Throughout history, society has put an extreme amount of pressure on women to bear children. Not too long ago, however, the discussion and even the acknowledgement of pregnancy were considered taboo. Acknowledging pregnancy meant acknowledging female sexuality, so expecting women were expected to hide their growing stomachs. Beginning in the 1950s, however, attitudes began to change. Though it took decades to evolve into what it is today, society's perception of pregnancy shifted significantly in 1952 when Lucille Ball filmed the second season of "I Love Lucy" while pregnant. Of course, CBS found the term "pregnant" too crass, so instead Lucy was "expecting." Nonetheless, this was a major leap towards positively changing the attitude towards pregnancy.
Today, it often seems like pregnancy is all we can talk about. Now that the stigma against single motherhood has largely disappeared, and shows such as "Teen Mom" and "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" glamorize pregnancy, "baby bump" watches have become all the rage. Our society's current obsession with the baby bump is at times invasive, at times empowering, and at times downright overboard, but it demonstrates, albeit surprisingly, that our attitudes toward pregnancy and female sexuality haven't changed as much as we might think.
It used to be that pregnancy was never discussed in public, but nowadays you can't open a tabloid or gossip magazine without finding some mention of a baby bump watch. The term "bump watch" was coined by a blogger in 2004, and it demonstrates our society's recent obsession with pregnancy, particularly of celebrities. We want to know every detail of stars' pregnancies, and with the help of magazines such as People and Us Weekly, we can. Before Drew Barrymore had even confirmed her pregnancy, for example, Us Weekly published a photograph of the actress holding a sonogram last year, prompting a media buzz. Numerous magazines and blogs fuel rumors of potential pregnancies, whether the stars are actually pregnant or not.
In many ways, this public acknowledgement of pregnancy is empowering. Though it caused a minor scandal in 1991, Demi Moore's nude pregnant cover for Vanity Fair was applauded by many as a celebration of female sexuality and pregnancy. Since then, plenty of other celebrities, such as Britney Spears, Cindy Crawford, and Jessica Simpson, have flaunted their protruding bellies in similar covers. Our society now embraces the notion that women can "have it all," with pregnant celebrities demonstrating that women can be mothers while maintaining lucrative careers.
Some would even argue that the "bump watch" has gone overboard. Kate Middleton's growing belly is a major topic of conversation in the news. The Kimye bump is also a hot topic, and the reality star keeps fans updated through Twitter, sharing everything from her new obsession with maxi dresses to her cravings for sushi. P!nk and Jessica Simpson have tweeted pregnancy shots in the past, with the latter being known for her pregnancy TMI. She famously revealed in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, "I feel like I have a bowling ball on my hookah," and later told Ryan Seacrest that pregnancy boosted her sex drive.
Yet despite the fact that society's obsession with the baby bump shows the seemingly positive change in the way in which we view pregnancy, it also maintains some parallels to the way it was perceived hundreds of years ago. The stigma against single mothers has all but disappeared, but a stigma still exists against women who choose not to have children. After all, our obsession with the baby bump clearly shows how our culture still expects women to have children. A recent study showed that more people today (about 38%) think that the trend of fewer couples having children is bad for society, versus only 29% in 2007. Society may no longer care as much about the sex of the child, but an expectation to bear children remains. Mothers may be empowered by the relatively new belief that women can have children and successful careers, but it shouldn't be that "having it all" is defined by being both a mother and a career woman.
Also, though the baby bump is no longer hidden, actually talking about the "nitty-gritty" of pregnancy and female sexuality is still taboo. If it weren't, we wouldn't feel the need to use the cute term "bump watch" in order to avoid the awkwardness of discussing what pregnancy actually involves.
Society's obsession with the bump watch may be a bit invasive, but it shows the long way our culture has come in regards to the acceptance of female sexuality and the shedding of the taboo of pregnancy. Nonetheless, in ways it just thinly veils the maintained historic belief that women should always choose to be mothers. Pregnancy should be celebrated, but not at the cost of setting it as an expectation.