Kate – From one baby, to a new dimension of celebrity
July 26, 2013
The last week has welcomed George Alexander Louis Windsor, the Duke of Cambridge, into the world amid fanfare, front page news and glowing joyful pictures of the proud parents.
There has been a growing trend over the last 3-5 years of celebrity parenthood, and this feels like a fitting pinnacle, although some would argue Blue Ivy (JZ & Beyonce) or North (Kanye & Kim Kardashian) may be more representative of the new celebrity ‘super baby’.
What is behind this growing obsession we, as a culture, have towards parenthood, and in particular celebrity parenthood? We feel like there are a couple of things going on.
The longevity of celebrity life
Once upon a time, celebrity ended upon child-rearing, for women at least. Once you were no longer the starlet or leading lady, you were expected to take a back seat, be the Mum behind closed doors, with the occasional arthouse or theatre gig to keep your name current.
No more, we see more and more celebrity Mums in full public view, and continuing to work post-kids, arguably mirroring the more general paradigm of women continuing to work once they are parents.
The implication of this is interesting, before there was to some degree a ‘rollover’ of starlets, pop singers and the like, once they’d had their five years of fame, they’d disappear quietly into the backstreets of LA, or go on to launch a cosmetics range or some such like. Now though, the megastars stay front and centre, bringing their kids along with them, for example P!nk’s recent Adelaide concert where her daughter stands to the side of the stage watching.
This has interesting implications for the level, and longevity of fame that is possible. Perhaps we are entering the first period where true female megastars can be born, because they are given the timeframe to build up the fame that sustains them?
Stability in a time of uncertainty
Perhaps a more interesting question to ask is why now? Why does every celebrity magazine seem to open with pregnancy/birth/post-pregnancy weight loss? A few years ago this would not have been the case, it would have been about dieting/appearance, or who is dating who, not who is in the park with their kids.
In times of economic and social unrest we seek stability and control. At The Lab, we see this day in, day out as we speak to consumers about their lives. Family is a key structure people run to, we place heightened value on connection and relationships with others, and what could be more important than our kids?
Arguably as the 2008 crash happened, we started to look around and reconsider what mattered, in the celebrity and the non-celebrity sphere. We started thinking, ok, so maybe I need some meaning in my life, and kids mean meaning. It coincides with a cohort of stars approaching the ‘mothering age’ and boom, a brand new celebrity cult is born!
If it isn’t whether or not they’re pregnant, its what the birth plan is, a photo shoot of the new baby, an analysis of how they’re carrying the pregnancy, and then how they inevitably lose the weight.
Seeing celebrities as Mums brings them closer to our reality, to the universal experience of being a woman, and somehow makes them seem less frivolous, and more ‘real’. The newsworthiness of celebrity pregnancy starts to build a world of celebrity that feels less intransient, and less shallow, there are real people at stake.
The power to set the standards of the body
Naomi Wolf’s seminal work ‘The Beauty Myth’ taught us how public texts, crucially celebrity sites and magazines start to build our cultural reality, and the power disciplines that define how we see our bodies. What is the ‘right way’ to look, what is ‘healthy’ and what is ‘not’. These are values we absorb without thinking, and take upon ourselves.
The focus on pregnancy and motherhood came at a time where women’s magazines/sites were under increasing pressure for not showing realistic body images, for promoting only thin, youthful ideals and for (most of the time) faking it via air-brushing. By shifting the focus to pregnancy and motherhood the discourse has been cleverly shifted from these debates to the functional side of women’s bodies. Pregnancy and motherhood is when it is most culturally permissible to put on, and subsequently lose weight, adding a level of legitimacy to the ‘weight-loss’ stories and diet industry. Moreover there is a level of connection built to the celebrity world that was starting to be lost (we went from celebrity, to reality to TV, to ‘real-life’ celebrity). We see stars as new Mums, looking tired or wan, and reassure ourselves that ‘it's ok’.
The potentially more concerning side effect of this new focus on Motherhood, is that whilst showing a more ‘real’ depiction of women’s bodies in some degree, we are creating new norms about perfection. Moreover, we’re creating them for a time of life where really, there is relatively little control over how our body behaves. We can eat well, sleep lots, exercise, but our bodies will react as they need to in order to carry a new life into the world.
The idea of how ‘quickly’ you lose the weight, of how ‘perfect’ the bump is (should only show from front and side, not from the back!), creates a new standard of norms that women are expected to follow. What is dangerous about these norms isn’t their existence, there have, and always will be norms, but it is the hidden nature of the agenda, and the lack of questioning about how we expect to look, feel and behave.
All in all, it has been a year for babies, and as brands we need to recognise the not only the rising cultural importance of the Mum, but of family in general. Brands that speak to stability, security and relationships at a time when we’re reeling from uncertainty may hit the sweet spot of helping us resolve our tensions.