After love, then (maybe) marriage, but before the baby in the baby carriage, now there’s another step: the maternity photo shoot.
Celebs, of course, have been at it awhile. You can trace the trend all the way back to Demi Moore’s 1991 Vanity Fair Cover. Beyonce set the world on fire with her ethereal, fertility goddess inspired shoot, and just last week, Ciara revealed her own baby bump in photos for Harper’s Bazaar.
But now, thanks in part to these high-profile renderings, coupled with the aspirational exhibitionism of Instagram and Pinterest, every day women are becoming bolder about embracing their pregnant form through semi-nude maternity photo shoots — and they aren’t afraid to share the images with the world.
Tiffany Burke, a Seattle-based photographer, says that her clients have come a long way. When she first started doing maternity shoots seven years ago, “It used to be, the woman and her husband would show up in matching black polos and jeans,” she remembers.
Where before, “women weren’t entirely sure what they wanted, they just wanted the moment captured,” now they can find an entire community of inspiration on social media. “Clients can look at their friends’ images and say, ‘Oh, I want this,’” she explains. “Now, there’s definitely more of the flower crowns and the flowing dresses.”
A cursory search via hashtags like #maternityphotography, #boudoirmaternityphotos, #milkbathphotography, reveals a sisterhood of partially clothed, pregnant and empowered women. The aesthetic varies — from provocative bedroom shots of women in black lace lingerie, to dreamy takes of women clad in tulle gowns, smooth baby bump just protruding above the surface of a milky, flower strewn bath — but the overarching theme is the same: pride in the female form and in motherhood.
Burke, who photographs in all of the above styles, says for many of her clients, the shoots help them overcome body image issues.
“When we’re pregnant, oftentimes we are critical and cynical, ‘Oh, I’ve gotten so fat here, oh my body is changing there,’” says Burke, who at the time of this interview was eight months pregnant herself. “It’s a time to stop and say, ‘Hold on, your body is making a human. This is a really beautiful experience and let’s celebrate it.'”
That’s certainly what motivated Arielle Haspel. The 33-year-old founder of Be Well with Arielle says she decided to do a maternity shoot to both celebrate and remember her pregnancy. “It wasn’t easy for me to get pregnant, so when I did, I was grateful for it all. The morning sickness, my growing belly and my changing body,” she says.
After a friend posted a photo of her shoot with Manhattan-based photographer Rob Fitch, Haspel knew she wanted to have the same experience. Once she hit 37 weeks, she booked a session. “If I didn’t capture the beauty of the pregnancy, I knew I would regret it,” she says.
Fitch, who describes his aesthetic as “artistic silhouette maternity photography,” uses studio lighting to create a classic look. This results in angelic, understated shots that highlight the femininity of the pregnant form while preserving a hint of modesty.
When Crystal Streets, the owner of Crystal Streets Jewelry and a former celebrity fashion stylist (clients included Rihanna, Jay-Z, Mariah Carey) hit around 37 weeks, she decided to style her own maternity photo shoot with photographer Tatiana Teo. Streets poses in a sequined kimono revealing her baby bump, which she adorned with gold henna and a double beaded belly chain from her own collection. “I have a daughter who’s eight, and I didn’t get a chance to do a shoot when I was pregnant with her,” Streets explains. “This time around I just really wanted to stay present and enjoy my pregnancy.”
While the New York City based designer wanted to be sure the photos included her jewelry and “had my own stamp on it,” she says she mostly set out to capture the natural glow that she felt during her pregnancy. “It’s great to see that pregnant women are being embraced in a different way,” she says. “We finally have the opportunity to do what we want to do and express ourselves in any way we want.”
No matter what style you go for, practically speaking, if you want to show off your pregnant belly, you’re going to have to lose a layer. As Burke puts it, “It’s hard to see that in clothes.”