I’ve never felt more scrutinized by strangers than when I was pregnant. During my third trimester my body felt like public property. Sometimes this was pleasant—older women on the subway would chat me up about my impending arrival. Often it was less so. People I passed on the street wouldn’t meet my eye, they’d stare right at my stomach. Once, a man leered at me, which felt much more invasive than cat calls did before I was with child. I suppose it’s because I had no control over the way my body looked, and I felt much more vulnerable than usual because I had a helpless baby I was supposed to be protecting.
If I felt so exposed as a knocked-up nobody, I can only imagine how bizarre it feels to be pregnant as a famous person. Which is to say that the language and insane press coverage around pregnant women on the red carpet—featured in this weekend’s New York Times—is not entirely a positive thing. Certainly it’s great that women feel like they no longer have to hide for nine months because they’re pregnant, and it’s additionally wonderful that celebrities are excited to find a style that suits their altered shape. But the obsession with pregnant stars—the scrutiny of their weight, the weird disembodied discussion of their “bumps,” the endless tracking of their shape the second their children exit the womb—is completely creepy, and it’s only getting worse.
It’s telling that the Times piece, which pretty much entirely skirts the creepiness issue, mentions an academic paper about pregnant celebrities called “The Baby Bump is the New Birkin,” [PDF] and misses its point entirely. The Times very selectively quotes that paper, making it sound like body-conscious pregnancy fashion is good for women. But in fact, the paper’s thesis is as follows:
“No matter how fashion-forward these celebrities are, media coverage of their pregnancies stops short of its emancipatory promise: Tabloids and glossy magazines watch and judge these pregnant bodies. Given that celebrities provide models of fashion that everyday women try to emulate, the sexy new baby bump establishes standards of pregnant and post-baby female beauty that are unattainable—perhaps even undesirable—to most.”
Furthermore, the obsession with pregnant celebrities makes the very average experience of motherhood seem freakish. A few weeks ago, Us Weekly used the headline, “Kate Middleton Parades Baby Bump in Clingy Dress, Bonds with Dog.” So basically this headline is about a woman walking a dog. But, because she’s pregnant, she “parades” her “baby bump in a clingy dress.” It’s perverse that the more visible pregnant women become, the more they’re objectified, and the more absolutely defined by their “bumps” they are than ever before. If a pregnant celebrity feels good in a body-con dress while gestating, more power to her. But I long for the day when there doesn’t have to be a New York Times article deconstructing it.