Seasons change, fashions go out of style, but there’s one image that will forever remain iconic: Demi Moore’s 1991 nude Vanity Fair cover photo. You probably know the one. In it, Moore wraps an arm around her breasts, pregnant belly and rear exposed, as she holds her head up high; her pixie cut allows everyone to see the unobstructed confidence on her face. Yet, in a recent interview on SiriusXM’s The Howard Stern Show, Moore says society treated the image “as if it was pornographic” and tried to shame her for embracing her sexuality.
“I was just trying to do the shoot reflective of how I felt,” Moore recalled to host Howard Stern. “[Pregnant] women were only in Peter Pan collars. You could celebrate finding out that you’re pregnant, and you could celebrate when you had the child, but in the in-between, culturally, we have to pretend we’ve never had sex; that it’s this immaculate conception.”
Today, it’s more common to hear pregnant people talk about sex or to see celebrities like Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, and the Kardashians take nude pregnancy photos. (We also can’t forget to mention these hilarious, yet arguably less glamorous, nude pregnancy pics from Amy Schumer.) But that doesn’t mean it’s completely accepted. Just last year, people shamed Kate Hudson for sporting her pregnancy bump in a bikini. One commenter flat-out wrote, “Frankly, no one is really interested in seeing a fully pregnant almost naked woman.” Another said, “Just because she is pregnant doesn’t make her body beautiful.”
Pregnant people experience these comments all the time, world-famous or not. Local newscasters experience an onslaught of disparaging comments from viewers about their changing appearances. Others are “bump-shamed” for looking “too big” or “too small,” as if all pregnant people should have to grow human life exactly the same way. With all of the shaming, the message seems clear: Keep reproducing but don’t be proud of the process. This message can feel especially strong (and awful) when aimed at pregnant people who don’t identify as cis women.
That mindset, sadly, extends after the birth as well. People love seeing babies, but they cause a scene if parents breastfeed in public or pump at work. “Keep the adorable photos of your babies coming, but don’t show us — and, for the love of God, don’t celebrate — how you keep those babies alive! Cover yourself (e.g., Moore’s comment about wearing Peter Pan collars) and stay behind the scenes!”
During Moore’s interview, Stern applauded her for taking the “revolutionary” photo. “It was almost like it liberated every woman,” he said. He’s not wrong; as I mentioned, many celebrities have done nude pregnancy shoots since, and the media (and readers and viewers) seem to be increasingly more open to talking about things like pregnancy sex. But to say to that we’re living in a society that accepts pregnant people for who they are — bold, sensual, vibrant beings — would be incorrect. We’ve still got a long way to go before we break down the barriers and allow pregnant people of all genders to enjoy their experiences and their changing, awe-inspiring bodies.
So no, Moore’s photo didn’t change the public perception for good — but hopefully, its reemergence in the spotlight will spark meaningful conversations and finally (finally!) result in lasting progress.
Watch Moore’s interview on SiriusXM’s The Howard Stern Show below.