Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
I followed Jessica Simpson’s recent pregnancy with interest: we’re the same age, we both carried baby girls, and we were due about a month apart. I watched her show “Fashion Star” (admittedly, for me, an interesting concept but an inferior program to “Project Runway”) and wondered what it was like for her to work throughout her pregnancy. My own pregnancy felt taxing and public enough, but while I stood in front of fewer than one hundred students each week, Simpson’s pregnancy involved national tabloid media, celebrity commentary on her weight gain, and ultimately ended with baby Maxwell and a four-million dollar deal with Weight Watchers.
Pregnancy itself seems to invoke the curiosity — and, let’s be honest, the voyeurism — of strangers even for private citizens like me. I chalk it up to the combination of a fascination with the creation of new life and a social obsession with scrutinizing female bodies. That voyeurism grows more exaggerated with celebrity pregnancy “bump watches” — particularly in a culture where stars cultivate attention to their child-bearing status via tweets, Facebook updates, and the now seemingly-mandatory pregnant nude magazine cover. I found Simpson’s April cover photo for Elle beautiful and her attitude toward pregnancy refreshing: she seemed joyful and comfortable in her pregnant body in a way that I could not manage to achieve. Yet her own statements about her life met persistent criticism, as well as unfair comparisons between her pregnant body and her body during her daisy duke days. Celebrities like Joy Behar and Snooki criticized Simpson’s size, even as Sarah Palin came to her defense. To me, Simpson looked like a typical pregnant woman, to whom the only acceptable comment on her appearance would be “You look fantastic!”
Simpson seemed caught in a cultural quagmire, i.e., the tension between viewing women as wombs (where the “bump” and the breast subsume the woman as a whole person) and the drive to erase all traces of childbearing from a woman’s body as quickly as possible. Simpson gave birth on May 1 and officially announced her Weight Watchers deal last week, but the contract leaked weeks ago, and technically, this new celebrity mother is not even out of the postpartum period. There was even talk of getting her body “back” before her baby girl was even born. In my own postpartum recovery, I am feeling proud simply because I’ve showered (almost) every day this week. Granted, I’ve been wearing the same pants, but underneath them, I’m really clean. Both my baby and I are eating and sleeping regularly, if at strange hours, and those expectations seem sufficient to me based on the physical and emotional overhauls of pregnancy, labor, and caring for a newborn. Yes, I want my body “back” too, but I question what that expression even means.
For the last nine months, my body has been shared, and in my recovery, I can feel the toll of lost nutrients, shifted organs, and fatigued muscles. I’m already thinking about when I can start running again, but I’m wary of pushing myself too hard too soon like I did after my first pregnancy (which only made healing harder). Right now, it’s enough work to stay hydrated and maintain minimal hygiene standards. (And, hey, I’m writing this column!) So when I think about Jessica Simpson recovering from her caesarean section and signing on with Weight Watchers, I understand her eagerness, though I can never fully grasp the pressure or pleasure that come with her celebrity status.
Stories abound about celebrities who revert to pre-baby bodies in remarkable time. But I think the spectacle of pregnancy, on both public and private stages, deserves a reexamination of what — and whom — our bodies are for: our selves, our families, our God. Why do we love to look at pregnant women but still expect new mothers to look like they haven’t spent the last nine months making a human? Why do we obsess about the way pregnant bodies look instead of what those same bodies achieve, since carrying a child is in itself a miracle? As we fixate culturally on the next “bump watch,” I keep asking myself, whose body is it, anyway?