How Kim Kardashian Pushed The Boundaries Of Celebrity Pregnancy – BuzzFeed News

If you were born after 1991, you’ve never known a time when pregnancy wasn’t performed in public: 1991 was the watershed year in which Demi Moore appeared naked, seven months pregnant with her second daughter, Scout, on the cover of Vanity Fair. The cover became instantly iconic, mocked and replicated and spoofed in the manner of meme culture decades before online memes existed. In some quarters, it was considered obscene: many supermarkets displayed it with the sort of paper wrap reserved for Playboy; others, like Safeway and Giant, refused to sell it entirely. “It’s tacky,” one twenty-​­three-​­year-​­old woman told the Los Angeles Times. She couldn’t imagine “why anyone would want to display her swollen stomach like that — and why people would want to look at it.”

The titillation was purposeful: Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown, who would go on to serve as editor in chief of The New Yorker, made the decision to put the image on the cover, knowing how it would drive sales. The issue ended up selling more than a million copies — 250,000 more than normal circulation. “The Demi Moore cover is a radical statement of New Hollywood values,” Brown declared. “It breaks the mold of every stereotype of celebrity glamour. For too long, women have felt that pregnancy is something they have to conceal and disguise. It takes the courage of a woman as modern and innovative as Demi Moore to cast aside the conventions of traditional beauty and declare that there is nothing more glorious than the sight of a woman carrying a child.”

Moore, who was promoting her new movie, The Butcher’s Wife, obviously agreed. “I have no regrets,” she said. “Attitudes are changing. I feel beautiful when I’m pregnant . . . I was just on vacation in Mexico, in my bikini with my big belly hanging out and my low-​­cut top.” Even before the shoot, Moore’s attitude had been catching on: swimsuit designer John Koerner reported that his maternity bikini, released three years before, was now his number one seller. “Women’s whole attitude toward pregnancy is changing fast,” he explained. “It’s what we call a paradigm shift — none of the old rules apply.”

It’s taken twenty-​­five years to see just how right Koerner’s statement would be. Today, pregnancy and motherhood are one of the primary ways in which a female celebrity maintains attention. The baby bump has become, as Molly Jong-​­Fast declared in The New York Times, the new Birkin bag: it’s “cute” and “adorable” and “feminine,” something to dress up, to rub in photos, to have photographed as your partner leans down and kisses it. Celebrities model these behaviors on the red carpet, in selfies, and in paparazzi photos, and as a result, women across America have adopted them en masse.

It’s difficult to emphasize just how radical this attitude would seem to women experiencing pregnancy even thirty years ago. To be pregnant in public was in poor taste — unsophisticated, trashy, unbecoming, obscene. That sense of the pregnant body as abject goes back millennia, as the pregnant body is a woman’s body at its most fecund, but also in its most grotesque figuration: the body swells, expands, and oozes, the boundary between inside and outside permeable. New motherhood is often depicted as something darling: sweetly sleeping babies on all crisp white sheets and gurgling babies in the bath. But childbirth is a messy, primal process: consider the afterbirth, the leakage of breast milk, the caked gunk scraped from the newborn’s body, the blood and screaming, and the fact that for so long, so many otherwise healthy women died in the process of giving birth.

The pregnant body was also profoundly contradictory: as scholar Jane Ussher explains, pregnancy is, at its most essential, the most vivid proof of women’s sexuality — which is precisely why representations of mothers took on the opposite characteristics. The most significant mother of Christianity, for example, is the Virgin Mary: asexual, idealized, immaculate. Mary is rarely represented while actually pregnant, only afterwards, when the child is safely born, both mother and child clean and content. This beatific mother is contained, pure — the antidote to the abjectly pregnant mother.

Historically, the easiest way to contain that abjection was to keep the pregnancy out of sight. Women of a certain class often receded entirely from public view until after the baby was born and the visible signs of pregnancy had diminished. When the birth occurred, it happened in the domestic space and was managed by midwives. Like all things hidden for fear of abjection (women’s sexuality, menstrual periods, feces), it became societally unacceptable to even speak openly of pregnancy: according to historian Carol Brooks Gardner, in nineteenth-​­century America “talk of pregnancy was forbidden even between mother and daughter, if either hoped to claim breeding and gentility.” Colloquialisms were developed to refer tactfully to the obscenity of a woman’s condition: she was “with child” or “in a family way,” never “pregnant.”

Up until the 1950s, the word “pregnancy” was not even allowed on‑screen. In 1953, the Motion Picture Association of America refused to approve the script for The Moon Is Blue because it included the word “pregnant”; the MPAA’s list of “13 Don’ts and 31 Be Carefuls,” which determined what could and could not make its way on‑screen from the 1920s to the 1960s, included a ban on any depiction of childbirth, even “in silhouette.” In silent film–era Hollywood, most stars avoided motherhood in one way or another so as to sustain their marketability; those who did become pregnant removed themselves from public view, even as the studios offered access to all other parts of the stars’ homes and family life. As late as the 1950s, stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds were seldom photographed while pregnant — just during the blissful, bonding aftermath.

The attempt to erase pregnant bodies from the public sphere took place alongside women’s increased freedom to control when they became pregnant. In 1965, the Supreme Court upheld the right to privacy when it came to birth control; in 1973, it protected the right to access abortion services in Roe v. Wade; a year later, the court denied a Cleveland school the right to ban a pregnant teacher from continuing to work when the administration “worried that her pregnant body would alternately disgust, concern, fascinate, and embarrass her students.” As legal scholar Renée Ann Cramer points out, these decisions “set the stage for openness to the bump, and pregnancy, that we have today.” The idea that women shouldn’t work while pregnant, after all, is predicated on the fact that women would have some other source of income while absent from the workforce. In many ways, the decision of the court underlined that this was no longer, or could no longer be expected to be, the case.

Even after the Supreme Court ruling, pregnant women were largely exempted from having to perform the same sort of femininity and body surveillance that accompanied their non-​pregnant existences — in part because they were not yet considered a lucrative market. Put differently, industries weren’t yet selling the idea of the “cute” pregnancy — or the products to maintain it.

There was no maternity yoga; no maternity Spanx. Maternity clothes were largely hideous and/or homemade, making “pregnancy style” an oxymoron: even Princess Diana, whose early 1980s pregnancies were arguably the most visible in history, still dressed in what might best be described as polka-​­dotted baby doll dresses. But the popularization of spandex and Lycra in the 1980s and ’90s changed all that: a fabric that could stretch was one that could be crafted into something (relatively) cute for the growing pregnant body.