Celebrity bump watch: Why the obsession?

Senior editor Ariel Brewster wonders whether our obsession with celebrity pregnancies has gone too far.

Photo: FameFlynetUK/FameFlynet

So I’ve been pondering our outsized, collective cultural obsession with the baby bump for a while — before Kate Middleton and before Kim Kardashian. Bumps and babies are everywhere! I mean, our dear Haley O has to work like crazy these days to keep our Who’s Pregnant in Hollywood gallery updated, and I can’t keep myself from clicking. (There’s a reason we call it Celebrity Candy. So addictive! And fun.)

But lately it feels like we’re at a tipping point: racks of magazine covers promising pages of bump-watch coverage. Catty bloggers using Photoshop to cruelly call out and compare a pregnant woman’s body, or ill-fitting outfit, to, um, living room furniture, or large mammals. Which celebrity stole a baby name from the other celebrity? Who lost the weight faster? I sort of feel like… so many bumps, so many babies, so many bodies-after-baby, so little time. I can’t keep up. And I feel a little bad for looking, and a little weird for caring, yet I can’t stop. I do care. Is it just me, or is the whole world oddly obsessed with celebrity pregnancy?
 
At least two of my friends who are expecting — due in late May and early June — have jokingly complained that Kate Middleton and Kim Kardashian stole their spotlight as fellow first-time preggos. It seems like a unique time in our culture to be pregnant. Can you guys remember a time when we were more interested in the reproductive habits of famous people? I can’t.
 
Take a moment to read Sarah Hampson’s column from the Saturday Globe and Mail, Bump watch: the female body as art project.” Her opinion piece analyzes, and perfectly captures, what’s so fascinating to me about the celebrity pregnancy coverage, and the growing bump backlash. (The commenters slammed her, arguing that a Kardashian doesn’t deserve to be in the newspaper at all. Yikes.)
 
Hampson says the tabloid bump watch could be “a subconscious expression of the current cultural anxiety about the merits of motherhood and whether that bump is worth having or not,” and I think she’s right. I also think pregnancy has become a PR move for washed-up celebrities, sadly.
 
Then she compares the pregnant bump to “invisible pornography,” which is pretty controversial.
 
“While we gaze at it reverentially, we automatically, somewhere in our heads, imagine how it came to be. And that’s why for the longest time maternity clothing cloaked women in tents and infantalized them with cutesy bows and large, bib-like collars.”
 
Is that really what makes people stare at pregnant bellies? I’m not sure I’m thinking about sex when I see a seemingly impossible bump; I’m thinking about the awesome capabilities of the human body to grow and shift into fantastical shapes.
 
Hampson reminds us that society used to expect women to hide the “condition” of pregnancy, not flaunt it. I suppose nowadays, “flaunting it” could be anything from a tight jersey dress on a voluptuous Kardashian, to a provocative pregnancy photo shoot (now almost as common as engagement pictures). So maybe the fact that modern women can be pregnant and confident in public, without cloaking themselves in baggy clothes, is real feminist progress. On the other hand, I’m not sure it’s healthy to be so interested in the curves and inner workings of another woman’s body.
 
Many famous pregnant people are in the public eye no matter what, whether they flaunt it or not. I’m genuinely happy for some first-time-mom celebrities, like Kristen Bell: it was easy to naturally share in her joy when she announced her pregnancy and new arrival, just because I adore her (and her partner, Dax Shepard). But then there are the quasi-famous celebrities, the fading stars you’ve never heard of, who seem to claw their way back into the headlines simply by procreating. (And, possibly, by taking their youngsters to a very public playground while letting the paparazzi have at ‘em. I don’t think that’s by accident.) It makes me feel kind of bad for the kids, to be honest.
 
Some people may argue that mothers — and motherhood — are having a moment, and that it’s great that our society recognizes this important role, even if it’s in the form of tabloid pics, or yet another think piece about the mommy wars. At least we’re part of the conversation, right? But others, like Hampson, hint that our fixation with women’s bodies (whether, when, and how they reproduce, and then how their body grows and shrinks in the process) is a totally anti-woman phenomenon.
 
Our motto at Today’s Parent is to “celebrate your family,” and I certainly agree with celebrating motherhood. But I think there’s a very fine — and sometimes squiggly — line between celebrating and scrutinizing someone else’s body.
 
What do you think? Are celebrities exploiting their own pregnancies for attention? And why can’t I look away?
 
(For more on this topic, check out Today’s Parent contributor Emma Waverman’s take on how the tabloids have been fat-shaming poor Kim Kardashian: Why I Care About Kim Kardashian’s Pregnancy Weight.)

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