As Rihanna lowered into the State Farm Stadium on a translucent platform for the Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show on Sunday, Feb. 12, she sported a bright red bodysuit underneath a boiler suit of the same color, both designed by designer Jonathan Anderson of Loewe. The boiler suit was zipped up just slightly, meeting her lower, slightly protruding belly.
As she came into view, the general audience question changed from, “How will the pop star perform after a four-year hiatus and the birth of her son?” to “Wait, is she pregnant again?”
The moment she got off the stage, her rep confirmed what had been queried umpteenth times in about 13 minutes: Yes, the 34-year-old, cannabis-loving icon was pregnant with her second child. She is now considered to be the first person to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show pregnant.
While Rihanna was singing parts of 12 of her biggest hits in front of an in-person crowd of roughly 70,000 people, as well as a TV viewership that likely topped 100 million, I was sitting at home in a similar physical predicament, just without the flaming hot bodysuit and suspended moving and lowering stage.
At nearly 19 weeks pregnant, life can be a bit disheartening.
That’s not what anyone wants to hear. They want to see a glowing mom-to-be who is thrilled to carry around a growing child. She’s finally doing what nature intended. She’s creating life, the most beautiful, important act a woman can provide.
We’re supposed to feel magical, fulfilled. But those have not been the first two adjectives I would use to describe my pregnancy experience.
The weekend leading up to the Super Bowl had been an emotional one for me. In my fifth month of pregnancy, my mood at any moment could be anyone’s guess. On Saturday, my husband and I took our dogs to the park. After, they got their muddy paws all over the backseat because we’d forgotten to bring towels. I broke down. So much has felt out of my control since a little being started growing in my uterus that even inconsequential obstacles like mud on car seats can throw me into a meltdown.
I knew almost immediately after the tears trickled down my cheeks that it wasn’t the dirty seats or our energetic pups that made me upset. It was the increasingly obvious truth that my life was changing, and there was little I could do about it. I’m excited for our little one, a girl coming this July. But her arrival also feels like the death of my previous self and the re-birth (pun intended) of a new me. Problem is, I’m not ready to say goodbye to the old me, a motivated writer, editor, and marketing professional who has enough planners, to do lists, and goals to fill a small library. I’ve got a memoir I want to finish. I’ve got a magazine I’m trying to run. But since being pregnant, my energy levels have lowered, and I’m not able to accomplish everything I want. Sadly, this has made much of my writing fall to the wayside. I haven’t been able to get more than a couple pages of my memoir edited in one sitting. The list of essays I wanted to write before the baby’s arrival has waned as I’ve reset many expectations of myself. And, once the baby girl is here, I imagine these obstacles will only get larger.
One tactic that has made me feel better is looking up to strong mothers who were able to work, do what they love, and raise children. I often think of current and previous bosses who were able to do this, as well as friends and colleagues. Sometimes, I even turn to high profile examples, such as Jen Psaki, the former White House Press Secretary and mother of two or the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who had two kids before she was appointed associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993. Then there was Michelle Obama, Anna Wintour, Toni Morrison, and the many cannamoms we’ve reported on for SWEET JANE who stick up and work for what they believe in while still being great parents. The list goes on and on. Reading these women’s stories, or simply reminding myself that they did it or are doing it, made me feel more confidence in myself. Like having a baby didn’t mean the death of me. It simply meant I was evolving.
And then, as if confirming this thought, Rihanna’s determined face lit up our television screen.
"Some would argue this is just fashion or some kind of media spectacle, but to a pregnant woman like myself who has succumbed to mostly sweatpants and baggy sweaters, this is an injection of courage."
Since Rihanna’s first pregnancy, she’s not been one for convention. Even before that, she strayed from what was expected, openly sharing about her cannabis consumption and calling out negative feedback when the media shamed her for gaining weight. The fashion-forward singer founded Fenty—a luxury fashion label—in 2017 and is known for her show-stopping outfits. From the start of her pregnancy, she said it would not inhibit her from wearing what she wanted.
“When I found out I was pregnant, I thought to myself, There’s no way I’m going to go shopping in no maternity aisle,” she said to Chioma Nnadi for a story in Vogue last April. “I’m sorry—it’s too much fun to get dressed up. I’m not going to let that part disappear because my body is changing.”
And she stuck to her word. At fashion shows in Milan and Paris last March, she wore midriff baring outfits, showing off her baby bump with pride. Probably the most notable was a black lace babydoll dress she wore, with her underwear in plain sight, to the Dior autumn/winter 2022 show.
Some would argue this is just fashion or some kind of media spectacle, but to a pregnant woman like myself who has succumbed to mostly sweatpants and baggy sweaters, this is an injection of courage. Not just because of the clothes she wears, but because Rihanna is refusing to conform to what is expected of her. She goes on doing exactly what makes her happy. And I don’t think Rihanna is putting on these clothes and garnering this spotlight just for herself. I think she’s doing it for women like me.
“I’m hoping that we were able to redefine what’s considered ‘decent’ for pregnant women,” she also said in the Vogue article. “My body is doing incredible things right now, and I’m not going to be ashamed of that. This time should feel celebratory. Because why should you be hiding your pregnancy?”
Re-watching Rihanna’s halftime show on Monday morning, I thought of her future son or daughter who would one day watch their mom’s performance and think, “I was there with her for that.” I thought of my little girl, the size of a bell pepper, floating around in my womb, growing a little bit each day. I want to bring her into a world where she can learn from women who dream big. I want her to see her own mom still going after her ambitions, experiencing the things that make her happy, and taking time for her writing.
Rihanna taught me an important lesson on Super Bowl Sunday—that each of us pregnant women have the ability and the right to define pregnancy and motherhood any way we want. We can achieve what we set out to do with a child, whether that’s on the world’s biggest stage or right at home. After seeing Rihanna’s show, I was finally able to break my own hiatus. I sat down and wrote this essay. I’m not sure I’m ready to wear a sheer dress and show off my undergarments just yet, but hey, baby steps.
Photograph courtesy of Unsplash.
Barbara Platts has more than a decade of experience in journalism, working in different forms of media from public radio and podcasts to newspapers and magazines. She’s won awards for her work as a columnist for the Aspen Times and currently works as the editor-in-chief for Lunch Ticket, a literary and art journal dedicated to issues of social, economic, and environmental justice.
She’s currently pursuing her MFA for creative nonfiction writing at Antioch University. Barbara was raised in Boulder, Colorado and has watched the medicinal and recreational cannabis scene blossom across the state over the past decade. She recently moved back to Boulder after a stint in Los Angeles. When she’s not working, Barbara can be found hiking with her fiancé and two adorable pups, skiing the steeps in the Colorado mountains, reading an intriguing memoir or news article, or spending time with friends and family.
Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.