On the surface, there’s nothing revolutionary about Serena Williams’ Vanity Fair cover for the August 2017 issue, in which she flaunts her burgeoning baby bump in an effortlessly stunning nude photo. Demi Moore struck a similar pose on Vanity Fair’s iconic August 1991 cover. Cindy Crawford, Britney Spears, Brooke Shields, Christina Aguilera, Miranda Kerr, and several other white female celebrities have flaunted their bare pregnant bodies on magazine covers. Halle Berry also posed while pregnant for InStyle’s cover in 2008, but she wasn’t nude — instead, she wore a beautiful white dress that hugged her belly without revealing it.
Yet Williams’ Vanity Fair photos are significant: by posing nude while pregnant, she’s disrupting the whiteness of the celebrity nude maternity photo shoot trope by turning the camera’s gaze on her black pregnant body. It’s a move reminiscent of her friend Beyoncé’s pregnancy announcement, which was also hailed as a powerful symbol of black motherhood. Williams’ photo shoot is an effort to link the beauty of pregnancy with blackness, something that has eluded black women from the beginning of time.
— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) June 27, 2017
In the images, which were released earlier today, Williams is depicted in profile, her gaze focused on the future, her hands covering her bare breasts and her skin enviably glowing. She almost looks like a Renaissance painting of the pregnant Virgin Mary, and that’s likely intentional: in art history, pregnancy is frequently associated with the religious image of the Virgin Mary. As University of Sheffield professor Katie Edwards explained in an essay about Beyoncé’s maternity photos for The Conversation, the Virgin Mary is the epitome of femininity, holiness, and innocence, so she has typically been portrayed as a pregnant white woman.
In a world where Black mothers are constructed as hypersexual jezebels, state-dependent welfare queens, and myriad…