I’m currently 30 weeks pregnant with twins. Trying to navigate this strange new identity as a pregnant person (and, gulp, soon to be mother) has been mildly terrifying and generally pretty confusing. While so much is changing in my life so quickly, I find myself grasping on to the few things I can control. One of those is what I wear and how I present this new body I’m in to the world.
When I got pregnant, targeted ads for clothing immediately began filling my inbox and feeds: tent dresses, maternity leggings, oversized everything — all very obvious ways to hide my delicate condition. Maybe this is the hormones talking, but I remember registering the suggestions as erasure: some clever and comfy ways to hide my body while it created new life. And then the singer Rihanna announced her pregnancy, and it felt like everything changed.
Before giving birth in early May, Rihanna bared her bump in sometimes sexy, sometimes sporty, always fashion-forward ways. As she told Vogue in a recent cover story that focused on her rule-breaking pregnancy fashion: “There’s no way I’m going to go shopping in no maternity aisle. I’m sorry — it’s too much fun to get dressed up. I’m not going to let that part disappear because my body is changing.”
Rihanna drove her point home by gracing the cover in a sheer, red Alaïa bodysuit, and in body-baring looks all across this season’s fashion weeks, not to mention her Instagram feed. Instead of the usual maternity jeans and demure empire waist dresses, pregnant Rihanna opted for low-slung pants that showed off her bump, sheer mini dresses that did the same and lots of provocative silhouettes and cutouts that kept her linea nigra on full display. Rather than conceal herself, Rihanna demanded that people look.
“When women get pregnant, society tends to make it feel like you hide, hide your sexy, and that you’re not sexy right now [but] you’ll get back there, and I don’t believe in that s—,” she told Refinery29 back in February. “So I’m trying stuff that I might not have even had the confidence to try before I was pregnant. The strappiest, the thinnest and the more cutouts the better for me.” Preach Rihanna, preach.
I am far from the only pregnant person who felt inspired by Rihanna’s sartorial choices. Earlier this month at the Cannes Film Festival, model Adriana Lima wore a dress on the red carpet with a belly cutout for her baby bump and credited Rihanna for the inspiration. “Thanks @badgirlriri for opening the door,” she wrote on Instagram alongside a photo of herself at Cannes, hashtagged #BELLYOUT.
From the start, Rihanna announced her own pregnancy by doing the opposite of covering herself in billowing fabrics. Instead, she posed with her partner, rapper A$AP Rocky, while wearing a hot pink vintage Chanel coat, ultra-low-rise jeans and a dramatic Lacroix necklace, all artfully styled to display her growing belly. My first thought when looking at the photo was, Damn, she looks amazing. My next thought was, How do I look that powerful throughout my pregnancy, too?
It should come as no surprise that a lot of noncelebrities are also now changing up their maternity fashion. “What Rihanna is doing right now is just incredible,” Ariane Goldman, founder and CEO of maternity fashion label Hatch, told USA Today. “If you had asked me years ago, would I incorporate crop tops in Hatch collections offerings I’d say ‘you’re out of your mind.’” But she said the company started designing them just to see what would happen “and we can’t keep them in stock. So clearly the trend is changing.”
I am far less bold than Rihanna, and my life is certainly a lot less public, but I will say I had her in mind when I announced my own pregnancy on social media with a photo of myself in a bikini — something I likely would never have done otherwise. The only other photo of me pregnant that’s made it to the grid shows me in a skin-tight bodycon dress, a Rihanna inspiration once again. I am pregnant and my body is changing, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be hidden away, only to be revealed if and when I’ve lost the baby weight and look like my old self.
Of course, Rihanna is hardly the first person to flaunt her pregnant body; there’s a long list of pregnant celebs doing nude cover shoots (Demi Moore, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Serena Williams … the list goes on). But there is something different about Rihanna’s approach in that she plays with clothing to claim her body in this space. Nudity is one thing — the unflinching look at the natural process. Incorporating fashion is something else entirely — the insistence that people recognize she is still herself even while her body changes.
Vanessa Friedman, chief fashion critic at The New York Times, called Rihanna’s maternity style “radical,” and it is in many ways, particularly because of the moment we are collectively living through. The autonomy of pregnant people right now is being challenged and limited. With the threat that Roe v. Wade will be overturned, we are implicitly being told that what matters most for women is to become not ourselves but mothers. Fashion can be a form of resistance and Rihanna clearly knows that. As she told Vogue, “I’m hoping that we were able to redefine what’s considered ‘decent’ for pregnant women.”
Now that Rihanna has transitioned from pregnancy to motherhood, I’m eager to see how she steps into her new role even as she remains herself. Rihanna made me reconsider how I look at myself as a pregnant person, and how others look at pregnant people more generally. It’s hoped that message will extend into motherhood itself. We are our own people, we just happen to be growing other people inside of us. There should be no erasure in any of that, and Rihanna is helping to make sure there isn’t.