Maternity shoots may be the new ‘in-thing’ in India, but pregnant models? That might be asking for a bit too much.
When designer Ayush Kejriwal recently put up a photo of a pregnant model draped in a saree on his Instagram feed, what emerged were the dos and don’ts regarding pregnant women when it comes to the fashion industry.
The everyday woman
But this is not the first time Ayush Kejriwal decided to break stereotypes. In fact, what makes the UK-based designer stand out is both his craft and his choice of models. The ‘storyteller’, as he describes himself, uses everyday women to don his sarees. His models are women with darker skin tones and real body shapes, not frail ones.
So, it was a usual day for him when he made model Ki Korelle pose in one of his signature, hand-painted Kalamkari sarees, flaunting her baby bump. But the comments on his Instagram post show that the image clearly did not sit well with some followers. From “use a softer lipstick” to the blouse is “revealing”, comments poured in from people visibly upset by a heavily pregnant, dusky woman daring to even pose.
Are pregnant models a new concept in India?
Maternity shoots have not yet become a trend in India’s fashion industry. In 2016, Indian model, and former winner of India’s L’Oreal/Elite Look of the Year title, heavily pregnant Carol Gracias walked the ramp for Hyderabad-based designer Gaurang Shah’s show at Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai. More recently, actor Kalki Koechlin shared multiple photos of herself flaunting her baby bump on Instagram. From bikini to flowy dresses to gymwear, Kalki flaunted her baby bump in almost all attires.
One thing is clear from the various maternity shoots done by Bollywood actresses like Genelia D’Souza, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Konkona Sensharma. It is acceptable if they are all established Bollywood actresses.
But models clearly have to look a certain way to please the Indian viewer.
However, even actresses haven’t always had it easy. A naked and pregnant Demi Moore’s August 1991 Vanity Fair cover photo caused quite a stir. Many called it “grotesque and obscene”.
But that paved the way. Three years ago, the magazine again featured a pregnant Natalie Portman. Bollywood stars now routinely flaunt their baby bumps, and pose for cover shoots. Celina Jaitley showed her belly too.
Over time, the taboo has decreased. But apparently, models must still struggle with social perception.
While inclusivity might be ‘in’ right now, we give it a hyphenated space, an addendum, rarely the centre stage. When Sabyasachi Mukherjee posted the image of a dusky, curvy model with a caption about self-confidence on Women’s Day last year, he revealed how most people assume women with darker skin tones, and everyday body shapes to be naturally lacking in confidence.
Fair vs dark
If the model in question was a fair-complexioned woman, there was a 90 per cent chance that the reactions might not have been as critical and distasteful.
There is a reason why thousands of women and men in India are lured into buying fairness creams, whose advertisements many a time feature prominent Bollywood actors.
The fit pregnant woman
Maternity leave is both a right and a choice. A woman can choose to work during her pregnancy or can choose to take a break. But when it comes to a pregnant model, the choice is the one thrust upon her — to come back only when she is fitter, and looks better, which is to simply say not pregnant or pregnant in a ‘certain way’.
In fact, the new ‘in’ is being fit after pregnancy, with every bit of pregnancy-fat invisible. Remember how Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was shamed for not losing her pregnancy fat quickly enough when she made public appearances.