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28th February 2023

To Baby or not to baby: Rihanna’s media mother frenzy

News of famous pregnancies and baby announcements gain audiences. That much is clear. But the media coverage of these celebrity pregnancies focuses more on cynical PR rather than praising the mothers.
To Baby or not to baby: Rihanna’s media mother frenzy
Photo: Erin Botten @ The Mancunion

If you have been anywhere near the internet in recent weeks, I’m sure you too have been bowled over by Rihanna’s halftime Superbowl extravaganza. The show, which was described as “effortlessly cool” by The Guardian, “electrifying” by The Telegraph, and “looking like Rihanna dancing with pieces of bopping popcorn” by a random TikToker, was a sure hit.

It wasn’t her singing that drew all the attention though, but rather the special guest appearance of none other than her unborn baby. Though the vocal cords only develop in the 28th week of pregnancy, this foetal performance sure struck a note among the papers and media coverage.

Yes, in terms of snapping up the paps, a pregnancy announcement is really unde-foetus-able.

Just three days after Rihanna’s Superbowl performance, the March edition of Vogue was released with an interview and photoshoot of the pop star and her first child, a nine-month-old baby boy. This double whammy of motherhood has well and truly projected Rihanna back into a spotlight she has been all too familiar with in the past, before her four-year performance hiatus. The article talks of many of Rihanna’s achievements, motherhood being a frequent topic and forming the cover photo.

But before any media outlets could dissect this fully there was more news to come in the form of Rihanna’s baby bump front and centre of her Superbowl performance. A sure hit amongst the press, and plastering the headlines for at least the next week, because who doesn’t love a pregnancy announcement? Especially if it’s one of the famous singers we all grew up doing awfully-choreographed living room dances to.

But if you actually read these headlines, it soon becomes apparent that it’s not Rihanna’s singing that’s being shouted about, but the pregnancy itself. Not only is it impossible to find an article where Rihanna’s pregnancy isn’t mentioned, but it often steals the headline from anything to do with Rihanna’s music, lyrics, voice, dancing, or overall performance.

I mean sure, growing a human inside you is very impressive, but from those headlines, you would think a rerun of One Born Every Minute would have had the same effect. Rihanna needn’t have bothered at all.

Yet it seems it’s not just Rihanna. Last September Blake Lively was also featured in a Vogue article entitled ‘Blake Lively’s Best Red Carpet Maternity Looks’ after she showed the baby bump for her fourth child on the Forbes Power Women’s Summit red carpet. Meghan Trainor has recently gained traction on TikTok partly because of her adorable son and pregnancy announcement with the guy from Spy Kids. Don’t even get me started on the Kardashians. I have watched more of North West’s TikToks than I probably should admit.

There are two things in common in all of these public pregnancy announcements. One, that they’re all very popular, and two, that they all detract from the talents these women were famous for in the first place. All of a sudden Blake Lively is not a skilled actress but a beautiful baby bump wearer, Meghan Trainor is no singer but instead a doting mother, and Kylie Jenner is not the owner of a successful make-up brand but rather the ‘Rise and Shine’ baby waker.

Announcing pregnancies makes popular celebrities even more popular, but at a cost to people appreciating their professional talents. But what about those women who don’t want to endure nine months of internal discomfort for 18 years of someone whining “Muuuuum” at you?

Chelsea Handler, a brilliantly funny, deadpan American comedian with a Netflix special, six published books, and a Harry Styles interview to her name, has chosen just that.

On February 14 (which some of you may know as Valentine’s Day) Handler posted a TikTok entitled a ‘day in the life of a childless woman’. The TikTok is obviously humorous, overexaggerating that a childless woman can achieve feats like climbing Mount Everest and building a time machine in a day, but still came under serious hate.

The American television hosts Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson were among such haters, stating that “her womb resembles dried-up tumbleweed,” and that there’s no point “trying to pretend like you’re happy, but you’re not happy.” As far as I’m aware neither man contacted Chelsea’s gynaecologist or therapist before coming to these conclusions. Instead, they used what I like to call ‘S.W.M.A’: Straight White Male Audacity.

@chelseahandlerJust another child-free day.♬ original sound – Chelsea Handler

Additionally, Handler’s comedic talents were also ignored in articles about her lack of children, just like the talents of the pregnant women who I mentioned earlier. Whether the press was negative or positive, women are referred to in the media solely based on their choice to conceive or not.

So, regarding the age-old question of ‘to baby or not to baby’ the answer should not be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Instead, I would meet the question with my own question: Why, in 2023, do we still base our judgement of a woman on whether she decides to give birth or not?

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