DEMI MOORE'S striking nude portrait on the August cover of Vanity Fair magazine, coyly wrapped in white, is a calculated publicity stunt during the dog days of summer, and a slick example (not the first) of Hollywood's current romance with pregnancy.
But as someone 32 weeks into her second pregnancy, I find Moore's photo to be a radiant and proud expression of pregnancy in full bloom, in spite of the PR cynicism that gave birth to it. If you can't hide it, why not flaunt it?
Her picture is especially inspiring in the heart of summer, when pregnancy is generally considered to be a sloshy, inconvenient, insomniac condition. Sure, the discomforts are considerable. But are the advantages. Pregnancy is a time when hormones can strike an amiable balance, complexions glow, hair is luxuriant and nails look great.
Being pregnant is a liberation from the usual visual expectations placed on women lounging on the sand or anywhere else.
During a recent stay at the beach, I wore borrowed maternity bathing suits -- not exactly on the cutting edge of fashion -- and felt much less self-conscious than I usually am down the ocean when I'm not pregnant and have no excuses for a bulging belly. I spoke a body language unconstrained by standard measurements.
Why, then, does Moore's "with child" pose make people squirm?
In a society that has difficulty coming to terms with any form of nudity -- witness the recent censorship of nude portraiture in the Columbia Festival of the Arts exhibition, and the giddy over-coverage of the Nude Olym-picks Games in Darlington -- our discomfort is amplified when it is pregnant nudity.
It's not the breasts, protected simply by a long, elegant arm. It's not the tastefully shadowed region below the waist: These are the air-brushed images we've become accustomed to in magazines, movies, videos, ads and even television.
It's the sensual, egg-shaped, protruding belly Moore cradles and caresses that has ignited a talk-show conflagration. The belly is proof-positive sex has taken place. It reminds us of our confusion and our hypocrisy about the blissful drive that makes life possible and its consequences, the graphic and occasionally violent birth process. Moore's au naturel pose, strong and even haughty -- pre-contractions -- is considered indecent. But videotaped births, in which women are totally exposed while often at the mercy of excruciating labor pains, are seen in many households.
And possibly, Moore's portrait is a depiction of the female power men are uncomfortable with. Embracing her stomach, Moore is the epitome of self-containment. She and other pregnant women, awash in dreams about the being stirring inside, don't need anybody else. Mother and fetus constitute a closed circle, closed even to father and husband Bruce Willis.
Pregnancy is also a lightning rod for many critical issues facing this country: the high rate of teen-age pregnancies, infant mortality, abortion, smoking, fetal alcohol syndrome, workplace regulations regarding pregnant women.
Moore's brash pictorial assertion that she is pregnant and proud of it momentarily diverts attention from these issues, offering an apolitical, fundamentally maternal view of pregnancy that I find refreshing.
For myself, there is something fun about being pregnant and reveling in it: wearing mini-skirts, playful and colorful dresses, and my hair gooed and tied up with a scarf. Maybe Moore and this 30-something mother share a common goal: We're both defying the stereotypes of motherhood as a time to grow up and develop varicose veins by proclaiming it a time to feel pretty and even, heaven forbid, sexy.