Erin O'Connor on pregnancy
This is the most important thing I’ll ever do in my life.
Lou Stoppard: Why did you want Nick Knight to phorograph you at 8 and ½ months pregnant?
Erin O’Connor: Well Nick’s not motivated or governed by fashion but he is motivated by real life and there’s nothing more human than evolution. I felt that he would have a really fresh attitude towards it so we went in raw and the plan was to show the bump loud and proud. I just happened to think that it was a privilege to work with him because this is the most important thing I’ll ever do in my life and I’m very comfortable with him.
LS: When we chatted before, you said that to grow a human was to shrink the ego. Working as a model you must have grown used to treating your body like it was completely yours, but I suppose the most important thing about growing a human is that you give your body over.
EO: By the very nature of what I do, I am consciously aware of how self involved my life has been up until this point. I've always attributed motherhood as a selfless act and it has taken me many years to find the courage to embark on my new role. It’s amazing to be pregnant because instinct is a really powerful force and all you want to do is nourish your baby. The reassurance you get when you see your belly - and other parts - swelling is incredibly reassuring.
LS: Do you feel that your body worries do slip away, and you don’t care in the same way - you can’t be vain in a sense?
EO: You can’t compare. I think it’s a very grounding reminder of why we were put on the planet. Genuinely I was very excited at the prospect of seeing how my body, which was attuned to this job, would transform. It’s been an amazing process really and especially having that documented by Nick. I’d like to do a before and after!
LS: Fashion gets such a bad press for putting unnatural demands on women’s bodies, and you’ve said you were always excited to be a mother but I question whether other women in your trade might be scared to have children because they know that to achieve those body heights is incredibly difficult after you’ve had a baby.
EO: It’s hard to answer that question because I can’t relate to it or speak for any other woman, but you’re right, my body has always served a purpose in a very deliberate and public way and I suppose my body image is shared amongst a lot of different people all of whom have very opposing views and opinions. But when you inhabit your own body at some point in your life you have to choose what makes you feel well and good and with my own body I’ve kind of taken a shift from the more physical attributes to feeling ‘oh my god, it is still working and I’m well’ and I can’t really ask for more really.
LS: So you think of it more as a working machine?
EO: I do! It’s a machine of strength. I’m also lucky because my body has been disciplined since I was a small child, I studied Royal Ballet for over ten years and I watched my body change and I watched how it began to strengthen, with a bit of help from weights! I was actually very naturally skinny as a kid and now one of the things I have missed, ironically is weightlifting. That’s my passion, I do it three times a week, and I haven’t been able to do that in pregnancy, I’ve had to surrender to what my body needs to do and it’s done its job. I actually feel proud of the way my body looks, I’ve never felt so comfortable. So with these photos - yes, it’s a nude shot, but it’s a woman in pregnancy and it’s a great statement to be able to make, so I’m extremely happy about that. I think it takes away the sexual element, I don’t think there’s anything offensive about it.
LS: Its interesting that you say that because the reason most women’s bodies are celebrated in the media is for aesthetic or sexual reasons, not for being working active machines.
EO: Yes. I’ve lived through many skins and this is actually the one that is most relevant to all womankind. It’s really nice to be part of that group!
LS: I was really intrigued by the Gloria Steinem quote that you mentioned before; ‘A feminist is anyone who recognises the equality and full humanity of women and men.’ You said you personally think motherhood Is an incredible force of nature in promoting that.
EO: Actually Nick and I were talking the other day about how being a mother affects ones feminism. And I thought there’s nothing like motherhood to be able to use those teachings about equality between men and women. I’m having a boy, but I still think that’s incredibly relevant.
LS: There’s a niche strand of feminist argument, which deals with this. One writer explores how she spent her whole life as a feminist fighting against ever having to serve a man or revolve her life around the whims and needs of a man. She writes about how she gives birth to a boy and explains that obviously as a mother and a human you love that child and you will do anything for that child but she also had to question her feminism because her whole life became about the whims of a man, but it was her baby boy - I found that quite interesting. It’s such an odd argument because this is the most natural form of love but it also upturns your belief system. This is especially relevant to your point about motherhood being very instinctive whereas we put so much focus on making our decisions with a lot of consideration, especially feminism, which people ponder deeply and read up on, and yet motherhood is so instinctive.
EO: Of course it is, you’ve pretty much said it for me. I’ve never been a combative feminist, I’ve only ever wanted to liberate and support. As interesting as this might sound, my Dad is the best feminist I’ve ever met because he has three daughters and we had the best time growing up because our equality was never questioned. It was something that was proposed to me, funnily enough after I left home and I started working in the big bad world trying to make sense of my identity and what that represented. In the beginning it was quite forceful because my look is quite anarchic. It was very extreme and unapologetic and actually I think over the years I feel less like I need to sport that suit of armour. I feel more confident just being, which is why it was so lovely to wear that suit of nakedness the other day.
LS: You’ve been photographed nude and semi-nude before, did it feel very different to be shot when pregnant?
EO: Completely. I’ve never been offended and I’ve always been brave to the idea of nudity but I think often it can be portrayed in an overtly sexual way and I happen to think if you’re going to make a statement about nudity it should always feel very sensual. But I think to stand there in all my glory and not have the focus on me is absolutely right, completely correct. It is all about the celebration of new life pending.