Tag Archives: commodification

Rich Women’s Pregnancies, Spotlighted on TikTok

@amanda.steele24 pov: you bought *the* maternity dress (in my am@z0n) ???????????? #maternityfashion #pregnantootd #33weekspregant #youngmom #pregnancyfashion ♬ If We Ever Broke Up – Mae Stephens

Debbie says:

Kelsey Shelton’s article at Women’s Media Center, “How Young Influencers are Commodifying Pregnancy” is right on point … except that Shelton doesn’t say that influencers have been commodifying pregnancy since long before “influencer” was a word.

We live in capitalism, which commodifies everything: Sarah Lindig has an article at Marie Claire on maternity fashion history, going back several centuries and showing actual ads in newspapers and magazines as early as 1909.  Each generation uses the media of its time turn pregnancy into a profit source, along with parenting, children’s clothes, children’s toys, and and and ….  And by definition, turning something into a commodity means encouraging people to spend the most possible money, and thus shaming people who have less. Shelton almost certainly knows this, and I wish she had put it into her article.

With or without a historical context, her concerns are well-taken and well-expressed. And the concept of celebrity pregnancy centered for its own sake is probably mostly new to this century. After beginning the article with a list of pregnant influencers, few of whom are familiar to me, and says:

Their pregnancy announcements were usually followed by a photo shoot accentuating their swollen bellies and fun TikToks that document their pregnancies. Once their baby is born, followers can expect a photo dump on Instagram spotlighting the newborn or even an engagement or wedding announcement.

But the campaign doesn’t always end with the pregnancy. Several influencers made motherhood part of their brands by launching baby skin care lines in the case of Kylie Jenner, managing baby-centered TikTok accounts like Jenna Marie Greer’s, or creating a pregnancy-themed YouTube series….

She identifies these young affluent TikTok influencers as a trend, a substantial number of highly visible young women getting pregnant around or before age 25, and documenting their pregnancies in very slick and fashionable real time.

The prospect of pregnancy as a trend is concerning for a number of reasons. There’s the way influencers’ babies are seen in promotions and ads for their moms’ businesses, like props. There’s also the fact that these young women are having a very unique experience with motherhood thanks to their wealth. For example, in one pregnancy vlog in which Amanda “gets real” with her followers about becoming a mother, she says, “It just feels right, you know? In no way is this something I’m dealing with…This is something that I truly, like, am so so excited for.”

“Deal” is a distinct and deliberate verb choice; dealing with something requires handling, it requires coping, it requires strategy. If you’re rich, pregnancy might not be something you have to deal with. You can pay people to support you, you can afford the best doctors (you can afford health care in general), you can afford time off work.

Not to mention the post-pregnancy costs of the baby once they arrive.

I’m all in favor of women celebrating their pregnancies, though I hope they know that there are real risks of miscarriage, and death of baby and/or mother in childbirth, so I hope they are prepared for how to handle that with their avid TikTok followers.

Mostly, however, my concerns are Shelton’s concerns:

But I know one thing to be true: Influencers do have influence. There is certainly a relationship between social media consumption and eating disorders, for example. It saddens me that some girls might become pregnant despite their lack of resources and in spite of the abortion rights that are quickly fading away, because of these influencers.

And because they imagine themselves pregnant in fashionable outfits, twirling for large Internet audiences, building not just a family and a new life, but also perhaps a business, or a brand, or an imaginary life in which they won’t have to “deal” with the child who is the desired, delightful result of the pregnancy, because everything will be smooth and taken care of — just like it is for Amanda Steele and her ilk.


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Turning the Princess Narrative Sideways

Lynne Murray and Debbie say:

Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, blogs about her struggle with the creeping princess contagion:

When I first started writing about the Disney Princesses, people assumed my beef was with the girl waiting around to be rescued by the handsome prince. But honestly? I don’t get that passive vibe from little girls playing princess or from the merchandise sold  them. For instance: how often do you see a prince doll at Toys’R’Us?

No, today’s princess is not about romance: it’s more about entitlement. I call it “girlz power” because when you see that “z” (as in Bratz, Moxie Girlz, Ty Girlz, Disney Girlz) you know you’ve got trouble.  Girlz power  sells self-absorption as the equivalent of self confidence and tells girls that female empowerment, identity, independence should be expressed through narcissism and commercialism.

