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OPINION: Why do we still only find two types of female stomachs acceptable?

It's hard to miss all the photos and accompanying commentary of a beautiful, pregnant Rihanna in edgy maternity fashion choices. 

She looks stunning, and yet in a recent interview with People Magazine she spoke about how she is "enjoying not having to cover her tummy", adding, "If I feel a little chubby, it's like, whatever! It's a baby!" 

Chubby? 

If Rihanna is enjoying not covering her usual tummy because she is pregnant, what hope do the rest of us have? 

Watch: The most iconic celebrity pregnancy reveals. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

As much as her statement is troubling to someone 'normal' and non Rihanna-esque like me, I can relate to how she feels. 

I remember enjoying my smooth round bump during the late second and early third trimester, instead of my usual lumpy and very average tummy. 

While I mostly just wore stretchy tops and dresses that weren't close to Rihanna's high fashion looks during my pregnancy, I still enjoyed the freedom of not having to cover my stomach area for a change. 

I felt strangely liberated wearing a cute bikini on the beach while receiving compliments for my bump, rather than hiding that whole area in my usual one-piece swimsuit.

For a brief time, I had one of the two types of female stomachs that society 'allows' us to show off: the cute, neat and covetable baby bump.

This all changed when I got further into my pregnancy and my bump became less cute, more unwieldy, and uncomfortable. 

And there is no fashion magazine praise or Instagram photo carousels for having an enormous bump, angry red stretch marks, swollen ankles, or for looking 'pregnant from behind'. Just ask Kim Kardashian who copped horrendous abuse online for daring to look heavily pregnant.

Even worse than looking too pregnant however is the post birth tummy. 

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud, Mamamia’s podcast with what women are talking about this week. Post continues below.

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I remember speedily going from bump-hugging dresses to flowy tops that skimmed over my remaining soft tummy where my baby used to live. 

Celebrities often disappear from view altogether in this phase to focus on getting their 'pre-baby body back' and attempting to remove every trace of pregnancy as soon as possible. 

Like most non-celebrity women however, I couldn’t just disappear into my compound with the help of trainers, chefs, and night nannies to support me while I lost weight, so I stayed in my maternity jeans for months, trying not to feel bad about my failure to 'bounce back'.

Which brings me to the second type of female stomach we get to see celebrated repeatedly in magazines or on our social feeds - the super fit washboard stomach. Especially if it is owned by a woman over 40 - or even better, a woman over 50.

A recent case in point was the Vanity Fair cover photo of Nicole Kidman, 54, which displayed her incredible abs.

Nicole is a highly respected, award-winning actor, and she is also an ethereal, beautiful woman. The cover photo generated discussion because of Nicole's age, the overt photo-shopping, and the fact she wore a tiny Miu Miu 'school girl' outfit.

In the latest episode of No Filter, host Mia Freedman spoke to former Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Australia, Kirstie Clements, for her take on the photo with Kirstie saying that the tummy area is a particular trigger point for women. 

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"What is it about the midriff area? It wasn't her bosoms, it was her midriff that set off our hot buttons," Kirstie said.

Mia agreed, wondering if it is because for 'normal' women of a certain age and in particular, mothers, we cannot imagine having washboard abs like Nicole’s.

Listen: Mia chats to Kirstie Clements about what a woman over 40 is supposed to look like. Post continues below. 


I understand why we celebrate cute fashion-friendly pregnant bumps and fit washboard abs - they both look good. But why in 2022 do we still only find these two types of female tummies widely acceptable and covetable? 

Especially when we consider that even traditionally beautiful celebrities such as Rihanna are worried about covering their non-pregnant tummies in shame.

While some things have changed in terms of body diversity, thanks in part to the body positivity and acceptance movement on social media championed by women like Megan Jayne Crabbe and April Helene-Horton, mainstream media lags behind. 

Non-sculpted and non-pregnant tummies are rarely celebrated in the same way, and yet most women like me have stomachs that exist somewhere in between these two states for most of our lives. 

Even if we dabble with 'fit flat tums' at various periods, these phases are often short and hard to achieve, let alone maintain. And they get even harder once we get past 40. 

Since I last wore a proper bikini in 2017 when I was pregnant with my youngest son Leo, my tummy has sagged and no longer looks 'cute'. It seems crazy to me looking back now that my last moment of feeling liberated and free to show off my middle section was five years ago. 

I have spent too long feeling bad about my midriff and covering it up because it doesn't look like Nicole Kidman's. But then, does Nicole's stomach even look like the Vanity Fair Nicole Kidman's stomach most of the time? Probably not. 

So why does showing normal, squishy middle sections still seem so subversive and off-limits? 

I think it's time we saw more examples of different female stomachs of every phase and shape and we moved away from constantly fawning over just two. 

But we might need Rihanna's help.

If rather than disappear for a few months to re-emerge and 'show off her post baby abs', Rihanna continues to dress in high fashion threads while being photographed showing the post-pregnancy squishy phase of her tummy, then perhaps we can leave some tummy shame behind.

Somehow I doubt even Rihanna will manage that, but all hail Queen Riri if she does.

Feature Image: Getty/Vanity Fair.

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