For a long time brands and advertisers only spoke to mothers one way: by selling us an idealized version of motherhood in which our homes are spotless, our lives are easy and our bodies are free of stretch marks and any extra weight.
But over the last decade advertisers have discovered the power of reflecting our reality back to us. It turns out that valuing consumers as we are is a great way to sell things, and change a culture while you’re at it. Since Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” shocked mid-aughts’ audiences by showing the bodies of non-models in their underwear, brands have been turning advertising campaigns into campaigns for body positivity, mirroring the content and language of a social media movement.
The latest brand to showcase the untouched bellies and bodies of non-model moms in its advertisements is Mothercare, a UK retailer of “prams and pushchairs” (translation: strollers) car seats, clothes and everything else expecting moms are likely to register for and buy in the early years of parenthood.
Mothercare’s “Body Proud Mums campaign” brought real moms in front of the camera of photographer Sophie Mayanne, who is known for leaving the authentic, imperfect beauty of the human form untouched by digital erasers. “The images depict the raw and incredibly emotional experience of childbirth. The aim is for mums of all shapes and sizes to be able to identify with these photos in one way or another, and to feel more confident with their imperfections,” says Maryanne.
Now the ads are displayed in London’s public transportation system and are going viral on social media.
Kesia, 17 weeks postpartum
Mothercare’s campaign has done its job as an advertising campaign and social one. People all over the world are talking about the beauty of postpartum bodies, or as The Guardian says, “pillowy bellies and engorged breasts.”
As Sophie Mayanne, the photographer, told CNN, the photos are about documenting and showcasing the diversity of motherhood because “there are a lot of marginalized bodies we don’t see represented in the media.”
Critics of the campaign suggest it reinforces limiting ideas about women’s worth in society and does little to normalize postpartum bodies, but the women photographed believe that showing their stretched bellies and scars are doing society a service (even if it is also in the service of a retailer).
Tina, photographed with her two children, explains how much the world needs to see photos like these: “I, myself remember being really surprised when Kate Middleton came out of the hospital holding Prince George. She had the baby bump, and I remember being surprised that your belly doesn’t just go down after giving birth. I also thought how stupid I was to have ever thought it would. I guess pre-children you just have unrealistic expectations.”
The fact that a grown woman could look at Kate Middleton coming out of the hospital with her new baby and expect to see a bumpless Duchess speaks volumes to how our society has (up until quite recently) hidden the postpartum form from public view, and certainly from advertisements aimed at moms and moms-to-be.
Not seeing postpartum bodies made it harder for Tina to adjust when hers became one: “I also put pressure on myself to try and get my body back, but as I slowly transition into motherhood I am realizing that it’s actually not that important, and I just need to be OK in my own skin rather than worrying about what everyone else thinks.”
It’s been more than a decade since Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty,” blazing a body-positive trail that brands like Knix, Aerie, and Target tread to this day. Showing diverse bodies in advertising does help normalize them, which helps more women feel comfortable in their own skin.
Advertising is used to sell us a thing, but the side effect is selling us an idea of who we should be. This campaign is telling mothers that their bodies are beautiful and that they should love who they are. It’s an important idea, one worth amplifying in any way possible. The fact that it’s being used to sell pushchairs and prams doesn’t make it any less important or powerful.