HEALTH

Forget Glam Squads, These New Moms Prefer To Go Natural

Mothers don't need a hairstylist in the delivery room to be beautiful

HEALTH
Aug 04, 2015 at 5:48 PM ET

In the photograph, Olivia Kiernan is propped up in a hospital bed with her rosy-faced newborn lying on her bare chest. The 24-year-old has a fresh face, un-styled hair and watery eyes following 12 hours of labor. She smiles, but not completely. It’s a look of exhaustion and quiet satisfaction—and it is absolutely, exquisitely beautiful.

The snapshot was taken late last week, just hours after The New York Times published a trend piece on the allegedly “growing number of women” dispatching hair stylists and makeup artists to their hospital bedsides for birth announcement photos. As the owner of a hair salon put it in the article, “I think someone realized, ‘Why should I not look good for that great picture that I’m going to show everybody, the first picture of my child?’’”

But photos like Kiernan’s show just how much is lost when “looking good” for brand-new mothers is defined as a blowout and fresh coat of foundation. Just compare Kiernan’s selfie with the one that ran with the Times piece: It shows new mom Donna Yip with an even skin tone and perfectly shaped curls spilling over her shoulders. She looks lovely—but there is no glow, no flush, no hint of the primal event that just brought that baby into her arms. It not only literally conceals the raw beauty of giving birth, it also sets yet another unrealistic expectation for female beauty—now we have to be perfect in labor too?

That’s why Vocativ asked new moms to talk about and share their own au naturel birth photos, which you’ll find below—and we encourage you to do the same with the hashtag #babynostylist.

It didn’t occur to Ann Marie Lipinski to primp after giving birth to her now college-age daughter, let alone hire a professional glam squad. Her photographer husband snapped candid shots throughout the birthing process, including one of her reading a newspaper while in labor. “That pure look of joy and exhaustion and awe and triumph that is characteristic of all of those great new mom, new baby photos is a singular look,” says Lipinski, the curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. “I think it’s sad that women would feel compelled to airbrush that.”

She compares it to hiring a hair stylist to meet you at the marathon finish line. “Why would you do that?” she asks.

Dina Kraft, a mother of two, agrees. “The thing that disturbed me in the article was this expectation that you had to look other than you really are in a moment that is not just physically intense, but also the most natural thing you’ve ever gone through,” said Kraft, a journalist who teaches at Northeastern University’s Media Innovation program. “It’s the time in life when you’re closest to your animal self.”

She adds, “If anything, you should capture that moment of complete surprise and delight and sheer joy and exhaustion,” says Kraft. “You’re also in a daze, too. It seems strange to mask that with layers of makeup and hair gel.”

Extreme primping—especially with the aid of professionals—is entirely out of step with the experience of most moms. It didn’t even occur to Adriana Prest after she gave birth. “All I cared about in that moment was being with him,” she says of her then-newborn. “The only reason my nails were even done was because my husband painted them.” He gave her a mani-pedi the night before to calm her worries that she might never go into labor.

On Facebook, my friend Shauna wrote in response to the Times piece, “Having my hair styled was the last thing on my mind after giving birth. I can’t even imagine …. .” Her husband offered that their now two-month-old baby, who “rocked the Donald on day one,” was the one who could have used a hair stylist.

When women do bother to preen before taking a new-baby snapshot it is typically much less involved than the Times suggests. “I did brush my hair right after I got the epidural, which made me feel better,” says Kiernan. “But after she was born, all of that went away.”

Kim Bennett-Kane went a bit further—only it was in anticipation of having the baby. “I did have a blow out the day before my scheduled inducement of my son. That’s because I knew that after who knows how many hours of labor … and minutes of pushing … that I would be so sweaty and that my naturally curly hair would turn into something that resembles Chewbaca,” she says, adding that she expected to be too busy learning how to feed, bathe and change her new baby to tame her mane.

Otherwise, though, she kept it natural. In an email, she wrote of her birth photo, “Blow out intact and not a lick of anything else. I never looked better IMHO.”

Lipinski fears that dolled-up birth announcement photos could change how we think about giving birth. “I would hate to lose the reality of what people really look like in that moment,” she says. Lipinski points to Gloria Steinem’s famous reaction to reporter remarking that she didn’t look 40: “This is what 40 looks like,” she said. “We’ve been lying for so long, who would know?” In the same way, this is what giving birth looks like—and if we start lying about it, we just might forget.

Tweet your new mom photo to us at @vocativ.