments Policy"?

so many things...

Some of the comments in Jezebel's blog note that these photos make a statement about motherhood that wouldn't be accepted in mainstream U.S. magazines - that motherhood and mothering are not familiar or comfortable roles for all women, that mothers do not necessarily fit the traditional "mother/saint" stereotype or the image that we have of mothers as being serene, comforting, quietly bonding with baby. While I think that Jezebel has a definite point about these often inaccurate images of motherhood in general, I do NOT think that these photos were intended to make that kind of insightful statement.

"High fashion" magazines simultaneously hypersexualize and infantilize women in all phases of womanhood and profit from it while disempowering and dismissing women through objectification. If women are infantile, child-like, or unintelligent/unlearned sex toys, then they have no voice and no power, and exist only for the pleasure of others. These images of an "unconventional" motherhood are not empowering for precisely those reasons. They create a scenario in which an immature girl is too young or inexperienced to act like a woman (not just a mother, but even as an adult woman), to be aware and in control of her own life and responsible for the basic safety of her (suggestively unwanted?) child, and NOT in a way that respectfully observes or makes a statement about teen and/or unwanted pregnancy and the sometimes tragic circumstances that surround those issues (social class, poverty, lack of education and/or opportunities, rape, incest). The photos glamourize what could be interpreted as undesirable circumstances for the sake of Vogue's profit. This makes them incredibly insensitive. And it seems that no matter how you interpret these photos - as a girl playing "mom" with her doll, as a young woman struggling with motherhood, as a young woman rejecting motherhood or the possibility of having children - the issues of sexualized infantilization and objectification are still there.

There is nothing wrong with portraying a pregnant woman as being sexual or as having interests that are considered contrary to motherhood (fashion, impractical but stylish shoes) or deeply human flaws (smoking, the allusion to drugs via "shooting up" with the baby bottle, reckless endangerment...? in the form of baby-tossing?). But the woman in the photos isn't only sexual, or somehow "unconventional" by expressing herself in her own or a reckless way. She is sexual and infantilized, and therein lies the problem. By infantilizing her, Vogue seemingly strips her of her ability to have made an informed choice as a mature woman about pregnancy, becoming a mother, or choosing to refrain from having children (and whether or not it wasn't or will not be her choice). Children/childish people do as other people tell them to do or are easily influenced by others, and not able or allowed to make independent choices about their bodies.

While mothers have every right to be recognized as imperfect human beings, I do take issue with the smoking and possible drug-taking reference. Even if this was some sort of statement about women having a choice and the right to freedom of expression, freedom of lifestyle, this is irresponsible. There are lots of ways to visually express that women are not exclusively made to be mothers, have different approaches to child-rearing, have a right to take birth control, have a right to be childless, are sexual and beautiful with or without children, and so on and so forth, without "mixing metaphors" as Johnson notes (comment above) and displaying a smoking pregnant woman.

They don't earn any points for portraying an unrealistically thin "pregnant" woman, either. "Beauty" magazine are about mainstream "beauty" and this photo shoot totally deprives pregnancy, motherhood, and womanhood of its real beauty - the curves, the fat, the stretch lines, and any semblance of the average woman's natural beauty or shape, pregnant or no. And I highly doubt that the photographer's intent was to choose an unnaturally thin woman to portray her acting "unnaturally" as an expectant mother. These pictures present a sterilized image of womanhood, and not in a positive "I chose to take birth control" way.

There are just so many things wrong here.

Exactly

couldn't have said it better myself

Take note: Opinions expressed are those of their respective authors, not necessarily those of Bitch. Dig?

Interesting

I find the sexualization of pregnant women portrayed in these photos interesting. I guess I haven't really thought about the issue considering I have never had children nor been very close with any pregnant women.

The issue I find with this spread is how the Vogue audience might receive it. I feel many Vogue readers could be young women or teens, and I'm afraid this photoshoot might send the wrong message. I would like to think many women are educated about how fashion can present unrealistic images, but I feel many young women and teens still might able to be influenced negatively by images such as these.

I am 16, I read UK Vogue and

I am 16, I read UK Vogue and occasionally French Vogue too when I'm in France.

