The minute I saw Serena Williams all pregnant and nekkid on the August cover of Vanity Fair, I knew some nonsense was gonna be right around the corner. I had a feeling somebody was going to go on a hating spree, condemning the tennis superstar for daring to bare her dark-skinned body – while she’s with child! I just never expected it to be another black woman.
Robin Givhan, the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic, went off on Williams in a Post op-ed piece shortly after the cover’s debut. Givhan, who is no stranger to dragging celebs for how they present themselves in public (she’s gotten heat for criticizing Hillary Clinton’s and Michelle Obama’s fashion choices) basically slammed Williams for using her pregnancy as a spectacle/marketing tool: “The Vanity Fair cover is about voyeurism. It reminds us that life’s milestones are not real until they are publicly validated. It’s yet another way in which celebrities pony up a piece of themselves to the public, making it that much more difficult to create boundaries in the future. Does anyone still actually want boundaries? Perhaps not.”
Ironically, Givhan praises Demi Moore’s legendary Vanity Fair cover from 1991, which obviously inspired the Williams cover. (Both covers were shot by famed photographer Annie Leibovitz.) She says the Moore cover was “startling,” “sensual,” “surprising” and “helped transform the way in which the fashion industry aimed to dress pregnant women, which in turn helped to shift the way in which pregnancy was viewed – at least aesthetically.”
While Givhan says she would like a moratorium on celebrity-pregnancy magazine spreads, writing that “the images of them add little insight into the broader conversation about how the culture treats pregnant women, newborns and new fathers,” why did she decide to make this declaration when Williams chose to do it? Ever since Moore’s controversial cover, magazine covers featuring nude or near-nude celebs have practically become old hat. Givhan even lists off many with-child superstars – Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera (twice!) – who have bared it all on-camera. And, yet, it’s Williams’s black-and-beautiful image that was the last straw.
Givhan isn’t the only woman who seemed salty about a sista making her pregnancy public. Earlier this year, journalist Naomi Schaefer Riley made a lot of Beyoncé fans mad when, in a New York Post op-ed piece, she went after Queen Bey for making a big deal out of her recent pregnancy, which included a photo shoot where she was, of course, butt-bald. She also derided fellow pop icon Adele for publicly admitting how difficult it was to bounce back after her pregnancy. “Our cultural imperative to elevate motherhood to both the most important thing in the world and the hardest thing in the world is getting out of control,” says Schaefer Riley, who is also a mother of three. “Whether or not you’re a celebrity, motherhood is not a theatrical event.”
Since I’m a man who doesn’t have kids (and is not really gunning to have them anytime soon), seeing a pregnant, naked lady isn’t a big deal for me. I’m sure there are some women, either with children or without, who might feel a bit less-than when someone in the public eye proudly flaunts their baby bump, extolling the joys that they’ve experienced now that they’re in the family way. And while I agree that certain couples can go over-the-top when they have a bun in the oven (What is the deal with these ridiculous, gender-reveal parties? ), it just seems bitter and spiteful whenever women bash women for celebrating their impending motherhood. If a woman is proud and happy to be a mother, then let ’em be proud and happy.
Serena Williams shouldn’t be raked over the coals for her pregnant, au naturel poses. Besides, considering the abuse she’s taken from black men on Twitter for having a child with a white man (fiancé and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian), as well as the recent shots she received from notoriously cranky, former tennis player John McEnroe, saying she would be ranked “like 700 in the world” if she played on the men’s circuit (ol’ boy must’ve not heard about Williams winning her 23rd grand slam title at the Australian Open while she was preggers), if there is anyone who deserves love right now from the public (especially women), it’s Williams.
Craig Lindsey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org