When Adriana Lima was about four months pregnant with her first child last year, Givenchy called her to walk in the spring 2010 show. "They take my measurements and I’m like, Oh my God, oh my God, I'm big!" says Lima, who starred in the label's fall 2009 campaign. "And then they say, 'You’re not big enough!' Because they wanted to see the belly."
Pregnancy is no longer a "call us when you're back in shape" situation for models; just the opposite, in fact. Lima didn't do that Givenchy show in the end, but Jourdan Dunn's belly was spectacularly emphasized at Jean Paul Gaultier's spring 2010 show, with a custom baby-bump pad strapped around her midsection. This past Fashion Week in Paris, Miranda Kerr walked Balenciaga, to much fanfare, her six-month bump impossible to miss. Gisele hit the runway in June of last year at São Paulo Fashion Week for the label Colcci, her modest three-month bump clearly visible.
And if they're not in shows, the pregnant ladies are on magazine covers. Claudia Schiffer posed proudly, entirely nude, clasping her very pregnant belly for a stunning German Vogue cover earlier this year. Kerr did a cover shoot at six and a half months pregnant for January's Australian Vogue. And Alessandra Ambrosio, who gave birth to her first child in August 2008, says she turned down cover offers when she was pregnant, preferring to relax at home in Brazil.
Ambrosio thinks the fresh wave of attention stems from skinny-teenager fatigue. "Every six months you're going to see something different [in fashion]," she notes. "I think the world was like, 'We want to see healthier women in the magazines, on the runway.'"
While thin models will always be the norm in fashion, it's notable that an industry so obsessed with skinny has not only become more accepting of the bump but also actually celebrates motherhood (of supermodels, at least) by casting pregnant women for some of fashion's biggest stages.
Elle creative director Joe Zee, who put Cindy Crawford nude on the cover of W while she was pregnant in June of 1999, thinks the industry has started treating pregnant models as normal. "In the past, probably, editors just didn’t know how to address pregnant models," he said. "I don’t want to say it’s become a glamorous thing — it’s just become part of it. If anything, they’re being treated not different, not special. Just because they’re pregnant doesn’t mean they can’t work. If it fits into the story, if it fits into the idea if she’s just a beautiful girl, why not?" He didn't think Balenciaga cast Kerr for the spring 2011 show for shock value. "I think it’s less about 'how do we work her in?' It’s just that 'Miranda’s so beautiful I must have her on the runway. She’s pregnant? Let’s work around it because she’s gorgeous.'"
"From an agent’s point of view, I think it’s amazing. What better way to herald being a beautiful woman than being pregnant?" says Stephen Lee, an agent at Next Models. "To be able to be a mother in this industry is (a) tough and (b) commendable. You have the travel, the hours, and to still maintain a career [is not easy]."
Many models have become accustomed to working pregnancy smoothly into their careers. Lima went back to work soon after having her daughter, Valentina, a year ago; her first job, in fact, was the critically acclaimed fall 2009 Louis Vuitton show, praised as a necessary celebration of womanhood and a welcome deviation from the industry's obsession with juveniles. Lima, her generous post-pregnancy bosom spilling out of her black lace dress, walked the runway alongside fellow mom-models Elle Macpherson, Laetitia Casta, and Karolina Kurkova — who'd just given birth to her first child as well. Gisele shot a swimwear campaign two months after the birth of her first child, returning to the runway a few months after that. Heidi Klum had her fourth child last October, and walked in the Victoria's Secret fashion show just a few weeks later. Jourdan Dunn walked in London Fashion Week in February after having her first child in December. Ambrosio gave birth to her daughter Anja in August 2008; in November she was back on the Victoria's Secret runway.
"It’s trending away from that 15- or 16-year-old, super-skinny girl, plucked out of school and is probably not going back to school to see how they do in modeling," said one of the industry's top casting directors, who did not want to be named. She pointed to rising star Arizona Muse, a young mom who took a break from modeling to have a baby and then opened and closed Prada's spring 2011 show — the Holy Grail of modeling work. "I think people are more interested in girls that are a little bit more well-rounded. The girls that have had a boyfriend or finished school or traveled the world," this agent continued. "Fashion can attract a lot of crazies, particularly with models and casting directors. [If you're a mom] you have a life and you have a balance, and you have a little bit more perspective in the craziness of this industry."
As Lima says, "I feel more confident and I feel more beautiful, you know? I feel womanly now, not like a child, and that’s a wonderful thing." Ambrosio confirms "I think you get more relaxed with your career because it’s not the most important thing" and says clients detect a change in her: "You have someone to take care of, you share your life."
Casting agent Jennifer Vindetti, the owner of JV8 Inc., which has worked on runway shows and campaigns with clients including Dolce & Gabbana and Tommy Hilfiger, says her clients are generally not looking to cast pregnant models outside of maternity shoots, but they are increasingly hot for new moms. After the women have babies, she posits, they see modeling, with all its inherent criticism, as a job, rather than the definition of who they are: “In modeling, you’re looking to other people to define yourself because that’s the job,” she explains. But "probably for someone who makes money based on how they look or on their body, it brings a kind of deeper connection."
Motherhood may even make models more commercial, since the women who can afford the goods they're selling are, in all likelihood, in the mom years themselves and find it easier to connect to a mom, even if she is impossibly beautiful. Well, maybe until they start talking about how the models didn't even need to buy maternity clothes.