The media, and therefore the representations we see, are increasingly diverse. But, while strides have been made in gender and racial representation, one intersection is often left behind: disability. There still remains a disappointing lack of representation in terms of body types – according to a recent study, 95 per cent of characters with disabilities in the top 10 TV shows in the US are played by able-bodied actors. And it’s not much better here – the BBC having set itself a target to ensure that eight per cent of people on screen are disabled by 2020.
The lack of diversity exists in maternity shoots, too. When searching for images of disabled pregnant women she could emulate for her own maternity shoot, singer and songwriter Christa Couture was unable to find any. She lost her left leg to bone cancer at 13 years old and, after months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, required an above-the-knee amputation. The lack of variety in maternity shoots made it difficult for her to find any to base her own on; so, she decided to shoot and share some herself.
“There aren't a ton of one-legged people out there, true,” she wrote. “But it wasn’t just that I didn’t see any amputees in maternity photos — I didn’t see any kind of disability. At all. Or really any other body differences. It turns out maternity photo shoots, like the rest of the depictions of women readily available, abound with thin, white bodies. And there’s nothing wrong with those beautiful bodies, but they don’t look like mine.”
Couture teamed up with Jen Squires, a photographer whose self-portrait series documenting the effects of her vitiligo had inspired her. As a performer, Couture says she's had her picture taken hundreds of times over the years – many showcasing her prosthetic leg – but it was the first time she had ever taken her prosthesis off to be photographed.
Being a parent? You can do it. Go get all glowy with your pregnant self, whatever body you’re in
Her want for diverse representations of pregnant women, she said, is also linked to her own self acceptance.
“I have seen mirror reflections of my one-legged body and thought ‘that looks weird’,” she wrote. “And that’s an improvement from years ago when I would have thought ‘that looks awful’. And that is a strong, lovely and, yes, different body. A body that survived cancer – that was cured of cancer by losing its leg. A body that is exceptional in its experience – walking and moving through this world in a way few people know.”
The shoot is particularly poignant, as Couture lost her first two children in two tragic, unrelated incidents. Her first son died when he was one day old due to birth complications and her second son died at 14 months.
Couture says she hopes that other disabled women searching the internet looking for images of disabled women that are pregnant come across her images and feel “empowered”.
“I hope they know: your difference is powerful, beautiful,” she says. “And being a parent? You can do it. Go get all glowy with your pregnant self, whatever body you’re in.”