So I don’t know if you all aware but Kim Kardashian and Duchess Kate Middleton are pregnant. Yes I know, surprising news since both pregnancies have received very little coverage in the media. I mean you would not even know they were pregnant. Sarcasm aside, when both women announced/confirmed their pregnancies in December, I was not surprised to see the media circus that unfolded around the both of them. NBC’s Today practically wet itself when Kate confirmed her pregnancy, while Kim’s news went viral when Kanye West announced she was expecting their child during a concert. Since then, the media has been more than happy to closely monitor both women’s pregnancies (even more than their obstetricians), but in the past few weeks, more attention has been placed on Kim and Kate’s pregnant bodies, revealing a tale of two pregnancies, one the ideal (Kate) and one the reality (Kim). And the attention, praise, comparisons, conniption fits, and criticisms reflect that these two norms are clashing for the first time.
Last week, the Huffington Post and Jezebel published articles on the fat shaming of Kim Kardashian’s pregnant body and although the historian in me, whose work examines the rise of the modern pregnancy the 20th-century America, yawned and waved dismissively at the fact that the authors seemed to believed that fat shaming pregnant women was somehow new, their outcry at the attention to Kardashian’s fat pregnant body, piqued my interest. This was especially true in Jezebel’s article, where there is a fascinating picture that compares Kardashian and Middleton’s pregnant body and maternity style.
In fact, the comparison of the two women is not new. Type “compare Kardashian and Middleton’s pregnancy” into Google and you’ll find countless stories; one of the most interesting and ironic stories comes from the Huffington Post. The paper might lament over fat shaming of Kim’s pregnant body, but seems very content to run a story titled “Kate Middleton vs. Kim Kardashian: It’s Time For A Pregnancy Battle,” with a revealing caption to one of the images, “Kate Middleton vs. Kim Kardashian: Both are expecting babies, but whose pregnancy is best?” Seriously? Yes, seriously. Of course if you are going to compare, you have to make a list. The Huffington compares the marriage status (both married, but one is expecting some other dude’s baby. Guess who?), height, (statuesque vs. short. i.e. dumpy) cravings (dainty vs. ravenous), maternity style (conservative vs. liberal), and belly size (mini soccer ball vs. “belly just looks like … well, a belly.” I have no idea what that is supposed to mean) of both woman, hinting that the Duchess has the better pregnancy of the two. Why? Well there are lots of reasons, but if you look at the history of pregnancy, the expectation of the modern pregnancy (and the modern pregnant woman) includes marriage, conformity to medical expectations, whiteness, conservative sexuality, and thinness. Kardashian misses on all accounts, but although Middleton’s pregnancy is the ideal, Kardashian’s is very much the norm and that makes us very uncomfortable.
When the modern pregnancy emerged starting in the late nineteenth century, it did not take long for retailers and obstetricians to zero in on the pregnant body. After all its major changes caused angst because the pregnant body resembled the fat body more than its thin counterpart. Obstetricians quickly began to try to determine the ideal weight gain for pregnant women, jumping around the scale, maxing out around 30lbs and dropping to 15lbs between the 1950s to the 1970s. Retailers, such as Lane Bryant, promised clothing that allowed for normal activity, while at the same time slimmed down a body that was becoming less and less attractive.
In all, the modern pregnant woman received a lot of advice in how to control her appearance. The expectation became that a pregnant women would be both attractive and slender, a message that took on new relevance during the baby boom period in American (and in many respects never changed). Pregnancy had become a time of fantasy and a sign of the American dream, which was closely associated with the ability to purchase that dream. Hollywood, advice manuals, and magazine articles sold the idea that pregnancy was the most wonderful time in a woman’s life. If the reality did not match this ideal, however, then something was amiss with the modern pregnant woman herself – not necessarily the expectation.
And that’s exactly what we are experiencing in this tale of two pregnancies.
Kate clearly meets the expectations, and therefore can do no wrong, whereas Kardashian’s seemingly flagrant disregard for the norm gets everyone’s panties in a bunch, which then raises questions about what type of mother she will be.
Kim Kardashian’s unabashed attitude forces us to reconsider the image of the normal pregnant body. Her style choices may raise eyebrows, but by dressing in skin tight clothing, she leaves very little to the imagination and shines a big old spotlight on the real pregnant body. For the majority of women, it’s large and round, which clashes against what we expect and what is lauded in celebrity culture. So Kardashian unwillingness to wear “traditional,” “elegant,” “tasteful,” clothing, like Middleton, leads to belittlement and criticism. Yet, the disapproval reflects society’s uneasiness with the pregnant body because it is not beautiful, which is not very PC to say, but it is not, and it has never been considered beautiful. If it was, pictures of very large bellies, covered in stretch marks and the lingra negra, would be the norm, not the smooth, round, mini-soccer ball shape we see on pregnancy and other beauty magazines. Plus the word fat and pregnancy would not be synonymous.
As this tale follows its natural path and ends in July, be very aware of where the continuing tale takes us. The story will not end with the final push, because motherhood brings with it a whole new level of expectations that begin with pregnancy. I suspect that this tale of two pregnancies will become Mommies Dearest, raising questions as to who is the real mommy dearest. Care to speculate who will be honored with that title?