Monday, September 26, 2005

Pregnancy as Spectacle: Britney, Jennifer, Heidi, et al


Boom Boom Boom
goes Hollywood. Tummies bulging everywhere. That distended belly button poking like a nipple through the thin cotton shirt. Timelines of swelling, the tummies seem to tick: four, three, two, one -- ta da!!! Baby! Baby! Baby! Sis-boom-bah!!! The envy of all!!!

Sometimes it seems like pregnancy is the new accessory. Sites like have a column devoted to this summers' expectant celebrity couples and there is even a celebrity baby blog (I didn't know babies could type!). Pregnant celebrities also seem to represent a new brand of class priveledge; these are moms who can afford to dress their tots in desginer threads, moms who can afford to hire multiple nannies, moms who can gain up to MILLIONS OF DOLLARS for the first pics of their little tykes (there's capital in that belly!!!).

And its not like people haven't been getting pregnant forever, but the documentation of celebrity pregnancy -- the endless photos and updates chronicling everything from speculation ("is J.Lo pregnant?" or "Jessica and Nick: It's Baby Time!"), gestation, and delivery -- essentially fetishize the combination of celebrity and pregnancy. The whole depiction of pregnant celebs implies though regular folk should envy celebs -- after all, celebs represent potential for a luxurious and labor-free version of pregnancy. And to top it off, celebs are getting props for making motherhood sexy. After all, don't we have folks like Kelly Ripa to thank for the whole Yummy Mommy trend?

Juxtapose this with the push for abstinence-only sex education in the nation's high schools, (um, how is that education???), the Bush administration's persistent attempts to chip away at women's reproductive rights, and their move to cut funding for condoms in Africa.

How many poor, working mothers could those millions of dollars spent on Brit's baby pictures help? How many unwanted, unplanned pregnancies could be prevented with comprehensive sex education? How many lives have been saved by women's access to safe, legal abortions in this country and how many lives could be saved by the simple distribution and use of condoms in Africa?

The sort of pregnancy as spectacle currently in vogue among hollywood starlets is not without precedent. Virgin Mary, anybody? The wives of Henry the VIII and his daughters? That Lady in that Van Eyck painting (who I know supposedly isn't pregnant but . . .)? Rosemary's Baby? All those other ooey-gooey, female body as monster horror movies? And, perhaps the genesis of this newest wave, Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair?

And it goes without saying that the male body is not subjected to the same level of public scrutiny as the female body (though it seems like the emphasis on male muscles once reserved for body-building magazines is becoming more mainstream -- i.e. the popularization of terms like "built" and "cut.").

The contradiction at the center of the Virgin Mary story -- that Mary is pregnant withouth having had sex -- is echoed in the spectacle of celebrity pregnancy. Celebrities perform a version of pregnancy (and motherhood) that is without labor, a version of pregnancy that is surrounded by sparkling fresh dew. The fact that these mothers go on to pose in playboy or walk runways or appear on the red carpet with pancake-flat stomachs just weeks after giving birth also demonstrates this. The whole MILF-phenomena is basically a watered down, suburban version of the virgin/whore tension present in the figure of Eve and at work in the Virgin Mary/ Mary Magdalene paradigm. (Um, is my catholic upbringing at all evident here?). All we need now is a pregnant Barbie. Or how about a pregnant Ken?

Anyway, for those of you who can't wait to see what Brit's baby looks like, I suggest you go over to check out the latest Jenny's World exclusive.

pic of Brit courtesy bbc


femme feral said...

I wanted to add that I think it is interesting that sometimes christ's body and st. sebastian are rendered as penetrated by nails and and arrows and bearing vagina-like wounds. In this case, the scrutinized male body is also a feminized male body.

Crystal said...

Very very interesting post! I follow celebrity gossip (I'm sure Demi&Ashton will cover every single tabloid come Friday) and celebrity moms are pretty fascinating. They make it all look so easy, staying perfectly slim except the round tummy, but I hope normal women aren't trying to live up to those expectations. A pregnant Barbie...I've never thought of that before you said so, and I'm surprised we haven't seen Barbie pregnant yet.

Jenny said...

You know what always bothers me? Like when they show celebrity moms and dads taking their kids to the park, or to the toy store, or helping them build a sandcastle and it's like, "Wow--Stars They're Just Like Us." It reminds me of that famous Chris Rock joke about fathers bragging about how they take care of their kids and he's like, "um...yeah you're supposed to." And I know what we are supposed to think when we see pictures of, for example, Reese Witherspoon taking little Ava home from school and carrying her finger painting. We're supposed to think, "Oh that's so cute, she's this big, rich movie star and she is getting excited about a simple little finger painting!" (I know we're supposed to think that because I always think that). Anyway, it bothers me that I think that because, well, that's what my mom did too. and my dad. with no nannies.

zp said...

I love the way you pull it all together. Might also include in this discussion: (1) these strange and supposedly "life like" 3D baby sonograms I've heard about, (2) the idea that gestation and labor (when not a spectacle) are hidden in the adopt-a-baby-from-the-third-world option and displaced on to other feminine bodies, ie, not the rich white mamas for whom motherhood is another luxury commodity. The second crit I borrowed from a talk by Rey Chow . . . and, for that matter, an episode of Larry David. Well, sort of . . .

femme feral said...

Hey zp! Thanks for stopping by!

Those 3-d sonograms are crazy! And how many movies / tv shows have shown a character (usually disconnected father) totally come around on the idea of parenthood while watching those fuzzy images of a swimming fetus -- that "a-ha" moment that happens as we watch someone else watching (I think this even happened on friends -- the moment when Ross and his ex-wife and her new lesbian mother stop bickering to watch the screen). I've always found these scenes sort of manipulative and unsettling.

The whole incorporation of this sort of medical imaging into tv and film is totally fascinating. It is an eye that effectively penetrates the body; in the case of sonograms, the contents of the womb are literally projected onto the screen (so are people on tv in the tv's womb?)

And you make a great point about celeb adoptions. The controversy around Angelina Jolie's latest adoption seemed to stem from the notion that AJ had privledged access to the adopted -- almost to the point where people were wondering if her desires were privledged over the child's birth mother.

And that curb episode with the surrogate mother is hilarious! We're big LD fans over here.