Yet in transgressing the boundaries of the “cute celebrity pregnancy,” Kardashian effectively called attention to the constrictive, regressive norms of how women, celebrity or not, are now expected to “perform” pregnancy in public. But when her body refused to give her one, she became the unlikely means by which the cracks in the ideology of “good” maternity became visible.
When she writes on her blog that “for me pregnancy is the worst experience of my life,” she’s not just “keeping it real,” as she proclaims at the beginning of the paragraph; she’s working to mainstream the truly unruly idea that pregnancy — and, by extension, even motherhood — is not the pinnacle, or even defining purpose, of every woman’s life. If you were born after 1991, you’ve never known a time when pregnancy wasn’t performed in public: 1991 was the watershed year in which Demi Moore appeared naked, seven months pregnant with her second daughter, Scout, on the cover of Vanity Fair.
The cover became instantly iconic, mocked and replicated and spoofed in the manner of meme culture decades before online memes existed.
In some quarters, it was considered obscene: many supermarkets displayed it with the sort of paper wrap reserved for Playboy; others, like Safeway and Giant, refused to sell it entirely.
As late as the 1950s, stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds were seldom photographed while pregnant — just during the blissful, bonding aftermath.
The attempt to erase pregnant bodies from the public sphere took place alongside women’s increased freedom to control when they became pregnant.
But childbirth is a messy, primal process: consider the afterbirth, the leakage of breast milk, the caked gunk scraped from the newborn’s body, the blood and screaming, and the fact that for so long, so many otherwise healthy women died in the process of giving birth.
The pregnant body was also profoundly contradictory: as scholar Jane Ussher explains, pregnancy is, at its most essential, the most vivid proof of women’s sexuality — which is precisely why representations of mothers took on the opposite characteristics.
There’s a picture of Kim Kardashian in a color-blocked black-and-white dress from February 21, 2013 — about five months into her first pregnancy.
Her “bump,” as pregnant bellies have come to be called in the mainstream media, is visible, as are her white pumps, red lipstick, black wrist cuff, and perfectly made‑up face. News called “absolutely stunning.” But there was another photo from that same appearance — taken from the side as Kardashian turns her head back, presumably at the beckoning of one of the paparazzi who, at that point, were tracking her every pregnant move.