Why Does Pregnancy Make Us Feel It's OK to Be Photographed Naked?

With Child Book CoverI absolutely love the work of primo photographer Howard Schatz, especially his latest book, WITH Child. This is no collection of gauzy, coy belly-shots; Schatz looks at the pregnant form head-on, celebrating the way women’s bodies are completely transformed by pregnancy. It’s astounding. I love it. I’m sick with regret that I didn’t run across Schatz while he was shooting for this book.

So I was happy to hear he’d be on my local NPR radio station. I even called in to talk to him about being photographed nude and pregnant myself. What happened next, though, made my skin crawl.

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Schatz himself is totally cool. He really sees the pregnant female form as a work of art, and understands that this brief, fleeting moment in our lives is precious and worthy of as much celebration as we can muster.

He says, “Many women talk about [how] they would never pose without their clothes, but that this was a temporary moment in their life and, in a way, it was an out-of-body experience that wasn’t even them.” Pregnancy gives us permission to celebrate ourselves, because it’s not just us, it’s a funny group photo of us and our growing babies.

I totally get it. I mean, I’m a total exhibitionist anyway -- I dated a photographer for eight years, and he worked for some naughty magazines, so naturally I documented my much-younger, much-svelter form. Why not? I’m not running for office.

And when my body changed with pregnancy, I thought it was the greatest thing ever. The more I expanded, the closer I came to meeting my baby, and the more celebration and attention I got. (Middle child. Classic.) I celebrated my shifting form, grateful to be free, temporarily, from the feeling that any increase in my size was a betrayal, a horror, or a source of shame.

Of course I got my friend Cindy Chen to take belly shots, which started out wholesome, then got progressively sillier as we locked ourselves in my bedroom and, giggling, experimented with scarves, hats, and stuffed animals. My stepson was scandalized: “You were naked?” he asked, accusingly. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “You’re never gonna have to see those, believe me.”

I wanted to share this amazing feeling of liberation with the photographer and the radio-show host, so I dialed in to the radio station. Hey, I’m home with the kids all day, it gets a little lonely! This is my version of chatting by the water-cooler!

You can hear for yourself what happened on KQED’s website; I come on around 10:20. But basically, I describe being photographed nude, and how I did find it fun and liberating, but didn’t know what to do with the pinup-style “cheesecake” photos.

Radio host: “Larry Flynt might be interested, you never know.”
Me: “Eww! You took it there!”

He goes on to say that, of course, he’s joking, but continues by asking what Schatz thinks about the pregnant form as eroticism. To his credit, Schatz sidesteps the question by saying, “Well, we’re all different.” I had a day-long bout of heebie-jeebies.

As I ran into friends who had heard the show, opinions varied widely. Susi insisted that the host had only brought up Larry Flynt because they had just been talking about the Folsom Street Fair, a crazy slice of Sodom and Gomorrah that takes over one end of San Francisco each year, and it wasn’t such a crazy connection to make. Elizabeth, on the other hand, wanted to run circles around me with a burning sage-stick as a purification ritual.

Do you think this was a weird direction? Or was it no big deal, and if I’m going to talk about being photographed nude, pregnant or not, that’s just part of the package?

Did you do nudie pictures when pregnant? What were they like?


Image via Amazon

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