Surely nobody would take this shoot seriously - yes a couple of the images are disturbing (such as her throwing the doll!) but when I saw these pics in the magazine, my first interpretation of it was a woman 'practicing' for motherhood - she herself is pregnant and is pretending to look after a doll. The baby is obviously not real. She looks childlike and innocent when she is playing with the doll and 'talking' to it, also when testing the temp. of the milk (I didn't see it as her taking drugs, rather a more maternal response), and domineering and dangerous when she is chucking the baby around.

Vogue likes to push boundaries, and I'm sure they were anticipating a response to this controversial shoot.
TBH the 'no smoking' one made me laugh out loud - she's holding two cigs at once!

i don't think this photo

i don't think this photo shoot is trying to make some kind of point or statement so much as bring up the problematic trend of babies as fashion accessories. you want to be photographed and loved by the fashion police there is no better way than to get yourself a "bump." it's one thing that will give you a pass -- for 5 or 6 months you'll be described as nothing but glowing and beautiful, until the last when you'll be "ready to blow".

and the bottle thing, to me, was more saying that motherhood becomes like a drug... perhaps, like a drug habit, it's glamorous but hidden. you don't want to see a mom testing the milk in the middle of the night, much as you don't want to see a heroin chic model actually shooting up -- but you want the outside appearance of that. and you want to imagine that these people look perfect and fabulous all the time, even when doing the drudgery, even though we know that's not true.

i agree

I took this more as a commentary on the celebrity parents who have turned their babies into marketable fashion accessories. The gossip magazines' obsessions over the "baby bump," celebrities demanding millions for photo shoots with their children, the ongoing battle to see who can name their child the weirdest thing. Especially when you have young women who made excellent tabloid fodder with their drug and alcohol induced antics (i'm thinking nicole ritchie or ashley simpson, or even angelina jolie when she first started adopting) who have babies and then are suddenly "transformed" showing off their swollen bellies and discussing the joys of breastfeeding.

In some ways, I think the pregnant belly as fashion accessory is a positive thing, women have every right to feel sexy and proud of their pregnant bodies. I think the intentions here were showing a mockery or commentary on the pregnancy/baby-mania that has seemed to taken over in the past few years.

i can't help wondering if

i can't help wondering if the creators of the spread thought it out nearly as much as the people commenting on it.

agreed

No, you're probably right about that. I doubt that they analyzed it very much, if at all.

That's part of the problem, in my opinion. These magazines really don't think about their impact on young women and the messages they send out. I know we can't expect them to be anything but capitalists in many senses, but there's nothing wrong with a little social responsibility, either.

There is some value in shock

Even if they hadn't analyzed the concept very much prior to creating this work, the spread would still be a reflection of their subconscious.

On the contrary, I think the shock value of this spread actually sets it apart from the regular drivel young women absorb from most glossies. This one actually makes the every woman sit up and wonder - what's the message here? Though I wouldn't go so far as to applaud it, the work has certainly has captured the attention of all of us here, and inspired this discussion hasn't it?

To me this seems like its

To me this seems like its mocking the celeb baby boom; these young women being dangerous, destructive, sexy (with the requisite youth aspect), and a mommy all at once... ? "The baby as an accessory", and so on.

britney comes to mind specifically....

no good vibe

I do not get a good vibe from these photos. I don't find them thought provoking or all that enjoyable. I think that if anyone wanted to make pregnancy more sexy, they should use someone who is actually pregnant behaving in a more maternal way - not smoking or throwing a baby doll around.

I like the idea that pregnancy and motherhood can be beautiful though because it is an idea that is sometimes overlooked in society. I think that it would be great to have a spread where pregnant women were depicted as glamerous. This just took it a little too far.

I think you need to chill

I think you need to chill out and find something else to do. It is REALLY not that big of a deal. It is obviously not condoning this bad behavior - duh, we all know it is bad.

Not to mention, it's FRENCH VOGUE. I don't think that most of the French citizens will over-react to some silly (and to be honest, not even that great) photo-shoot - not as we do here in the states.

It's nothing to up in a tiffy about. Get over it, and don't read French Vogue if you're so easily offended. Read Good Housekeeping. Or your own Vogue - but you'll probably find something wrong with those too.

Obviously they were trying to

Obviously they were trying to come across as edgy and transgressive, but instead it clearly is just a pathetic attention seeking stunt to sell a magazine and get talked about. To me the photo series is simply ridiculous and something not to be take seriously.

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