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Courtney Lear, as shot by Miss Missy
Miss Missy (@MissMissyPhoto)

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Pregnant Pin-Ups Are Challenging Beauty Norms

The latest trend in maternity photography has a retro vibe

Mindy Hylton, an actress, moves fluidly in front of the camera with blonde coif pinned in a wavy updo and a perfectly painted crimson lip, transitioning from a sexy Rosie the Riveter look to a fun beach scene. The photographer frequently lends a little verbal encouragement; the usual suspects, like "you look beautiful!" and a robust "NICE." The only affirmation that really sticks out is when he and the rest of Atlanta-area photo studio Dixie Pin-Up’s squad shout, "Don’t suck in!" Hylton is preparing for a new, real life role: motherhood.

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Pregnancy isn’t renowned for being glamorous. There’s swelling extremities, a perma-full bladder, sometimes barfing, etc. So it’s especially wild that pin-up style maternity photos are growing more and more popular.

Mindy Hylton in character and costume with Dixie Pin-Up. Photo: Ben Cook

Pairing a pregnant belly with Hollywood’s golden era aesthetic isn’t the traditional approach to pregnancy photos. For eons, unwritten law dictated Taylor Swift heart hands lain over the all important bump. Or brand new baby shoes teetering on the ledge of a tumescent belly (never worn, but not in the Hemingway sense). Recently women have abandoned these old-hat approaches to documenting their pregnancies in favor of a more alluring, arguably classic, spin.

Camera and makeup magic aren’t confined to a single era of fashion, sure, but the WWII aesthetic deviates from other modern cliches such as painting "coming soon" (or baseball stitches) over a full womb. In a way, it makes total sense. Our grandmothers (probably) weren’t that much more poised or better dressed than us, they simply adhered to the style du jour; which happened to include tapered high waists that create an hourglass shape and, of course, unsensible heels that elongate legs and perk up yah tush. It’s a fairly simple formula that has been adapted and updated through the decades. Stripped of modern touches — save the occasional Día de Los Muertos sugar skull onesie clothesline cameo — these photos may evade eventual regret re: wardrobe selection.

Mindy Hylton during her Dixie Pin-Up shoot. Photo: Ben Cook

"Whether they’re pregnancy photos or just doing pin-up stuff for yourself, you're never going to look back on them and say, ‘Oh my gosh, what was I wearing?’" Sarah Caudel, lead lady behind Dixie Pin-Up, says. "It's completely timeless; it's never going to be dated." Caudel started her company about 10 years ago and runs it from her home, which is decked out with mid-century furniture, appliances, and a basement tiki bar (no joke) to match.

When we meet, Caudel herself is dressed in an immaculate leopard print dress and button earrings, with her hair pulled into a slick updo to reveal the most insane cat-eyeliner I’ve ever seen in person. Even if a model doesn’t identify with the retro vibes, it’s hard not to get excited about immaculate red lipstick and flattering halter top bikinis with Caudel around. Until recently, Dixie focused around non-maternity photos, mostly shot for partners à la ye olden days.

The expecting-and-glamorous trend is getting more widespread, populating Instagram tags like #preggopinup and providing pinning inspo a plenty. Courtney Lear, the Director of Digital Marketing and Ecommerce for throwback clothing line Unique Vintage, clearly digs the old school fashions. Already well-versed in period styling and associated designers, Lear says that after catching designer Kenley Collins’ pin-up maternity shoot, she quit vacillating on whether or not she wanted professional photographic evidence of her first pregnancy. "I was not feeling my most cheeky, sexy pin-up self so I really really debated on if I wanted to commemorate it," Lear tells Racked via phone, noting she shot with Miss Missy Photography in Hollywood. "It [ended up] being a day of pampering, a day of all about me and all about my pregnancy." Lear felt radiant in the photos, which are "something I can show my daughter years from now. [They show] that you can be confident and beautiful, no matter if you’re super uncomfortable ‘cuz you’re super pregnant."

For Lear, the fact that the set-up focused on her helped her feel more like her fully-formed self — not just a baby-baking machine. "When you’re pregnant, all anyone asks you about is the pregnancy," she says. "Which is super sweet. People wanna know how you’re doing, how excited you are for the baby, what are your plans for the baby. You sort of become this invisible background person. I was super pregnant when we went to my husband’s Christmas party. Meeting 50, 60 people I’ve never met in my life and no one asks what I do or what I think of current events. It was just pregnancy, baby... you’re only doing the photoshoot because you’re pregnant — but it makes it a little more about you."

Mindy Hylton and her husband. Photo: Ben Cook

When pregnancy’s got you feeling less like a sexual being and more like vessel, getting primped and fawned over as a person is an obvious ego boost. "I don’t feel sexy," Hylton says as she poses, but admits, "I think this helps, actually."

During Hylton’s shoot, Caudel styles her in a series of outfits ranging from sexy June Lockhart to tiki temptress. One popular prop and pose combo includes the mysterious, presumably haunted retro stroller shot. The two most difficult hangups in Hylton’s case, at least, seem to be getting up from seated poses and remembering to relax and, as the squad keeps repeating, not suck it in. Naturally, the pregnant belly’s gotta be obvious.

Hylton says she wanted to go the pin-up route more to appease her heavily-tattooed husband, admitting it’s a departure from her self-described more conservative style. "He didn't think I'd ever do a maternity shoot, because I'm just not loving this side of my body," she says. "But this is also a way to embrace it, I think." Both Hylton and Caudel’s respective husbands (along with Caudel’s complete shoot crew, makeup artist Quianna Nall, and photographer Ben Cook) match the rockabilly vibe, boasting lots of tattoos and polished, lowkey pompadours. Between the clear outward aesthetic and constant talk of rockabilly festivals, it’s downright jarring to catch Lana Del Ray creep over the photoshoot’s otherwise swingin’ soundtrack.

Lear further attests to the shoot as a way to — gauche phrasing my own — remember how you got pregnant in the first place. Reflecting on the shoot two weeks after giving birth to her first child, a little girl, Lear says the experience was a "good re-start for me before going into mommy mode… this is something where you’re at your best pregnant self and you’re all dolled up and have pictures to show your little ones down the road." She urges other first-time expectant mothers to remember a remaining truth among crashes waves of nausea: "You’re still a woman and you’re still sexy and beautiful and that doesn’t have to go away once you’re a mom."

Courtney Lear during her Miss Missy shoot. Photo: Miss Missy (@MissMissyPhoto)

Caudel jokes post-shoot confidence translates into expedited delivery. The first two pin-up maternity shoots Dixie did ended favorably for impatient expecting mothers. "We kind of thought, ‘Wow, we're turning into the eggplant Parmesan of photo shoots. … It's like even before they could look at their proofs they're already in labor."

Lear, however, didn’t have similar luck; her baby opted instead to come two weeks late.

Chances are slim Hylton, who’s due in June, will pop immediately post-shoot. But that isn’t why she’s doing a pin-up maternity photoshoot. "The pictures, I know, are going to be amazing," she says. "I think when I go back and look at them, I'll be like, ‘I wasn't that bad. I wasn't as bad as I thought.’" It’s clear from the pictures, she was not bad at all.

Dixie Pin-up Staff

Photographer: Ben Cook

Makeup: Quianna Nall

Hair/styling/set design: Sarah Caudel

Miss Missy Staff

Makeup: Lacey Noel


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