It should come as a shock to no one that our society is obsessed with policing women, especially in the mainstream media. The media tells women exactly how to talk, dress, behave, eat, date, shop, — and everything in between — from the moment we hit puberty. We’re told the ideal woman is thin, white, young, wealthy, sexy (but not too sexual), polite, modest, in a heterosexual relationship, clean, and infinite other standards. These undeniably effed-up values are promoted by the media and encourages the masses to shame and criticize anyone who falls outside of the particular requirements. This kind of policing takes on a whole new level when it comes to pregnant women, and especially pregnant female celebrities.
Pregnancy used to be something taboo – and not just when women were unwed. Pregnant woman mostly stayed at home, hiding their growing bellies until the day the gave birth. Celebrity pregnancy was seen as something that prevented our fave celebs from being the sexy starlets we knew them as — we couldn’t wait for them to get back to a size zero. While the last part has certainly remained, in the past decade or so, the first has changed and we’ve become intrigued by the pregnant celebrity. The best example of this is Demi Moore’s groundbreaking Vanity Fair cover, in which she posed nude and showed off her perfect bump. Seemingly overnight, celebrities were proudly showing off their pregnant bellies. Suddenly, we celebrate the way female celebrities show off their bumps and lovingly rub their bellies. We now praise them for fulfilling their ultimate purpose as a woman — childbearing. (Sense the sarcasm.)
However, since celebrity pregnancy is only recently becoming acceptable, it’s only okay if you do it flawlessly. When we think about the ideal, pregnant celebrity, there are probably a few women who come to mind. We think of Kate Middleton, Kourtney Kardashian, Gwyneth Paltrow, Heidi Klum — you may notice a pattern here. The media constantly gushes over celebs who are white, heterosexual, conventionally attractive, and still shockingly thin despite their giant bellies. In a study that interviewed pregnant women of color, every woman noted a lack of diversity in representations of motherhood and expressed concern about how her own body measured up.
This basically means that the rules for how women should act and look become even more narrow as soon as they’re pregnant. The mainstream media tells us that women who aren’t white, who aren’t thin, who gain lots of weight, who aren’t in heterosexual relationships, or who don’t have the resources to have the ‘perfect pregnancy’ — either don’t exist or they’re doing something wrong. Women read tabloids and websites telling them what their pregnancy should be like, and that anything else is a failure.
The problematic way we talk about celebrity pregnancy starts almost immediately. The moment we catch the slightest whiff of a baby bump, the rumors start flying. Think of Kylie Jenner. The second someone caught a pixelated picture of her possible baby bump, it was plastered all over social media. If a woman’s gut looks any different to us, there’s a chance she’ll be on the cover of every tabloid with “inside sources” claiming how thrilled she is to be pregnant. The worst case scenario is that these women *gasp* are just gaining weight. We need an excuse for why they’re body seems less hot than normal, and pregnancy is the only acceptable answer. Just take a look at how many celebrity women have been rumored pregnant in the press… when they actually weren’t.
It’s super creepy when you really think about it. It seems that we’re more obsessed with “catching” and exposing pregnant women than being genuinely happy for them. We love to scrutinize and theorize about whether or not they’re pregnant, rather than wait for them to come forward on their own terms. It’s just another way we love to police and criticize women’s bodies (and lives, TBH). Just like a sudden plastic surgery, weight loss, or weight gain — baby bumps are just another way for us to reduce women to their bodies. The moment a woman sports a baby bump, she becomes that baby bump. She is no longer our favorite singer, comedian, or actress — she’s a belly with legs.
A huge component of the “ideal” celebrity pregnancy has to do with clothing. There is a very specific way that pregnant celebrities are allowed to dress and show off their bumps. We sexualize these women every single day, but that changes as soon as they’re with child. No longer are they allowed to feel sexy and edgy, they have to look as classy and feminine as possible. They’re about to be mothers (!) after all. Screw their autonomy!
When you think about it, most maternity wear consists of baggy dresses, loose blouses, wide trousers, etc. Still, super-thin and conventionally “hot celebs” are allowed to show off their bump with form-fitting gowns, as long as we don’t see skin. However, think about Kim Kardashian’s pregnancy. Kim was torn to shreds by magazines, Twitter users, and gossip shows almost every time she appeared on a red carpet in something less-than-maternal – which was pretty much always. She wore form-fitting clothes, showed a lot of skin, and kept true to her edgy style. She was constantly shamed for dressing too sexy for a pregnant woman… and for gaining too much weight, which people was assumed was because she wasn’t caring properly for the life growing inside her, which takes us to our next point.
We love getting health advice from celebrities. We want to know what diet they’re on, how much they exercise, their skincare regimen, and their lifestyle choices. Celebrity pregnancy is no exception. We expect pregnant celebs to give us the low-down on how to have a happy (and pretty!) pregnancy. Magazines tell us about vegan diets, sugar-free diets, daily yoga, surpluses of vitamins, and holistic therapy constantly. We assume that if we do all of these things, we’ll have the perfect pregnancy (just like Gwyneth).
Often times, the harsh reality of pregnancy isn’t glamorous or fun at all. Some women gain lots of weight, some women get swollen feet, some are constantly nauseous, some are bedridden — the list of difficulties goes on. These are natural reactions to pregnancy, but when it happens to famous women, the public assumes they’re doing something wrong. “Rather than celebrating that someone is accomplishing one of the most physically arduous of human feats – growing a new human with their body, we mercilessly mock pregnant people when we see evidence on their figures of the fetus trying to gestate in there in peace – a fetus which yes, has to take up a lot of space by the end,” said Sarah Sahagian, a PhD candidate in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies at York University in an article for Gender-Focus.
Maybe they haven’t cut out fast food, maybe they’re just being lazy, maybe they’re not showing enough self-control. The media only praises pregnancy when it’s unusually easy, glamorous, and healthy-looking. On an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Kim expressed how upset she was during pregnancy with how the paparazzi treated her. “I’ll get like a sample and [the paparazzi] will be like, ‘she’s five hundred pounds, she’s trying like a million yogurts!’” Because she gained weight and had several complications during her first two pregnancies – including life-threatening issues like preeclampsia and placenta accreta – the media chalked it up to her own, poor lifestyle choices when they couldn’t have been avoided.
And of course, the moment these women give birth, we expect them to morph immediately back into the box of what society deems conventionally attractive again. Now that they’re not current child-bearers, they turn back into eye-candy for the male gaze and there’s no excuse for having a belly. There’s no reason she should be exercising less, or looking anything less than perfection on a day-to-day basis – nevermind that she’s trying to raise a newborn baby. We love talking about post-pregnancy weight loss as much as we love talking about the pregnancy itself. Congrats on the baby and everything, now how are you going to shed all that nasty, ugly weight? We want to hear about how hard they’re hitting the gym, their crash diets, and all the work they’ll do to be as thin as possible, as soon as possible. In fact, in a study done on 387 entertainment website articles, pregnancy weight gain was mentioned more than pregnancy weight, while postpartum weight loss was mentioned more than postpartum weight.
Gaining a little weight is okay when you’re pregnant, as long as you shed it as quickly as possible. Surgeries, personal trainers, dangerous diets and unhealthy lifestyles aren’t mentioned. We’re taught to believe that sheer will and ideal femininity allowed these women to snap back as quickly as possible. Finally, we can go back to shaming and judging them as regular women, not pregnant women – until, of course, they get pregnant again.