When the reigning diva of the American music scene, Beyoncé, rubbed her protruding belly during an appearance at the MTV Video Music Awards, announcing that she and Jay-Z (the reigning king of hip-hop) were expecting their first child, the Internet exploded with excitement.
The world was elated, nicknames like Babyoncé quickly emerged…and then came the “scandal.”
Last week, Beyoncé appeared on an Australian talk show and when she sat down, part of her dress around her stomach collapsed in such a way that conspiracy theorists all over the interwebs cried that she must be faking the pregnancy. Mind you, there had been pictures of the songstress on a beach mere weeks before in a bikini where her bump was on full, unadulterated display.
But this didn’t stop practically every entertainment and gossip outlet from running items on the “controversy.” Theories ranged from Beyoncé wanting to appear more pregnant for press purposes to assumptions that she was never pregnant and that she and Jay-Z had hired a surrogate so she didn’t get fat.
The truth in all likelihood is that the structure of B’s maternity dress simply crumpled a little because her bump doesn’t fill it out completely yet. But the bigger question that comes to mind is why are we so obsessed with celebrity baby bumps to begin with—because while Beyoncé might be the most famous mom-to-be on the planet at the moment, she is not the only one under scrutiny.
There are entire websites devoted to the celebrity “Bumpwatch”—and you don’t even have to be an A-lister to make the cut these days. For every “Is she or isn’t she?” about Jennifer Garner (who now is in fact pregnant with her third child with husband Ben Affleck), Jessica Alba and Victoria Beckham, there’s equal speculation about and ogling of celebrities who under normal circumstances would not warrant much press at all. Think Melissa Rycroft, Kim Zoliciak, Rebecca Gayheart and Ali Larter.
So why would any woman play up her bump or why are we so fascinated by celeb (and semi-celeb) baby bumps? YouBeauty Psychology Advisor Art Markman, Ph.D., says, “The ‘baby bump’ is the only visible sign that we have that someone is pregnant. For the first few months, you basically have to take someone’s word for it. So accentuating the baby bump allows the celebrity to send her message even through pictures, which are spread quickly on the Internet and in magazines.” He added: “I think it is no surprise that we are generally fascinated by the personal lives of celebrities. Relationships, bad behavior, births, weddings—all of it is fair game.”
It certainly is, but the pregnancies of the rich and famous seem to have a special hold on American women in particular. Is it that we are idealizing celebrity pregnancies because we only see the pretty, shiny parts—the perfectly-sized baby bump, the elaborate baby showers—and not the mood swings and morning sickness? Are we dying to see if they get fat?
Dara Greenwood, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Vassar College, who has researched gender and mass media as well as psychological relationships with celebrities, offered some valuable insight. “I think the fascination may be some combination of the thrill of following and idealizing the glamorous, uber-wealthy version of motherhood that is depicted in magazines mixed with the target demographic of some of these magazines—women in their 30s—being preoccupied with their own attempts and experiences with pregnancy,” she posits. “There’s a perceived sorority of common interest mixed with a feeling like we know these people.”
She also notes that Facebook basically operates like a tabloid of people we actually do know filled with baby bumps and pictures of other people’s kids, which may make us feel entitled to comment or feel worried about being “tricked”—in Beyoncé’s case—wondering why a “friend” would do that?
In some ways, our skepticism about Beyonce’s bump may make sense. Greenwood points out that we’re used to seeing airbrushed images and know that celebrities go to great lengths to present a certain image to the public. “Although it may seem silly to pay this much attention to the baby bump phenomenon,” she says, “it is not at all silly to wonder if some of the representations we see may be less than accurate.” (Like the uber-annoying celebrity moms whose baby weight just “fell right off” in less than a month after, you know, “some hikes and yoga.”) Our obsession may simply be an effort, in a world of unreal media images, to pick apart what appears to be from what really is.
It’s also hard not to be envious when celebs seem to have it all—a rock star career, money, fabulous clothes, beautiful homes, and now a baby on the way—and in some cases, we want them to stumble so they appear more fallible and human instead of perfect and celestial.
Greenwood adds, “A side effect of being bombarded with seemingly idealized versions of pregnancy may be a form of envy that craves some dirt, as in ‘It can’t possibly be as glamorous as it looks, can it?’ We want to feel okay with our own lives and maybe feel like we have more in common with celebrities than we might think.”
And maybe that was a big part of the reason for the Babyoncé speculation and backlash: It just looked too good to be true.