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Debating Aishwarya’s Baby Bump, Yummy mummy vs Bharatiya naari – Aishwarya Rai is in trouble again. This time around for committing the fashionista sin of omission: not flaunting her baby bump. Her recent appearance at Sanjay Dutt’s Mata Ki Chowki celebration drew a caustic salvo titled, “Aishwarya Rai fails to make it to yummy mummy list after fashion faux pas”. The offending outfit: “the bright green anarkali [that] did little to flatter her healthy baby bump.”

Accusing the actress of making “limited appearances and that too clad in layered clothing that would keep the bump well-hidden,” the Daily Bhaskar complained, “Now, one wonders when is the actor ever going to make her style statement and step out in that glam avatar, trading her Anarkalis and saris for something more her haute and happening.”Of course, all of this is silly, shallow, and mean-spirited. (More so in this case as it’s become fodder for vicious rumours of a faked pregnancy.) But it points to a growing Bollywood trend where flaunting an expectant mother’s most valuable asset has become the cool, cool thing. Lara Dutta walked the runway at the recent Lakme Fashion Week at five months and later made waves in a tight “bandage” skirt that emphasised her curves. Konkona Sen Sharma posed for the cover of OK! Magazine draped in a green wrap/shawl contraption that revealed her baby bump in its naked glory.

Baby bump photos are a media money-maker. And many have been just as quick to dismiss these women as publicity hounds, seeking to make hay out of their condition. In Konkona’s case, most comments even on trendy blogs like Pinkvilla were downright nasty, condemning her as “shameless,” “disgusting” and a “retard” for daring to bare. And this even though she was careful to look more maternal than sensual: posing head down while gently cradling her belly.

The same “Indian modesty” line is also been the common defense offered in Ash’s support. “The bahu of the Bachchan khandaan knows her sanskar,” coos a Zoom TV item on the subject. Her fans in the comment boards are more blunt: “Oh please. Aishwarya is a traditional girl and she’s not the type to flaunt a personal thing like being pregnant”; “She is a women with dignity and need not show her baby bump to the whole world IT’S JUST NOT OUR INDIAN CULTURE.”

The “traditional” point of view, however, treats a pregnant woman’s body as embarassing, if not disgusting; something to be carefully hidden from view (with all that evil eye business offering added justification). When it comes to women, our so-called “sanskar” is far too often used as a convenient club to keep women in line. It’s a no-win situation for pregnant women: Flaunt it and you’re shameless; Hide it and you’re an unfashionable behenji.

The new-fangled fashionista version of being ‘bump-alicious’ is not much more empowering. The yummy mummy standard of beauty is typically narrow and unrealistic: a well-rounded, perfect bump and full breasts on a skinny body. In the real world, pregnant women expand everywhere: hips, arms, face, thighs and feet. Hormones are funny things, and their effects rarely fit the requirements of celebrity mag aesthetics.

The growing pressure to look hot-when-preggers is often justified by quoting recent medical wisdom that advises expectant mothers not to over-eat and get regular exercise. But in the West – where the pregnant hottie look is far more dominant – it’s creating enormous body image anxiety. Far too many expectant moms – the affluent, educated kind who are more fashion-conscious – are increasingly neurotic about natural weight gain. “With skinny women on magazine covers everywhere, the prospect of putting on that much weight is terrifying to pregnant women,” nutritionist Heidi Murkoff told MSNBC, “But if you’re starving yourself, you’re starving your baby. Your baby is what you eat.”

Think this body shaming is an American disease? This how the Daily Bhaskar described“chubby mommy-to-be” Ash earlier this month:

Aishwarya at Sonali Bendre’s house. Raju Shelar/Firstpost

And, not to miss the puppy fat. With chubby cheeks and heavy frame, the actress’s loose cream salwar-kurti couldn’t hide her weight gain. With Ash making rounds to the temples and launching devotional music with mother-in-law Jaya Bachchan, hope her prayers get answered soon. And, so does ours, who want to see the actor in a sexy avatar all over again very soon.

Yes, let’s push her right out of the delivery room and straight to the gym and put her on a near-starvation celebrity diet – just so she can unveil her “hot” new mom body within weeks.

There’s a fine line between celebrating the pregnant body and sexualising it. A baby bump is not a fashion accessory that needs to look ‘just right’ or ‘hot.’ A woman’s pregnant body is indeed beautiful. And if she wishes to revel in its glory, more power to her. But surely a truly emancipated woman ought to be free to choose what she wears, be it a bikini, jeans or a salwar kameez. And more so, when she’s performing the all-important and onerous task of creating a new life. A woman’s body goes through tremendous, life-altering, and often stressful changes during pregnancy. The last thing she needs is social pressure to show or hide it. If we must uphold tradition, then why not champion the old-fashioned idea that women deserve a break — in every sense of the word — during pregnancy and the many months after.

So, ladies, flaunt it, cover it, but whatever you do, always remember: that bump is your baby

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