Under the glare of bright lights and with the cameras flashing, fashion model Keisha Omilana is tossing her head back and arching her swimsuit-clad body.
It’s not just her megawatt smile and cool confidence that have the clients calling — but rather her blooming bump of a belly. The 24-year-old New Yorker is expecting her first child.
“It used to be if you were pregnant, then you would disappear and tell everyone you were in Europe or something,” says Omilana, who has worked for Kenneth Cole, Pantene and L’Oreal. “But with Kate Moss, Heidi Klum and all the top supermodels having babies, things have changed. They’re still sexy, beautiful and working. And I’m still working too.”
Indeed, the demand for pregnant bellies has never been greater in the fashion industry. Fifteen years after actress Demi Moore scandalized the American public by posing nude and heavily pregnant for the cover of Vanity Fair, maternity fashions are clingier, tighter and more revealing than ever.
At the same time, an increasing number of women are willing to spend big bucks to look stylish and sexy while they’re pregnant. The result: more demand for pregnant models, and more career options for models who decide to have babies.
“Since I started this agency five years ago, the number of maternity designers has probably quadrupled,” says Liza Elliott-Ramirez, co-founder of Expecting Models, a New York-based modeling agency specializing in pregnant and post-partum women. The agency’s clients include Liz Lange, The Gap, Old Navy, Target and Bloomingdales.
“We’re a great transitional agency for models that are in the business and who still want to make money when they’re pregnant. Some women even make more money pregnant than not,” she says.
Elliott-Ramirez even has her own reality TV show, Runway Moms, which chronicles the professional and personal travails of pregnant models. The show is in its second season on the Discovery Health channel.
“They’re not mannequin beauty queens. They’re real people who have the same questions as anyone else would,” she says, explaining the lure of the clean-cut program, which focuses on the positive rather than the seamier side of modeling — eating disorders, drugs or body image disorders.
For models, working during pregnancy can be a unique experience. In an industry where less is usually more, this is the one time when the opposite is true.
“I have been carrying small compared to most models so I had to wait until I was seven months pregnant to really get any jobs,” Omilana says. “The clients wanted to see a big belly.”
On the plus side, Omilana says, a pregnant model gets special treatment when she works.
“Usually when you do a photo shoot, the model is the last person to eat and sometimes there’s nothing left. People are like, ‘You’re a model. You don’t need to eat,’ ” she says. “Now, when you’re working, they’re like, ‘Are you hungry?’ Do you need anything to eat?’ “
Still, the pressure is back on once a model has her baby and wants to get back to modeling. Although there is some demand for nursing and postpartum models, the reality is that getting a formerly pregnant body back in shape can be tough — even for women who are genetically blessed with long legs and flabless midsections.
Melissa Gabriel, 30, who is expecting her second child says that, after her first pregnancy, it took her eight months to get her prepregnancy body back.
“It was harder than I thought it would be,” the actress, model and former aerobics instructor says.
Tina Pieraccini, a communications professor at State University of New York-Oswego, says the proliferation of pregnant models and maternity fashions has meant women no longer need to hide their pregnancy bumps.
But she cautions that for the typical pregnant woman, looking at a pregnant model will do little for her body image.
“It continues to perpetuate the unrealistic expectations found in the media,” she says. “A model who is 5-foot-8 or 6 feet tall has a long torso and the longer your torso is, the less protruding your girth is going to be. Most women are not going to look like this.”
Elliott-Ramirez acknowledges genetics and good looks may make pregnancy and the postpartum recovery easier for models. But she still believes pregnant models carry an empowering message.
“Women are now coming forth and feeling proud to have their blossoming bellies exposed,” she says.