As someone who covers entertainment for a living, I'm always eager for a glimpse into the inner working of the well-oiled celebrity machine. And on Friday, two separate incidents painted a pretty interesting picture of how, and why, celebrities talk about pregnancy.
The first, obviously, was the major news, reported by TMZ on Friday afternoon, that Kylie Jenner was expecting a child with Travis Scott. The second, less obvious but much publicised, was the ill-thought-out joke made by Ian Somerhalder about throwing out wife Nikki Reed's birth control pills so they could start a family.
Jenner has yet to weigh in on her news, while both Reed and Somerhalder have apologised for their story — but when examined together, these two unrelated stories shed light on the benefits and pitfalls that celebrities face when opening up about personal life events.
Let's talk about Jenner first. It took roughly eight seconds for Twitter to explode with theories about the youngest member of the Kardashian clan, whose rumoured pregnancy has been dominating the news cycle ever since. It's absolutely no coincidence that the news leaked less than two days before a planned 10th anniversary Keeping Up with the Kardashians special on E! The Kardashians are masters of publicity. They know when to speak up, when to keep silent, and aren't ashamed of using that to their advantage. In fact, the Kardashians have been pioneers in pushing the boundaries of what is considered to be acceptable in public celebrity pregnancies.
So, though the 90-minute special made no mention of the 20-year-old's rumoured pregnancy, the Friday leak all but guaranteed that people would tune in, and that headlines would reflect this renewed Kardashian interest. It is, for all intents and purposes, a perfect example of good PR, the product of careful Kardashian planning.
Now, on to the now infamous Ian Somerhalder/Nikki Reed birth control debate, which also made headlines on Friday. Here's how this all started: Somerhalder made what he thought was an innocent joke on a podcast known as Dr. Berlin's Informed Pregnancy, recalling how he threw out his wife's birth control pills as a way of informing her that they were going to try to get pregnant. News outlets picked up the story immediately, interpreting the comment as Somerhalder coercing Reed into starting a family without her consent. Later that day, Reed herself weighed in on Twitter, calling the story "irresponsible journalism" and criticising the media's turning a consensual moment between a married couple into gossip. After even more backlash, the couple released a joint statement on Saturday, apologising for the whole thing.
“To anyone who has been affected by reproductive coercion, we are deeply sorry," their regretful note began. "That is an extremely serious issue, and women’s rights is something that is incredibly important to both of us. It is something we’ve been very vocal about, and something that is very close to our hearts.”
Like the Jenner story, this was a planned attempt to gain public approval points by talking about pregnancy. But what started off as a lighthearted off-the-cuff remark actually snowballed into controversy with every attempt by those involved to "fix" the situation. It's a classic example of bad PR that the maker of the comments could never have predicted.
Here's the thing: for better or for worse, celebrities are public figures. Their words, intentional or not, matter. They have the attention of the media, their fans, and everyone in between. Pregnancy is no exception. As Anne Helen Petersen pointed out in her book, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman, celebrity pregnancy has been a topic of public discourse ever since Demi Moore introduced her naked belly on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991.
We live in a world where pregnancy can serve as either a popularity booster or a lightning rod for public ire for celebrity women. Like their bodies, their clothes, or their new line of organic makeup products, it is a marketable asset — it just has to be used right.
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