The Celebrity Baby Bump Bubble

Friday's parenting-outrage-inducing piece in The New York Times takes on the celebrity baby bump, and its rejuvenating properties for many a celebrity's lukewarm career.

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Few things attract the wrath of the public as do apparent demonstrations of bad motherhood (even if, in some cases, we're not that much better, or even moms at all). We seem to love nothing more than criticizing parents who hover too much or too little, parents who indulge their offspring in too much or not at all, parents who treat their babies not like children but like accessories—or like business opportunities. Friday's parenting-outrage-inducing piece in The New York Times takes on the celebrity baby bump, and its rejuvenating properties for many a celebrity's lukewarm career.

Take Jessica Simpson. Though she hasn't had a Top 10 hit (and she's only had one) in more than 10 years, she was on the April cover of Elle (an appearance we reflected on in March). Not because she's famous, but because she's famous and pregnant. Or, because she was once relatively famous, and is now very much pregnant.

Jacob Bernstein, writing in The Times, reminds us of other women in the baby business club: Tori Spelling, Bethenny Frankel, Kendra Wilkinson, Snooki, Nicole Richie, Rachel Zoe, Kim Zolciak. None of them reached, say, Angelina Jolie-levels of fame, nor were they likely to. But parenthood pushed them past B- or C- or clinging-to-D-level celebrity status, garnering them second or third reality series, book deals, endorsements, and so on. This in addition to the standard selling of baby pics to the tabs, an act that's traditionally been a nice wallet-boost to celebs who may not need their wallet boosted in any case.

This is business, as Bernstein writes:

They have found, to be blunt, that motherhood pays. In the last few years, salaries for movie stars have plummeted, record sales have tanked and roles in scripted dramas are going the way of the I.B.M. computer. Yet for a growing number of underemployed actresses, singers and would-be entrepreneurs, parenthood has become a viable Plan B.

“Being a celebrity mom has more business opportunities than ever before,” said Peter Grossman, the photo editor of Us Weekly, where he has negotiated six-figure cover deals with many celebrities and their cuddly offspring. “Now, it’s not just about selling your baby pics. It’s starting a clothing line or endorsing a stroller. The value of a celebrity mom has never been higher.” 

Wilkinson, formerly one of Hugh Hefner's "Girls Next Door" on the E! reality show, told The Times of her success (book deal, show, lucrative baby pics and diet plan sold, etc.), "I think it all had to do with me taking the craziest turn any party girl could have taken. And that’s having a family. It was much more valuable than being at the Playboy Mansion. Like 100 times more valuable.” The latest in the line of moms to be taking advantage of this cottage industry appears to be Snooki, who now has a spinoff and wants to do diaper bags "and stuff like that" to add to her line of children's shoes. 

For the many of us who have long hated the term "baby bump," Bernstein goes on to attribute it to Bonnie Fuller's redesign of Us Weekly, "centering it around candid shots of newly engaged stars with circles around their baby bumps underneath the heading of 'Stars, They’re Just Like Us.'" This bred an environment that led to multi-million-dollar bidding wars over Brad and Angelina's first baby's picture. And with the smell of money and baby pictures, they will come. The rest is history, per Bernstein:

This payday was not lost on a growing list of reality stars and B-list celebrities, who realized that while they might not be able to garner numbers like that, they could at least get something. “It became a trend,” said Richard Spencer, the founding editor of In Touch Weekly, and now the editor in chief of OK! magazine. “People knew that having kids landed them on celebrity titles. They found ways to court the press and get as much out of it as they could.” 

Gross, perhaps, but unexpected? Hardly. We're in the time of the triple and quadruple threat. If having a baby boosts your status, what celebrity in need of such a boost wouldn't do that, too? And so, we have a new word to add to "baby bump" and, ideally, ban from society at some point down the line: "mompreneur."

In sharp contrast to this piece, it bears noting, is another headline that appears on the homepage of the paper, from The New York Times Magazine: "The Criminalization of Bad Mothers," by Ada Calhoun. This story, however, has nothing to do with celebrities—just as this "celebrity motherhood" trend is not, actually, "Just Like Us" at all. Thankfully.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.