As anyone who has been pregnant will attest, there is nothing more comfortable than stripping down to the bare minimum and letting it all hang out. Waistbands irk. Elastic chafes. Why not be rid of them? For the sake of our friends, families and colleagues, we’d only ever acquiesce to this urge in the privacy of our own homes. Unless we are Rihanna. Rihanna does things differently. Rihanna shows up at a Paris fashion show in nothing but black innerwear and a nightie – every pregnant woman’s bedtime look, only in broad daylight in full view of the world.
Granted, the “nightie” was a custom-made sheer black babydoll by Dior, but in terms of the coverage it afforded her bump, it was right up there – or rather, down there – with Demi Moore’s famous Vanity Fair cover of 1991, in which the actress appeared naked, one arm strategically covering her breasts. By contrast, Rihanna used a black lace bra from her own Savage x Fenty lingerie collection, an item that neatly fulfilled the twin functions of nodding to propriety while usefully promoting her own brand.
From the moment she announced her pregnancy via a highly choreographed photo op that saw her naked bump peak insouciantly from beneath a pink vintage Chanel puffer coat and low-slung Balenciaga jeans as she walked through Harlem, New York with her rapper boyfriend A$AP Rocky, it was clear that Rihanna was never going to be seen dead in a maternity smock. Not for the 33-year-old billionaire a run round the nearest Zara for the first capacious maxi dress she can find: she’d rather reveal than conceal. Like Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Emily Ratajowski before her, Rihanna seems so at ease with her new shape that she doesn’t feel the need to modify her habitually provocative style of dressing at all.
For those of us whose pregnancy experience included swollen ankles, itchy skin and a hormonal maelstrom that left us convinced we looked like beached whales, Rihanna’s wardrobe choices might justifiably be hard to stomach, whether said stomachs are currently fecund with chocolate or child.
Perhaps it’s salutary to remember that, for centuries, women’s pregnancies were hidden, hushed up and even feared. From being a fate that women accepted and endured, pregnancy has rightfully become something to be celebrated: not an illness, not a cause to hide oneself away under a shroud, but a condition whose only constraints are the ones we impose upon ourselves. That Rihanna is imposing zero constraints on her own wardrobe is not something anyone else has the right to judge. To paraphrase the feminist mantra coined in the Seventies: her body, her choice.
It’s this ability to choose that is important, even if today’s myriad choices have complicated the sociocultural landscape surrounding pregnancy.
For centuries, pregnancy was all too often inflicted on women against their will, until birth control arrived in the Sixties. Now, medical advancements have allowed women to become pregnant in their 50s, while those who are unable to become pregnant have the options of conceiving via IVF or surrogate. While it might be a tad, um, laboured to argue that, in 2022, our pregnancy wardrobe choices are outward expressions of our medical choices, it can surely be argued that they are expressions of our confidence. This is a confidence more far-reaching and profound than any “body confidence”: it’s also a confidence in the process and in the medical advancements that allow women to conceive, carry and give birth to their baby safely, with a degree of certitude their ancestors were denied.
None of which will mollify the more self-effacing among us who will doubtlessly baulk at the idea that Rihanna’s proud display of her belly is merely the beginning of a process of commodification that will see her child become a brand extension of herself. Before it has even been born, pundits are conjecturing about the potential earning power of Rihanna’s baby. Even in gestation, when the bump was first revealed to the world draped in a string of pearls, internet searches for “pearl necklace” allegedly spiked by 237 per cent.
Whether you like or loathe Rihanna’s latest look, for most of us, it’s a case of “don’t try this at home”. But then, Rihanna is a one-off, a taboo-busting black woman who has made it to the top of a notoriously white industry on her own terms, netting a $1.7 billion fortune in the process. “When women get pregnant, society tends to make it feel like you hide, hide your sexy. I don’t believe in that s--”, she recently said. She was never going to play by any prescriptive “how to dress when you’re pregnant” rules. It’s so much more fun – and lucrative – to break them.
The Daily Telegraph