How Celeb Weddings and Pregnancies Were Reframed to Keep Women in the Limelight — At a Cost
When news of Britney Spears’ pregnancy dropped earlier today, the Internet responded the way it does best: with a flurry of excitement, congratulating the pop-star on the happy moment. This is a distinct shift in how such announcements were received earlier — when approaching motherhood signalled the twilight of a celebrity’s career. Now, it is merely another moment to be consumed and exalted by an ever-present eye.
Engagement and wedding announcements in an earlier time meant that the woman in question was about to enter the grand finale of her trajectory as an actor, musician, or any form of a star. The rise of Internet-fuelled parasocial relationships has ensured, however, that this is no longer the case: fans react to such news as though it is a personal acquaintance or loved one announcing it, and keep the star relevant as a result.
Mainstream feminist discourse, further, has ensured that no celebrity would ever hurtle towards a career heat death when babies or weddings are on the horizon. But while the conversation around weddings and pregnancies have been reframed as joyous occasions in a celebrity’s life — something even akin to royal weddings, where everyone participates one way or another — it has turned into another form of scrutiny specifically reserved for women in the spotlight.
In its current iteration, where privacy is more compromised than ever, the only other option remaining for many women is to flaunt the announcement with cool self-assurance, as the Internet proceeds to then pick one person to elevate above the rest as the model to emulate. Think Rihanna’s pregnancy looks, for instance — where her poise and attitude spurred several pieces acclaiming her ownership of her pregnancy while “slaying” and looking fierce while she’s at it. The unapologetic vibe, however, is accompanied by an unspoken rule: owning a bodily change is doublespeak for looking good while doing so.
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The aesthetic, moreover, is meant to signal a form of empowerment that is hardly so when deconstructed to its bare bones. In an Instagram age, celebrities are their own PR; paparazzi are relegated to a secondary role in personal announcements. But with the new control over their narrative comes a new form of pressure: to optimize every single announcement, look, caption, or comment as a statement meant for public consumption.
However, it can hardly be deemed empowering to go through a relationship milestone or a dramatic bodily change while “managing” the experience to fit the desired “vibe”. If an unfortunate paparazzi shot captures someone in an unflattering moment, there is always Instagram to the rescue: where a perfectly shot photograph can be optimized to attract comments with fire and heart-eyes emojis. Notably, however, this onus is overwhelmingly on women to stay relevant — not despite, but because of nuptials and newborns.
The run-up to Alia Bhatt’s and Ranbir Kapoor’s wedding is another example of how celebrities are compelled to keep the public interest in themselves alive — using their intensely personal moments as a vehicle for doing so. Where the relationship was cloaked in secrecy earlier; strategic, perfectly-timed Instagram photos months ahead of the nuptials have ensured that the wedding is highly anticipated, boosting both stars’ celebrity status rather than representing their dusk. While paparazzi is sidelined into merely capturing the arrival of wedding outfits to the stars’ residences, the main event is the Instagram post that will be sure to drop as soon as the rituals conclude — most importantly, these will be on the stars’ own accounts. News sites will then run articles reposting these very pictures, ensuring that the celebrity is the main agent involved in keeping themselves relevant and also reinforcing a particular fashion norm ad infinitum, until the next big change.
As the gaze is trained on women in the public eye, the cost of staying relevant after hitherto career-altering moments is steep: it means tailoring the pregnancy or the wedding in question to align with the expectations of the day. In this particular day (and age), the expectations are to constantly outdo one another and stand out — in a good way. It’s to be badass, fearless, cool, sassy — everything, except for normal. It signals an era when marriage and motherhood are both commodified as part of an aesthetic more than they ever were.