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Essay: Immaculate Conception

by Leisa Barnett on 9 September 2010

Writer Leisa Barnett explores the idea of pregnancy as the antithesis of fashion.

Writer Leisa Barnett explores the idea of pregnancy as the antithesis of fashion.

The female fashion body is immaculate. It was neither born, nor does it give birth. It is perfect in its otherness; it is supernatural.

Can it be a coincidence that the iconic pregnant shot is always a naked one? The Demi: straining belly, milk-heavy breasts shielded with a lioness’ forearm? When we conceive, incubate and give birth, we surrender our bodies to something ancient, to something damp, and wild, and unpredictable. This terrifying process is the antithesis of fashion.

The fashion body may be fat, or it may be hairy, or it may be missing a limb or an eye, but it is sterile. It is not spontaneously moved to vomit (although it may be induced to). It has been dictated, and it is complete: untouchable.

When Natalia Vodianova takes to the catwalk a mere matter of weeks post-partum, we do not marvel at her widened hips, or the fecund fleshiness of her stomach – we gasp at the magic ability of this fashion body to repair itself, to emerge from the trauma of spawning unscathed. 

'I shot the Marc Jacobs campaign with my belly out and everyone loved it and then, because I was so young, I just pinged back and actually I think my figure was better after I gave birth,' she has declared. 'We waited a few years before having Neva. When Viktor was born, I knew how to handle myself, and walked down the catwalk at the Louis Vuitton show weeks later.'

There is, of course, a rub. The fashion body wants to be fucked. It is a peacock body. That is how the cycle begins.

The pregnant body may be imposed upon a fashion context but it is not truly a fashion body, because it is being transformed – fundamentally, irrevocably – from the inside out and not from the outside in. It cannot be selfish and nor can it be allowed its own desires. Witness Jourdan Dunn at Gaultier, seven months gone, bump exaggerated by a padded corset with conical breast cups: a spectacle.

There is, of course, a rub. The fashion body wants to be fucked. It is a peacock body. That is how the cycle begins. 

I have never had a baby, but I lost one once and, let me tell you, putting on my mascara and heels saved me. Come at me with your pitchforks, but understand this: it was not vanity. It was merely a tripping of the circuit, a separation of my perfected self from the grotesque disaster of my biology. 

We bleed, but quietly, and in private, when the fashion has been pulled away.

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