In this post, we both wanted to talk about the insane coverage of Kate Middleton and Kim Kardashian as they progress through pregnancy at roughly the same time. It doesn’t take much to observe the vast differences between how the media and public respond to these two women. As I started to organize my thoughts around them, I zeroed in on the language used to describe each of their bodies.
A quick search shows that headlines about Kim K often refer to her “bump” (I hate that word) as something she is showing off, or displaying in an “immoderate” manner. Some samples:
“Kim Kardashian continued to parade her baby bump”
“Kim Kardashian isn’t shy about flaunting her pregnancy”
Since when is being pregnant and being in public considered “parading” and “flaunting”? It’s not like she was wearing a shirt with a hole for her midsection or something. I think it’s because they perceive her as sexually available and attractive, but a little bigger than the average “hot” starlet (I don’t endorse this verbage, by the way. She’s tiny! But compared to other super-thin sex symbols…) Now that she is gaining some weight with her pregnancy, they are punishing her by making the clothes and actions she’s always worn/taken into a kind of grotesque. Almost every single article about Kardashian features quotes from her fitness trainer reassuring the public that Kim will be thin again. WHAT? HOW IS THAT RELEVANT? Why is the public so worried?
This is especially interesting given Kate Middleton has very different adjectives being used to describe her. She “rocks” her baby bump, or “reveals” it. In the most banal headline, her baby bump “makes an appearance.” It can’t be a coincidence that Middleton was a paragon of thinness before her pregnancy.
Both women, however, are described as “showing off” their bumps. This is really common language around celebrity pregnancies for any woman, and I worry about the implications. Do we subconsciously think these women are being too public by being out and about while pregnant? Does it reflect a desire for pregnant women to be hidden away and sequestered?
Here’s Jennifer’s excellent response to these observations:
This seems to be the classic Madonna and Whore binary.
Kim K. as the “Whore” Archetype:
· She initially became famous because of a (self?) released sex tape, and many stories have circulated about her desire to be famous for being famous.
· She seems to have tampered with her body with plastic surgery beyond what people seem to think is appropriate (if you can’t tell the person did it, the change/s seem more “natural” than what they had before, and/or the surgery is done to replace something illness or a disease has stolen, then it seems to be deemed acceptable).
· She and her family (now including Kanye, father of her child) embody the worst excesses of capitalism and American society today: complete self-absorption, grotesque levels of consumption and materialism, and a lack of human emotions or other talents (Khloe notwithstanding, as she seems somewhat charming in the clips I have seen of her).
· She has always had a body defined by sex or sex appeal – extreme curves, particularly with her bust and butt, which she emphasizes in her dress style. This seems to be part of the pushback against her pregnancy style and body. Her pregnancy style, which is frequently criticized, is often ill-fitting, hugging her burgeoning tummy in order to continue to hug her booty. This is her choice, but it, along with her press-hungry personality, leads her to be photographed often in all types of tight-fitting clothing, including workout wear.
· All of her press is about traveling, making appearances, buying and renovating homes, and spending time with Kanye (I’m sure him as partner is not doing her any favors – he completely embodies self-absorption and materalism at this point).
Kate Middleton as the Madonna:
· She has done her “duty” with the press, but certainly has never seemed to seek out the press attention like Kim K. does.
· Although she is famous for being famous (being with Prince William), their match seems genuinely based on love and true respect for one another.
· She is from a middle class family who, through hard work (so the story goes), built a business that took them into the upper classes. Although among U.K. society people this can lead them to be seen as upstarts, it has garnered her an immense amount of respect from people both there and in the U.S., as she seems more real and approachable (a characteristic she shares with the late Princess Diana). Contrast this with Kim K., who never looks approachable or capable of leading a middle class lifestyle.
· These middle class values have led to a series of popular decisions Kate and William have made: no servants at their home, laid back vacations and lives, Christmases and other holidays with Kate’s family and not in the palace, etc.
· She has always been defined by wholesomeness. Even when the topless photos of her leaked, there was no scandal. People were horrified that a woman, enjoying what she thought was some private sunbathing time with her husband, had her privacy invaded by someone with a longrange telephoto lens. The pictures of them are affectionate, but not sexual, and the complete lack of scandal meant that Kate was embraced even more by the people, who now were protective of her desire for a private life with her husband.
· Her pregnancy style is also in keeping with that wholesome image. She is always dressed classically and impeccably. While skirts can come above the knee, and clothing can hug her stomach more than it could in Princess Diana’s day, she is never emphasizing her body. Her thinness, which means she has a smaller bust and butt, leads to a more “respectable” image.
· A final important point is that Kate is Caucasian (English, French, and Scottish) and married to a Caucasian man (too many ethnicities to list here), while Kim is half-Armenian and partnered with an African-American man. The narrative around their pregnancies and pregnant bodies must be informed by this.
All this emphasizes to me the dangerous ways that we allow pregnancy to make a woman “public” – even when she is already a celebrity. The way that race, class, and perceptions of sexuality define how we react to a pregnancy is prevalent even in those of us who are not in the public eye. In a way, a pregnant body makes its owner the subject of public scrutiny and “watching” whether they like it or not. As a white, middle class woman in my thirties with a white, male partner/husband and a full time job, I got the good end of the deal. I’d imagine Jen’s experience of being a public pregnant body was different, and each women in turn. I think we must recognize the ways that we are affected on an interpersonal level by the manner in which we observe, catalogue, and judge pregnant celebrities. Since the advent of the “bump watch” mania, I feel pregnant women in everyday life face much more open watching.
If you have carried a child, what was your experience of being pregnant in public? Did you feel any responses to your pregnant body (its weight, shape, etc) were a result of perceptions of your race, class, or sexual identity? Let’s hear your thoughts!