It is Saturday morning and I am standing in front of my bedroom mirror wearing my underwear and tights, scrutinising the spectacle of my own body. My six year old daughter is looking at me through the mirror stroking my 7-months-pregnant belly. “What should mummy wear?” I ask her. “Oh! I love it when you wear something tight that shows your belly” she replies enthusiastically. “Why?” I ask. “Because I want everyone to know that I am having a little sister. Your belly makes me a big sister!” she answers with a confident smile.
I wish I could share in her zest. My awareness of what my “belly” means to different people nowadays, makes each of my stylistic choices an arena of socio-political debate. Does wearing my old dress that has now become too tight make me a confident “yummy mummy”, or a cash-saving savvy mother? Lately, I have noticed that if I wear something tight, people tend to offer me their seats in the tube more frequently than when I am wearing bulky and loose clothes. Is it because I look more like Kate Middleton or more evidently “needy” of that priority seat?
Choosing what to wear makes me feel confused about what “my belly” actually means to me. One moment, it is a sign reminding me that my body is occupied by another human being, the next, a sign that I am no longer who I used to be and therefore cannot dress the way I used to. One moment my body is a welcome sign of life-affirming change that I cannot and do not wish to control, the next it feels like a screen where projections are being made. This is when I wish to become a director, an “auteur” of the narrative projected on my belly, full breasts and curvier thighs. This is when I resist and try to control. Control what? The meaning of my own body!
My dressed pregnant belly becomes a signifier in need of interpretation. This is when my background in cultural and performance studies draws me deeper into the vortex of analysis. I first get dressed and then I critique my own stylistic choice to figure out what role and what meaning I chose to perform in public each time. This self- scrutiny always leaves me even more confused and uncertain as to whether I am happy to “show” this belly or not. I find myself wishing I did not have to wear clothes at all, or fantasising a strange regime under which all pregnant women would wear a pregnant uniform. What am I doing here? Am I denying myself the choice to produce cultural meanings through my pregnant embodiment? Am I refusing to consume and internalise what maternity fashion sells me as “blooming marvellous”, “sexy and demure at the same time”? Do I simply intellectualise a fear of being perceived as out of control or as “fat”? The feminist in me, this Saturday morning, wishes for a burqa; yes, a full body cloak that would allow my pregnancy to be invisible, no longer a worry and a stress about how it should be expressed, performed and received by others.
But would hiding my belly send my little daughter the right message? Would it empower her to feel proud and celebrate her own body if she becomes pregnant? Why do women need to “celebrate” being pregnant rather than just “being”? Isn’t “being” celebratory enough? Do other species do that? Why can’t I be a pregnant cat?! More meanings to negotiate, more constraints and choices to consider. I am still naked… and late.
I now wish to remain naked. Even my maternity tights and bra are constraining me. Why did I choose the black lacy one? Who am I trying to seduce and why? All these meanings and significations and reasons for dressing my pregnant body like this or like that, now feel like a black burqa shrouding my simple revelling in the physical sensation of my weighty womb. Why does it have to be meaningful? Why does “this”, why do “I” need to have a meaning? Can I please have clothes today that do not mean anything and mean everything at the same time? Who can invent them? Who can design them? Where can I buy them? Who can make a maternity range that is simultaneously sexy and non-sexual, feminine and feminist and post-feminist and post-modern and post-human? What kind of human fashion can express being in and out of control, with and without choice?
“Mummy, mummy! Look what I made for you!” my daughter thankfully interrupts my internal lecture and tormented rhetorical questions. “I made some clothes for you!” She shows me what she created with markers and paper. Two dresses, one in green and one in yellow, the green one showing a womb containing a baby! Two suns, one to the left of the page and one to the right shining down on the dresses that are displayed upon stands, empty of bodies, like costumes waiting for someone to pick them. The choice is mine.
“Thank you my love!” I say to her. My six year old daughter imaginatively conceived and created drawings for me to dress up my body. She wrapped me in her art. Her fashion means her love for me and joy for what my body creates and what her two hands can create. I am grateful for these meanings. This Saturday I choose to get dressed in meaning-less humanity, constraining western culture and transcendental love for a child.
Christina’s baby Chryssa was born on 17th February 2014; they are both well.
Christina is mother to Vava and Chryssa. During her postgraduate studies she worked in the field of social inclusion through the performing arts and was artistic director for Chicken Shed Theatre’s outreach for disabled and non-disabled young people. In 2008 she completed her doctorate in Social Inclusion and Dance at the University of Surrey. For the last seven years she has been teaching cultural and performance theory at Goldsmiths College, Middlesex University, the University of Roehampton and the University of Malta. She has presented at international conferences and has authored a chapter on inclusion in the book Dance Teaching and Learning, Youth Dance England, 2012. She currently works as a dramaturge for Dance and Theatre.