Voices: Sienna Miller’s red carpet baby bump was bold and breathtaking – but was it progressive?

Who knew that baring a pregnancy bump would still make fashion headlines?

Sienna Miller, apparently, who walked the red carpet in a belly baring outfit for Vogue World last night.

I don’t know about you, but I felt conflicted when I saw the photos from the ultra-glam event. Of course, Miller looked as beautiful as ever and I’m all for the celebration of women’s bodies – whatever their shape – but that’s the thing…

Miller, you see, is pregnancy perfection. Her trim, tiny, tanned little bump is flawless and the rest of her body seems to be as slim and toned as ever. Good for her – but what are the implications of this trend for women more generally? Is it great that the stigma around pregnant bodies is finally shifting – or is it yet more opportunity to body-shame women for not appearing worthy of a Vogue cover during late pregnancy?

The fact that pregnancy dressing – or undressing – even remains a conversation point is significant because celebrity women have been doing their best to undermine traditional ideals of pregnant femininity for decades.

Back in 1991, Demi Moore posed naked, cradling her baby bump, for the cover of Vanity Fair. Over a quarter of a decade later, tennis star Serena Williams posed for a similar cover shot. Both images caused controversy: some celebration and more than a little disgust, which seems to summarise social attitudes to pregnant bodies as a whole.

Moore’s pride in her pregnancy (and her refusal to wear what was considered “appropriate” maternity wear) was truly shocking, at the time. As part of the shoot, Moore was pictured in lingerie, subverting traditional ideas that mothers – especially mothers-to-be – shouldn’t (and couldn’t) be sexy. Pregnancy fashion was about decency and respectability. Expectant mothers should appear demure and modest in cover ups that hid, disguised or minimised their bellies, or so the belief went.

In the three decades since Moore’s now infamous Vanity Fair shoot, naked cover images seem to have become a rite of passage for pregnant celebrities. From Britney Spears for Harper’s Bazaar… (and then the scandalous 2006 cover for Q magazine when the “Hit Me Baby One More Time” singer licked a lollipop while wearing a white and red polka dot bikini, displaying a tanned, toned – and pregnant – tum) to Cindy Crawford, Mariah Carey and Monica Bellucci.

Naked pregnant celebrity covers have since been ten a penny. Until, that is, Beyonce broke the internet with her iconic pregnancy announcement image in 2017.

She might not have been naked, but she did wear frilly knickers, an Agent Provocateur bra, a bare bump and a veil over her face – playing with ideas about motherhood, sexuality, innocence and race.

Arguably, though, megastar Rihanna has done the most to revolutionise pregnancy fashion. For both her pregnancies, the Diamonds singer made her bump the focal point of her outfits, accentuating her pregnant belly with maternity wear that has included a sheer black negligee; a transparent cut-out gown at this year’s Oscars and a silver-mesh crop top and mini-skirt on Mother’s Day.

Rihanna isn’t afraid of showing the bodily changes that women are usually taught to cover up, either. She didn’t even attempt to conceal the Linea nigra (the faint dark line some women develop on their bellies during pregnancy). ”I’m hoping that we were able to redefine what’s considered ‘decent’ for pregnant women…” she said. “My body’s doing incredible things right now, and I’m not going to be ashamed of that. This time should be celebratory. Because why should you be hiding pregnancy?’

Rihanna is right – why have women been taught to hide pregnancies? Because it’s a visible sign of sexual activity? Because women are taught that they should be ashamed of their bodies growing larger, even when carrying an extra human?

Is it because we’re taught to think that pregnant bodies are abject; something from which we should avert our eyes (not accessorise with gem-encrusted jewellery a la Riri)? Is it because mothers-to-be are expected to renounce their sexuality as soon as they see the double line on the pregnancy test – that it’s indecent and perhaps even obscene to dress a pregnant body in lingerie rather than enormous support pants and maternity bras?

Where has all this come from? Whose interests are served by holding on to these outdated ideas?

In some ways, Miller flaunting her baby bump on the red carpet follows Rihanna’s trail – but somehow the image feels different; and I can’t help but wonder how much it helps women to see such a flawless and “perfect” baby body.

Will “normal” women feel able to look down and celebrate their swollen ankles, angry red stretch marks, melasma, varicose veins and hormonal acne when they’ve seen Miller doing it so... perfectly?

There’s one other issue that stands out to me amid the glitz and glamour, and that is: while it’s fashionable for celebrities like Miller to bare their bumps, where’s the celebration of women’s non-pregnant bodies? Wouldn’t it be amazing to see a pot belly or two, or a backside full of cellulite?

We’re notoriously cruel about women who don’t adhere to classic beauty standards, especially post-partum – but we shouldn’t be. Miller’s bold look is a start. Let’s just hope we see more veins, dimples and scars on the red carpet in the future.