When pop singer Rihanna recently publicly announced her pregnancy, photographs of her baby bump spread around the world a hundred million times: on the streets of New York, she let her exposed belly stand out under her unbuttoned coat, adorned with colourful gemstones. The celebration of her pregnancy triggered a wave of enthusiasm on the internet: Becoming a mother in 2022 seems to be dwindling in competition with a self-confident approach to one's own body. The example of Leila Diniz, who was very prominent at the time, shows that women were still reaching their limits in this respect in the 1970s. The actress and TV presenter sparked a worldwide scandal after she became the first pregnant woman in Brazil to appear on the beach in a bikini and with a baby bump. A look into the past reveals why pregnant bodies were subject to public stigmatisation until the end of the 20th century - and how this taboo was broken.

The 1971 bikini baby bump scandal

According to cultural scientist Alexandra Regiert from the BikiniARTmuseum in Bad Rappenau, Leila Diniz turned a simple swim in the sea into a groundbreaking act of emancipation when she showed herself in a bikini on the beach of Ipanema in the summer of 1971: Leila Diniz was the first pregnant woman in Brazil to take this risk - at a time of Brazilian military dictatorship, mind you. The actress sparked a worldwide scandal that left the conservatives breathless, especially since pregnant women always had to keep their bellies covered when bathing for sexual morality reasons. The fact that the Brazilian woman was still unmarried at the time drove the public uproar to immeasurable proportions. In the course of the outcry, Leila Diniz became an icon of the Brazilian women's movement. Although her fame was short-lived - she died in a plane crash seven months after giving birth to her daughter - Diniz's appearance set in motion the destigmatisation of pregnant bodies. Although pregnancy was still supposed to be shrouded by loose maternity wear in the general population, more and more women followed Diniz's example.

Pregnancy over the course of time: If you are pregnant, then please do it unnoticed!

A glance at history makes clear the high emancipatory significance to be attributed to Diniz's venture: although motherhood was one of the elementary tasks of the bourgeois wife in the 19th century, a bulging midriff was considered highly unattractive. Despite dangers to the unborn child, expectant mothers forced their bellies into corsets for fashion reasons. Their high popularity stemmed from the ideal of the wasp waist, which prevailed into the 20th century, and reflected women's lack of opportunities for development. With the women's movement of the early 20th century, the pregnant woman continued to be discredited, because now it was necessary to conform to the image of the boyish garçonne. Even when National Socialism upgraded the significance of motherhood in terms of ideology, there was still the expectation that pregnancy and birth would leave no trace on the female body. This remained valid until well into the 1960s, when women's gainful employment was increasingly promoted. After giving birth, the goal was to return as soon as possible to the slim ideal of beauty à la Twiggy and to smoothly reconcile motherhood and employment.


The Bikini is my thing! Guiding Perspectives of the BikiniARTmuseum

Rihanna's example shows: pregnancy today seems almost liberated from a body-negative connotation. Under the guiding perspectives of "Woman Power" and "Body Positivity", the BikiniARTmuseum illuminates these processes of emancipation using the example of swimwear and is committed to promoting a diverse body image with the campaign "The Bikini is my thing". The "JANARA Swimear Award" initiated by the museum was also awarded in 2022 to the label "Anita", which produces swimwear for the needs of pregnant and breastfeeding women with its "Anita Maternity" line. Pregnancy has changed from a phase of life that was considered unattractive to one that allows women to show off their bodies if they want to. The latter - making decisions of one's own free will - is, after all, the core idea of feminism, which is especially important to emphasise on International Women's Day.

Author: Alexandra Regiert (BikiniARTmuseum) on the occasion of International Women's Day 2022.