When the news about Kylie Jenner’s pregnancy broke last week, it came close to breaking the internet in a way only her big sister’s naked, oily rump has previously managed. The headlines screamed: “Kim Didn’t Respond Well at First!”; “It’s a Girl!”; “Caitlyn Jenner WAS told about Kylie’s pregnancy…” and all manner of other things. Within days, and in a fit of bonafide baby fever, US Weekly announced that Kylie’s half-sister Khloe was also with child.
The most interesting thing to note about all of this is that the pregnancy, and the people around Kylie, are at the center of these stories — not Kylie herself. It’s almost as if, as her pregnancy has become real to the public, she has been rendered invisible. And, as a lot of pregnant women will tell you, this is a remarkably commonplace occurrence for even non-famous moms-to-be in America (and probably in a lot of other places too), thanks to a culture that often places more importance on the lives of unborn children than it does on their mothers’.
Somehow, being pregnant can objectify women even further than an average un-pregnant day. While strangers don’t typically walk up to other strangers on the street and touch them without asking, a quick Google search finds a multitude of women desperately asking the internet how to stop strangers from touching their pregnant bellies. Back in 2013, a woman who chose to remain anonymous, wrote for XO Jane: “Somehow by carrying a child within it, my belly has become public property.”
This erasure of self by others, common for many pregnant women, is writ even larger for the famous ones like Kylie Jenner. America adores celebrities and, even more than that, it adores babies. When these two things successfully combine, the country can become utterly insatiable. Non-famous women may have to suffer through having their bellies touched by strangers, but celebrities have to deal with every facet of their pregnancies being dissected by the whole world, around the clock, as if they are unfeeling incubators.
An added problem for reality stars — and any celebrity living in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, for that matter — is that fans feel like they literally know their favorite famous people. Kylie’s situation is particularly extreme because the world has watched her grow up. We know how she was home-schooled, we know what the inside of her house looks like, we know what she drives, we know how she babies her dogs, we know her siblings and her parents, and her workout regime. Now she’s having an actual baby? Well, the world feels entitled to be part of that too. Which is probably why Jenner had the good sense to keep her pregnancy secret for the first five months of it, instead of the customary three.
The media’s love affair with baby bumps runs so deep that female celebrities can’t so much as eat a big meal without magazines wondering aloud if they are expecting. On the occasions when the good news is confirmed by an appropriate number of sources, every publication and website in the country plunges itself into a slightly insane long-distance race. The first hurdle is getting a photo of the baby bump. The second is wondering aloud if the new baby’s parents are going to be good enough. The final hurdle is one that requires piling money higher than all other media competitors in order to be the first to get photos of the newborn child. Oh, and once past the finish line, there will be a dehumanizing, months-long analysis of mom’s post-baby body.
Talk to enough pregnant women, famous or not, and many of them will tell you the process can become an isolating one — not because of the physical changes afoot, but because of how differently people treat you. The coverage of Kylie Jenner in the press since the pregnancy announcement is simply a larger, more visible, more extreme version of what most pregnant women go through.