Orenstein is halfway on to something here, but she doesn’t take it far enough. “Girlz” is a commoditized and commercialized version of “grrrls,” as in riot grrrls (and it’s not hard to find “riot girlz” in uncommodified contexts on Google). The motivation behind the new spelling was to break the old associations with the word “girls” (at that time, more about passive romance than about privilege and entitlement) and to create a new identity:

Young women involved in underground music scenes took advantage of this to articulate their feminist thoughts and desires through creating punk-rock fanzines and forming garage bands. The political model of collage-based, photocopied handbills and booklets was already used by the punk movement as a way to activate underground music, leftist politics and alternative (to mainstream) sub-cultures. Many women found that while they identified with a larger, music-oriented subculture, they often had little to no voice in their local scenes, so they took it upon themselves to represent their own interests by making their own fanzines, music and art.

The insidious ability of capitalism to take any radical idea, commoditize it and thus defang it, then came into play. It’s easy to imagine a board room conversation in which the (mostly male) executives decide that “grrrls” looks a little violent, but “girlz” has almost the same power and is catchy besides. And fewer people will mis-spell it. And it makes trademarking easier than trademarking something with “girls” in the title.

Thus, young women’s rage gets silently transformed into profit-making ventures which build, encourage and reward, as Orenstein says, “narcissism and commercialism.”

So what’s left for a parent to do?

I’ve mentioned here before that I’m not a graphically gifted person but still remember standing in a tiny little crafts store in Fairbanks, Alaska in the 1950s asking my parents to buy me a Paint by Number kit. The store owner said, “You could just get paints and paint your own picture.” At the time my father pointed out that the store sold local artists’ work and I think he guessed that  the Paint by Numbers fad probably drove the owner and probably the other artists up the wall.

Even though I now paint pictures with words, this moment having a grownup suggest personal creativity over slavish imitation, influenced me. Adult intervention and encouragement can make a difference.

Aya de Leon presents a strategy in this interview by shosho at Mothership Hackermoms, describing a creative way to confront the overwhelmingly pervasive princess myths.

Last year, when my daughter was not quite two, we loved to go to this Salvadoran restaurant that had plenty of toys and books for families with toddlers.

As I sat on the couch by the kids’ table, my daughter handed me a board book about the size of my palm:  Disney’s Snow White.  The classic story was cut down to just eight pages, but it was the usual gist:  Sweet princess, evil queen, apple, sleeping forever, kiss from the prince.  You know the drill.  This was before my daughter could even say the word princess.  I was in charge.  I had the power to define her world.  Maybe that’s why, without a shred of defeat, I just offered up an alternative freestyle narrative to the pictures.

As the restaurant activities bustled around us, it was as if my daughter and I were in a little bubble of our own. I looked at the first picture, and tried to imagine a caption where the princess was a badass instead of a sweet young thing.  I took a breath, and said the first thing that came to my mind: “Snow White was an animal rights activist…”  With no one to contradict me, my daughter accepted my version and we turned the page.

With each new photo, I freestyled an alternative storyline.

De Leon’s freestyle Snow White narrative and a few other empowered princess stories can be read here. They made me laugh–and think! And they apply equally well to fighting the someday-my-prince-will-come narrative and the I-deserve-the-most-expensive-accessories narrative.

Clearly, parents who have daughters enthralled with the princess myths are involved in a serious cultural wrestling match with commercial giants. De Leon is up to the struggle. Here’s her conclusion about the power of personal intervention:

I can’t help but believe that re-writing the Disney stories aloud will help my daughter become a freestyler herself.  I just want to encourage her in the business of making up the lyrics to her own life.

Yes, one day my daughter will learn to read and she will watch television shows and movies.  But she won’t have me co-signing on each of those insane messages, she won’t have me passively accepting the narrative like a kiss on a sleeping woman’s lips.

Thanks to Natalie Boero, author of Killer Fat: Media, Medicine, and Morals in the American “Obesity Epidemic,” for the pointer to the de Leon post.