The true and messy portrayal of childbirth is, even in 2018, something radical.
Search #givingbirth on Instagram and you will find images of exhausted mothers, babies to their chest, peaceful, relieved and, more than anything, clean. There are few shots of women in labour and in pain. There is no blood. Sweat is difficult to see with the often-used black-and-white filter. And the baby is always washed.
The picture-perfect trend means the post-birth Instagram picture has never been so popular. It’s become an everyday part of the birthing ritual and, with its rise, the habit of upping appearances has also emerged.
Namely: More and more women are wearing makeup to give birth in a bid to enhance that ‘first family photo’.
Recently a mum-to-be posted on the Netmums’ parenting forum sharing her childbirth makeover plans. She wished to have her hair styled before labour; give herself a fake tan the day before she was due to be induced; and deliver her child with a full face of makeup.
“A few of my family members think I’m absolutely mad for wanting my makeup, tan, lashes and hair done for giving birth,” the forum user Tami wrote, News Corp reports.
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Other advice columns tout eyelash extensions as a ‘must have’ for childbirth. “The thing that’s going to be seen in all your pictures is your face. This is why you should get eyelash extensions,” television and radio host Faith Salie wrote in 2012 for the Huffpost.
The Bump’s forum ‘Getting Glam for the Delivery Room’ is filled with anecdotes from new mothers who swear by doing just that.
“I waxed, gave myself a pedicure and dyed my hair and got it trimmed before the birth,” one woman told the website.
“I’m so glad I did my hair and makeup and wore some bling. I got so many compliments from people saying that I looked good and that my makeup looked professionally done. It made me feel better, even though I really felt terrible!” another said.
In 2015, a hairstylist told Today he and his team in New York City frequently receive calls from women hoping to have their hair blown out immediately after childbirth before any photographs are taken. “We always see that one picture where the mother is in bed holding the baby,” Joel Warren told Today. “And there’s no reason to look awful at that moment, when you can look good so easily.”
And, perhaps the most extreme example is that of New York-based makeup artist, Alaha Karimi, whose birth story went viral in 2016 after she posted pictures of herself putting on makeup between contractions and then holding her newborn with a red carpet-worthy dose of winged eyeliner.
In most cases, women say their decision to give birth wearing makeup or eyelash extensions or fake tan is one of empowerment. That it’s a way of feeling better and in control during an ordeal that is painful and often unpredictable.
Karimi said she used makeup as a distraction from the pain. And, as a recent article in Women’s Health Magazine encourages: “If it takes lipstick and a curling iron to get there, rock on mama! Your labour is your own—no one else’s to experience, judge, or comment on.”
But consider the history of childbirth and the way it’s forever been shrouded in taboo, and you start to wonder: Is makeup during childbirth the 21st century equivalent of hiding something society still can’t handle?
For centuries, women in labour were hidden behind white sheets. They were kept out of the family home until their purification process was up. They were kept out of the church until a blessing enabled them to “wash away the sin” of their delivery.
We saw it in the ancient world, where both childbirth and menstruation were considered unclean, and women were ‘cleansed’ during a two-week purification period following the delivery of a child.
The Bible’s book of Leviticus mandates a 33-day “purification period” after the birth of a son, and a 66-day period after a daughter.
A 2016 paper on childbirth practices in rural Nepal found: “Delivery is considered dirty and untouchable.”
In Christianity, there is the tradition of ‘churching’ a woman after childbirth. The ritual sees a new mother receive a blessing four to six weeks after giving birth and it echoes the purification ritual of Judaism where “the sin of childbirth is washed away,” as Louise Lewis wrote for The Journal. The blessing “allows the ‘unclean’ woman to re-enter the church in a ‘state of grace’.”
We see it today in the way birth photographers who dare to capture in colour the rawness and bloodiness of giving birth are considered almost extreme in their feminism and honesty.
Finally, in 2018, with Instagram and smart phones, women have the ability to control their message. To show that yes, childbirth is messy and bloody and terrifying but these are the things that also make it wonderful.
We have the opportunity to take away the stigma but instead, we’re wearing makeup to give birth and putting filters on our post-delivery photographs.
Many emphasise that it’s empowering, but could it also be another bid to make the whole ordeal appear cleaner and more palatable? Might it just be another example of society shying away from the messiness that is delivering a newborn, the same way it has done for hundreds of years?
On the surface, the trend of childbirth makeovers appears quirky and luxurious. But, dig a little deeper, and you’ll find it could carry echoes of a history in which women are shamed for the ‘uncleanliness’ of childbirth, while the act itself remains shrouded in stigma and secrecy.
What do you think about the practice of wearing makeup to give birth? Tell us in the comments below.