Why I Refuse to Take ‘Maternity Photos’

Shortly after I got pregnant, a friend asked me what kind of maternity photos I was getting, as if getting my photo taken was a given, an expectation. I just kind of laughed. At the time I was knee deep in Lays potato chips wearing some orange sweat pants and I thought, If they could somehow do some soft-focus lighting while I destroy these chips in bed then I guess those kind?  

I know my position on this is potentially as controversial as the hacked Sony e-mail scandal (nowhere more than my own house BTW), but I have no intention of having professional photos taken of my baby and I most certainly have no intention of having professional maternity photos taken of my big baby bump. Before you ask, yes: I feel the same way about engagement photos and Christmas cards. If my Facebook feed is any indication I am definitely in the minority here. But please, won’t you let me make my case?

First, far be it from me to stop anybody from doing something that makes them truly happy. If you feel that lying across a chaise lounge in a photography studio half nude with a sheer scarf draped across your lap while you stare lovingly at your womanly curves is something that will make you truly happy, I’m on board. I’m your biggest cheerleader. If Kim Kardashian can get away with a glass of champagne perched on her ass, then I, your trusted friend, will have your back while you finger paint your navel. I can even spare a couple of “likes” for you on social media. Honestly, I applaud the organized moms out there who can tame their kid’s knotty hair, find matching cardigans for the family, including the dog, and who can somehow convince their otherwise totally uninterested future husbands to sprinkle autumn leaves over your head for a perfectly timed and captured kiss in the sunset.  I just received a lovely Christmas photo card of my friend’s newborn, and I fully agree, it is very, very cute.  
So why am I such a hater?

My reasons are mostly personal, but yes, I can admit, also slightly judgmental. For one thing, I have a certain sense of “been there, done that.” For the better part of a year, I published a style blog during which I had about 4,000 beautiful photos taken of myself. Yes, it was a humorous style blog, that I wrote as a character, that was never intended to be taken seriously, but I still spent many, many hours of my life pouring over lovely images of my own face and body in cute clothes I picked out. I became a ruthless cutthroat editor of my own image, so there is a big part of me that would be fine with never having another photo of myself taken again — yes, even with this cool new belly hanging off the front of me.

There’s also the fact that many moons ago, as a young idiot, I was engaged. I am not saying everyone who is engaged or young is an idiot, but I most certainly was, and during that short-lived (thank God) engagement to the absolute wrong-est of men, I had engagement photos taken at the Sears portrait studio. We wore coordinating sweaters, obviously. I had an extremely bland bob haircut and forgot to wear makeup that day so I had to settle for the Blistex in my purse as a beautifier. The photos were expensive, uncreative, and needless to say, set in front of an autumn leaf backdrop.

I suspect I’m not the only one who lives with these kind of absurdly phony and embarrassing photos in their past, and with the recent advances in domestic creativity a la Pinterest, Etsy, blogging, and the readily available and affordable options for digital photography, it’s little surprise to me that we’ve seen in our mom culture, a push toward glamorous images of domestic bliss.

I know tons of people who swoon over these new kinds of photos, these better quality images of ourselves. These photos are as trendy as a mason jar wrapped in burlap and a chalkboard place-card holder. And I’m not totally knocking it. I’m never going to be the person who turns up my nose at a cute baby sleeping naked on some cotton balls. “It’s like a little cloud!” But however adorable or swoon-worthy professional photos have become, I still feel like a bit of a phony taking them. I feel like I’m some kind of egotistical brat/ wannabe celebrity. Granted, I’m also not shy, and I am one of those people who has to work a bit at not trying to be the center of attention anyway, so glamour shots are naturally going to add to my bossy/loud/opinionated woman guilt. That’s just how they make me feel. If they make you feel like the royal family, then you deserve to feel like the royal family and I won’t try and stop you. The royal family are, after all, quite charitable and well-dressed.

But might I suggest some alternatives to the perfectly staged $400 photo session? First of all, we have enough photos don’t we? I mean, how many times has somebody asked you to snap a pic of them only to discover their iPhone has reached its full storage capacity? Let’s just admit to ourselves we’re pretty obsessed already with these things. But if we really don’t have enough, then photos are supposed to be all about memories, right? You want to remember what you looked like, what the styles of the day were, how cute your kids were, or in my case, how big your belly was? What exactly is wrong with the good old fashioned snapshot?  

Our phones these days have better cameras than half the bozos working for Vogue. We already choose the perfect filter for the photos we post on Instagram. Our computers are magical. Like I mentioned before, nice digital cameras are as inexpensive as they’ve ever been. Wouldn’t it be more fun to learn to use a camera as a family? What kind of hilarious pics will your 5-year-old take? I bet they’re pretty interesting.  

Or better yet, to have that fancy photo shoot of something cool you actually do as a family? Something a bit more realistic? Like everybody at a party or family function? Instead of walking across the cute bridge in the park on the opposite side of town you never go to, what if your photo shoot was of you teaching your kids how to make green bean casserole in a messy kitchen? Or of you and your fiance drinking Irish car bombs at the bar you met at? What’s wrong with a bit of a sense of humor to your photos? I know a family who gets the professional ones done, but they all make goofy faces and do weird poses. They’re hilarious. Remember that funny couple who did the zombie attack in their engagement photos that went viral? I love the slightly blurry photo I saw today of my makeup-less messy-haired friends both kissing their new baby under the mistletoe while she screams bloody murder. That’s a real memory! Frazzled parenthood at its slap-happy finest.

So nobody in your family is a decent shot? Really? Not even your 15-year-old iPhone-addicted niece who looks like a model in every single one of her Facebook profile pics despite being 4’11” and single-handedly keeping Proactiv in business? Okay fine. Like I said, if you like your photos, then go ahead, get the best of the best.  

Of if you’re like me, somebody who rolls her eyes at the whole thing, but you say, have a very insistent mother who wants precious and perfectly lit photos of her grandbaby, welcome her to have those taken herself. I mean, who are these photos for if not grandmothers? As long as she’s willing to foot the bill and not be too bossy about it, what’s the harm in making her happy?

There’s room for all of us at the table. We can celebrate memories however we like. We can still be BFFs while I lay in bed eating chips and you look better than Kate Middleton catching fireflies in a pumpkin patch.

Did you get ‘maternity photos’ taken when you were pregnant? Take our poll to weigh in:

Photo: Getty