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Absolutely Fabulous Parenting

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March 24th, 2008

By Guest Blogger Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

What happens when the most glam stars go all… maternal? The fascination with celebrity pregnancies and celebrities’ babies is well documented. These days, a glossy magazine spread for PR is de rigueur when a tiny tot enters a celebrity family. It’s a trend Daniel Harris noted in November of 2006 in Salon citing the rise in maternity fashion as one cause, since a trendsetting woman can remain trendsetting while pregnant nowadays. Pictures featuring celebrity babies of the most coveted order command high price tags (reportedly four million for Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s daughter, Shiloh; and less but still seven figures for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ Suri). While we can go on about how the schism between the picture perfect pregnancies, textbook deliveries, happy babies and nearly immediate post-baby bodies widens almost weekly between Hollywood and the real world, I think it’s worth citing two recent “exclusives” in People magazine, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez as cases where the PR machine creates such a totally unbelievable cavern between reality and celebrity “reality” that theirs are not even earthbound experiences, but rather somewhat extraterrestrial.

Sure, like other celebrities, Lopez assures us her twins were conceived totally naturally (she’s quoted: “I knew there was nothing wrong with me. I knew that I could.”) And maybe they were (although the statistics on multiple births would put high odds on medical intervention for conception somewhere in celebrity-land, given that one in eighty twin births are naturally occurring while with fertility treatments on the rise, the twin birth rate is now one in thirty-two). Regardless, her defensive assertion of her body’s “rightness” implies that had she needed assistance—or if other women do, as can often be the case at age 38—that there’s something wrong with them. She, however, is super human along with being rich and famous.

Like other features about celebrity parents, the nannies are not included in any pictures. Although Lopez and husband Marc Anthony employ two, one for each twin, they insist they do not actually use the help, preferring to perform most of the baby care themselves — a ridiculous claim when the nannies had the babies during the magazine interview, just for starters. Is it a sign of pure generosity to hire unnecessary help like that, providing two nannies with a roof over their heads in exchange for no actual provision of child care service? More likely, it’s another fabrication (because without help, how could Lopez find time to put on that much make-up and get all glam?). Similarly, Aguilera waxes maternal in the extreme “in awe of this little miracle” for People. Alongside the clichés, and because the tone is wholly puff piece, even what might be considered slightly controversial—her planned cesarean section—is presented as a choice any woman could make (”I didn’t want any surprises,” she says matter-of-factly of her decision to deliver via scheduled C-section at week 37 of her pregnancy. “Honestly, I didn’t want any [vaginal] tearing. I had heard horror stories of women going in and having to have an emergency C-section [anyway]. The hardest part was deciding on his birthday. I wanted to leave it up to fate, but at the same time I was ready to be done early!”), although like the optional dual baby nurses, that choice is a privilege few can be assured enjoying and the story completely ignores the fact that the practice of electing to have cesareans is one the medical community is completely divided about, given the medical risks associated with this choice.

Perhaps though, it’s the round crib for Aguilera’s baby and the crescent moon prop from her recent tour plopped into the middle of the room, or the dry-clean only nursery accoutrements and clothing for Lopez’s babies that put their layettes into extreme (and, to advertisers, newsworthy) territory. And what of the pictures of these performers themselves? Both photo shoots revealed fastidiously coiffed, made up and dressed stars more in character than in person—note Aguilera’s bright red Marilyn Monroe lips and Lopez’s “casual” ball gown or husband Marc Anthony’s cashmere sweater as they stood by huge prams in front of their mansion with vintage Mercedes sports car parked in the sweeping driveway. When family can be presented as somewhat freakish fantasy—at a remove from normal life—yet at the same time presented as the most real (as in discovering life’s true meaning, not fame, not awards, not gobs of money) every now and then we need to look at these stories and ponder the implications for the rest of us. And there are definite implications: to really get the parenting lifestyle “right,” there are many items to acquire (round cribs, $3,000 prams, cashmere baby outfits) for your perfect baby (or babies, as the case may be).

Beyond consumerism, though, there’s a way in which these women—glamorous to the extreme—offer a challenge to us regular gals, one that dooms regular women to failure: it’s that motherhood doesn’t actually crimp these women’s style (or involve being mussed by a little one’s bodily fluids or get exhausted by sleep deprivation or wake up unwashed, bloated, hungry, cranky… and having to go to back to work). It’s not only the fantasy life but the self-importance that accompanies it that is most dangerous. And that seems to be worth enough—magazine covers with J-Lo’s twins sell—to rob us of adequate critique.

Guest Blogger Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a regular contributor to Mothers Movement Online and has a monthly column at NPR’s Justice Talking blog as well as writing for many other publications. She lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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