beauty

Two celebrities. Two pregnancies. Two very different photos.

At almost the same time, two models posted pictures of their pregnant bodies to Instagram.

One is Victoria’s Secret model Candice Swanepoel. The 27-year-old posted a black and white photo of her long, lean pregnancy figure to her nearly nine million Instagram followers. ‘My not so little boy,’ she wrote beneath the image, revealing the gender of her baby for the first time.

My Not so little boy ????????????

A photo posted by Candice Swanepoel (@angelcandices) on

The other is plus-size model Tess Holliday. Pregnant with her second child, the photo showcases her tattooed, size 26 body. The 30-year-old accompanied the image with her signature hashtag #effyourbeautystandards, and an impassioned response to anyone who questions her legitimacy as a model.

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The ‘naked pregnancy photo’ is not unique to international supermodels. Many women are in awe of their pregnancy bodies, and document their growing bump in photos. They don’t all share them with millions of Instagram followers – but some do. And that’s their choice.

What strikes me about these two images is the way they perfectly juxtapose the culturally ‘acceptable’ and the culturally ‘unacceptable’ or transgressive female body. And as a result, one is inherently political, while the other is not. One has to defend the display of her pregnant body, while the other does not.

Tess Holliday’s photo is from an interview with the Telegraph, where she’s dived into the significance of her modelling career for women of size. She says she’s tired of “getting told what curvy/fat/plus size girls are ‘allowed’ to wear…and hiding your body because society tells you to.” And clearly, her pregnancy photo is designed to deliver that message – that “big or small we all deserve to feel beautiful.”

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Because fat is a feminist issue, Tess inevitably cops backlash online whenever she shares images of her body. Her pregnancy photo attracted comments like, ‘You should be on my 3000 pound life it would be on National Geographic. TLC doesn’t have a documentary about whales,’ and ‘Why would you tag me in that you know I have nightmares lmao.’

Anonymous people on Instagram also seem to be concerned’ for Tess’ health. When one user posted a negative comment, and was challenged by another user, they responded, ‘I do it because I want other people to know that being 600 pounds isn’t okay.’ Similar conversations have also taken place in the media. Katie Hopkins has said women like Tess are “not beach body ready, but body bag ready,” and other public figures have called for a campaign featuring Tess Holliday to be ‘banned’, because it’s ‘irresponsible.’

But this is the exact sentiment Tess Holliday is fighting against. That bodies, particularly women’s bodies, are public property, and are open to judgement and ridicule. She doesn’t care that you don’t think being size 26 is okay. Because it’s her body.

As she eloquently told the Telegraph, “We should be able to exist in our bodies. I am technically healthy but my body is no more valid than someone’s who isn’t.”

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By contrast, Candice’s photo attracted a very different sentiment. Comments were typically along the lines of, ‘God she’s perfect,’ ‘Hottest pregnant women in history (sic),’ and ‘Hope I look like this when I’m pregnant.’

Candice would be no stranger to these types of comments about her appearance. Image via Instagram: Candice Swanepoel.

The most negative comments erred slightly on the side of skinny shaming, with statements like 'Her pregnant is literally me bloated,' and 'This will not be me.'

It should be acknowledged that many of the comments on Tess' post were positive. 'I think you are absolutely beautiful girl,' and 'Glowing and beautiful,' were typical of the online support Tess received from her followers.

But the comments on Candice's picture and Tess' picture were definitively different. Because their bodies have different cultural value.

One is questioned in the media about how she managed to become pregnant. When she has her baby, she can probably expect criticism about her parenting style, and claims that she is setting a bad example for her children. Every time she posts a picture of herself, or stars in a campaign, or fights for her right to be visible, she enters a war zone.

Watch fellow plus-size model Ashley Graham discuss body image. Post continues after video. 

The other is the embodiment of the tabloids' ideal 'celebrity pregnancy'. We'll admire her gorgeous bump as it grows further away from her small frame, and joke about how she legitimately looks like one of us after we've eaten a burger. She'll be interviewed about her tips for getting back in shape post-pregnancy, and we'll gawk when she returns to the catwalk or the front page not long after giving birth.

Of course, they'll both be criticised. Because no woman, large or small, can do pregnancy right. Or parenting right. But they'll be different types of criticisms, with differing levels of severity.

These are two pregnant women who occupy two different spaces in the pregnancy world. The cynic is us might be tempted to jump on Candice, and shame her for her 'perfect' pregnancy photo. 'She's reinforcing the thin ideal!' we might be compelled to yell. 'It makes other women feel bad about themselves!'

But the answer to equality and fairness when it comes to women's bodies is not skinny-shaming. Tearing more women down is not the answer.

Candice and Tess are both pregnant, and their pregnancy bodies are equally as awe-inspiring. But they're different.

As women, our strength relies on our differences. These two women don't have to be the same. But they do have to be seen as equals.