Styling the bump: Laura Nolan documents how she dresses her bump
For many women, being pregnant can mean abandoning all sense of personal style in an attempt to disguise their growing bump. But what's really underneath that need to hide your body?
Social researcher Brene Brown, having interviewed thousands of people, found that the greatest shame-trigger for women comes from how they look, or don't look, as the case may be. Therefore, women can feel at their most vulnerable during and after pregnancy, hence the desire to cover up their changing body.
However, one pregnant Dublin woman has decided not to go down this road and has chosen to do the opposite in fact, and without resorting to maternity wear.
Laura Nolan (30), who was one half of the mother-daughter duo behind Irish fashion label Fran & Jane before it closed its doors last March, is not only embracing her growing bump, but styling and documenting it online too.
As Laura approaches full-term pregnancy (she's 36 weeks at the time of writing), she explains that things were very different on her first child.
"During my first pregnancy (Laura is mum to 16-month-old Elizabeth), I was so adamant to stay as small as possible, I was really dreading the weight gain.
"After I had Elizabeth, it easily took me six months to get back to a size 10 and nine months to remotely resemble what I looked liked before, but I had so much more confidence in my body.
"Maybe it wasn't a priority anymore or maybe I just didn't have time to think about it, but I really began to appreciate my body for what it was.
"I think that confidence made me look slimmer too. After seeing what your body can do in making a child, I think you cut it more slack," says Laura.
Witnessing what her body was capable of was not the only thing that has propelled Laura to where she is now.
Twelve days after giving birth to Elizabeth via C-section (in May 2014), she was back out in Ballymount's Fashion City to the Fran & Jane headquarters, where as creative director, she tried to save her family business that she'd worked in for the previous 10 years.
"Managing Fran & Jane was so huge though, and mum (Fran Nolan) and I were both completely exhausted. It was a battle every day with some issue or another and trying to compete with all the huge brands and being pushed to constantly cut costs just became too much.
"It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make, but in the end, the decision wasn't ours. It was my life for nearly 10 years - the day we closed the doors, I was relieved, to be honest. It had been a really rough few months having to let wonderful staff go and say farewell to suppliers we have worked with for years and years," explains Laura.
Fran & Jane Wholesale Ltd went into liquidation last March, however, a separate company, Fran and Jane Ltd continues to trade with three retail stores in Ireland.
And so, it was from these ashes that Laura restarted her career, the one that led to documenting her styled bump. In early 2015, she launched LNH Image International where she specialises in personal and corporate styling for both fashion and interiors.
"I didn't think I could ever go back into fashion again, it just broke my heart, but a few weeks later and the pangs for the rag-trade came rushing back. I found the lack of structure in my day and lack of major responsibility really difficult to deal with. I really struggled at the beginning, I wasn't in a good place.
"I threw myself into LNH Image International as best I could and just kept going. I have managed to build up a great clientele and I love working with people face-to-face. I'm working on both styling and interiors, so it keeps it interesting," explains Laura.
She began blogging alongside her new business and noticed that the more personal she made her posts, the more traction they got.
"I became pregnant for a second time around the same time and was quite conscious of not letting my bump get in the way of posting fashionable pictures, so in the end, the two just morphed into one. I made my bump fashionable.
"My first selfie post, as such, was on my 30th birthday. I was 14 weeks (in May) pregnant at that stage and I hadn't really told anyone, but you wouldn't have noticed, from what I was wearing, that I was pregnant. It was a waisted skirt I just raised above my waist and over the bump, and from there, I just kept going," says the expectant mum.
On Elizabeth, she was pregnant through the winter when she lived in oversized knits and leggings, but on her second child, she's had summer to dress for.
"This time around, though, being pregnant through the summer is not the same gig at all and now with my new business advising people on what to wear and how to dress, I need to be on top of my game, pregnant or not, so I'm totally embracing it.
"I'm styling the bump on a daily basis but also challenging myself to not buy maternity clothes. I'm loving the challenge and honestly loving my styled bump. I guess as I am less body conscious this time round too, I don't mind showing it off," says Laura.
As well as work, having a host of friends' weddings and 30th birthday parties to attend this summer, she's had to dress the bump for all occasions.
"Weddings and events aren't easy when you are pregnant, especially weddings. Standing in heels for a lot of the day can get really uncomfortable, especially if you are past the 25 to 30-week stage," admits Laura.
In terms of advice for attending those big occasions while pregnant, she has lots of practical tips. "Maternity occasion wear that you can buy online can be pretty awful looking. I bet, though, everyone has something suitable in their wardrobes that would work. So many maxi-dresses have some form of Lycra or jersey in them or floating chiffon, and everyone has a few oversized dresses or shifts.
"Honestly, you would be surprised at what you already have that would work. Just accessorise them really well, chunky over-the-top necklaces are a great distraction for the eye, or mad earrings and wedges are a great alternative to stilettos. It takes more time and consideration but it can be done," she advises.
While Laura has relied on clothes already in her wardrobe to style her bump, there are some maternity-wear items she can't go without.
"There are some items that you have to buy, like a pair of maternity jeans and a pair of maternity leggings and maybe a top or two, but that's it. Maternity underwear, however, is another story. Penneys have a brilliant range; I don't think I would have made it this far without their maternity pants. They come right up over the bump.
"Maternity bras are important too. I find sports-bras are great as your size changes weekly. Another love of mine is the belly band - it's a fab little device that gives you at least an extra two months out of your normal trousers and jeans before having to wear elasticated waistbands all the time," she explains.
Another step the stylist took was to reduce the potential for conflict regarding what to wear every morning.
"This time around, I put away anything that I knew I couldn't wear for the next 12 months, and anything I thought I could wear, I have kept out and worn. It is such a great idea and it makes it so much easier to dress in the morning as you aren't being distracted by clothes that won't fit you," advises Laura.
The last 12 months, both in professional and personal terms, have brought Laura on a 360-degree journey, one which involved going from hiding her bump to styling it for all to see. And far from being ashamed, she sees her stomach as a source of pride, and is encouraging others to do the same.
"My advice is to embrace the bump, don't try and hide it. I know in workplaces it can be hard, especially in male-dominant offices, but you should be so proud. And it's not around for very long, all things considered.
"There is so much pressure out there from social media especially, portraying all these yummy-celebrity-mummies back in their size-six bikinis the week after having a baby. Ignore them, they are aliens."
See Laura Nolan's dressed bump documented online at www. lnhimageinternational.com