Until this week, I didn’t realise bump painting – having one’s heavily pregnant belly decorated by a professional face painter – was “a thing”. I knew about those plaster casts some women get made, and that some pregnant women choose to wear “statement” T-shirts (“Under Construction”, “Baby on Board”, “It Started With A Fuck” – I may have tweaked that last one slightly). But I didn’t know that some were actually going in for having their tummies made into temporary works of art. This is annoying; if I had known, I’d probably have had it done myself.

I have indulged in a spot of amateur bump painting – or rather bump decorating – on the sly. On the day my second child was born, aware that I’d gone into labour and that this might be the last time, ever, that I saw myself pregnant, I decided to seize the moment to make a statement and wrote “pro choice” on my stomach in eyeliner. Or rather, since I was on my own and would have to resort to using a mirror to take a photo of it, I wrote “eciohc orp”. Obviously by this stage I felt a bit stupid (and was in no small amount of pain), which is why I didn’t clean the mirror before taking the picture. And now this is why I’ve never put my protest photo to any use. I’m proud of having been a pro-choice pregnant warrior, utterly ashamed of having had a dust-covered and handprint-smudged bedroom mirror. 

Anyhow, my effort wasn’t a patch on what you can get done by a proper artist. Look at this! And this! And, um, this! Think of all the fun you could have! It’s almost worth getting pregnant again for (plus fifteen years later, you can have the joy of getting “you only had me so you could get a fishbowl painted on your tummy” thrown back in your face mid-row).

Naturally, I wouldn’t go in for anything creepy, like having your future child’s name painted on (tempting fate – what if it turns out he’s just not a “natural” Arthur?) or an image of a fetus (cut off your own head and you’ll look totally like one of those cross-sections in a pregnancy manual). And I’m not keen on the random art (a sad pony? why???) or stuff that’s just based on “things that are round” (way too obvious). I’d want to avoid jokes that have been made already (“let me outta here!” – I bet there’s loads of them). And what does that leave? More pro-choice statements, I suppose. But they’d need to be good ones. I may still be passionately “eciohc orp”, but I am also an artist at heart (ahem).

The trouble is, what would be a clever slogan? What would sum up the curious notion that pregnant women are still full, complete human beings? Given that it’s impossible to convince a frighteningly high minority of people of this anyhow, I’m not sure what would work. Here are my ideas so far:

  • Does this LOOK like just an inconvenience to you?
  • Nope, this bit’s still me. And this bit. And this bit. And this bit …
  • No, it’s not really detachable [with pretend velcro straps painted on to create the impression that it is]

I’m not sure how I’d make these visually appealing. I’d use some glittery paint where possible, maybe add the odd smiley face just to show I’m not one of those grumpy pro-choicers who takes a matter of basic equality all that seriously.

Or maybe I’d just want something pretty? After all, pregnant bellies look nice. Most people – as in anyone who doesn’t view all pregnant women as wanton tarts – think so. And the more pregnant you get, the stranger it is, because you know that in just a few weeks’ time you’ll go from looking lovely to being viewed as unacceptably large, with “baby weight” to shift (all being well, you’ll have a baby to take your mind off this, plus the ability to lie on your tummy once more. But apart from that, oscillating between extreme exhaustion, engorged boob pain and hating your own flesh is not my idea of fun). The most beautiful things I can think of are pictures of my sons, but then again, that’s a bit weird, too. I think it would put any future child under undue pressure to measure up to them.

Ultimately, I’d probably veer back to a variation on “eciohc orp”, though, because there’s something about bump painting that wouldn’t otherwise feel right. It’s funny, yes, but it also risks becoming the ultimate in objectification. There are enough people who think your bump isn’t really you, despite the impact the fetus growing inside you will have on the whole of your being. Making the bump literally appear like something that isn’t part of you – well, it freaks me out a little.

Anyhow, it’s really hard to decide. I’ve got in a tizz about it and I haven’t even got a zygote, let alone a bump. Maybe I need to practice. Just get a knee painted, then perhaps a breast. Add a butterfly to one arse cheek. That way, if ever I do find myself pregnant again, I’ll have made all the important decisions in advance.