Shade Grown Hollywood: The Dark Side of Hollywood Babies

ColumnWhere celebrity becomes conscious.

As my grandmother used to mysteriously intone over her crochet needles, “Even kittens can scratch.” Are we really inferring that the adorable, cuddly spawns of joy positioned on celebrity hips everywhere are anything but angels from above? No, the innocents of Hollywood’s loins are blameless. But the media detailing their every move for our tabloid pleasure? There’s some Rosemary in that baby. The cult of baby is careening out of control in Hollywood, and I’m calling for some deprogramming before it’s too late.

You can’t click on a blog these days without seeing a Shiloh, Suri, Kingston, Cruise, or Stefani modeling a new faux hawk or splashing about a swimming pool with their mother. People Magazine has an entire online section devoted to the progeny of celebrity. Headlines such as “Jenna Fisher is having a boy,” “Pink was looking forward to a natural birth,” and “The Beckhams introduce [daughter] Harper Seven” leap from the screen, daring you to click on the private lives of celebrities. And like moths drawn to the adorable flame, we click, we post, we comment. But why?

There is perhaps nothing more intimate on the planet than the act of giving birth. Up until the 1930s, childbirth was essentially one drawn-out Dark Age, often shrouded in grim statistics of low infant survival and high mother and child mortality. Organized medicine and germ theory stepped in, bringing births out of the home and into hospitals. But this meant the birthing process became a sterile event often involving excessive drugs and isolation.

As Discovery Health writes of the mid-20th century birthing process:

The fear of infection, a major killer of mothers and babies, led to such practices as taking away all a woman’s personal belongings when she entered the hospital; shaving all her pubic hair; administering large, uncomfortable enemas; prohibiting fathers and other loved ones from entering the maternity area; keeping babies in nurseries, away from their mothers; and handling babies as little as possible.

Thankfully, times have changed, and women are much more in control of childbirth at the dawn of the 21st century. So when someone else invites us into their birthing process, there’s a secret elation at seeing what was previously forbidden. We want the gory details. Photos? Put them up. C-section or natural birth? Tell it, sister. Perhaps this explains what’s driving the celebrity baby industry, especially exacerbated since the arrival of the internet. It’s the dawning of the Age of Overshare, and our broadening online village lets us feel like we’re personally invested in, say, Victoria Beckham’s newborn daughter.

Not to mention, we get the details and we get to have an opinion. As Brianne posted on People’s celebrity baby blog regarding another celebrity (and former Spice Girl) pregnancy, “Mel, I can hardly wait for this baby to get here! Emma and Jade had their second son, Tate, in May, and Harper Seven Beckham is 8 days old! Boy or girl, I’m SOOOOO happy for you and Stephen, so all the best!!!” There’s nothing wrong with someone’s obvious enjoyment on weighing on the impending birth of a person she’s never met. (We assume apologies to Brianne if she’s a close personal friend of said Spice Girl.) The fact that we get a voice at all now seems expected or even natural to us. Ultimately, we seem to have crossed a line where we’re eager to place ourselves into the most intimate components of stranger’s lives as a form of entertainment.

Actress Isla Fisher and her baby bump on the red carpet.

And then there’s the fantasy factor. Motherhood can be one of the most powerful experiences on the planet. So when it is touted on the red carpet, latest maternity fashions on hand, we feel like we’re getting a glimpse of what it means to be perfect and pregnant. Our current celebrity culture is just a reflection on our ideals or thoughts on fashion, style, and ultimately social acceptance. So we, and by extension the media, are making mountains out of celebrity diapers. Celebrities are supposed to be our cooler cousins, our fantasy extensions of the self. So are their pregnancies, and consequent children, part of the fantasy? Or do we really just want to see them struggle in a parking lot holding a baby carrier and an overloaded diaper bag?

How do celebrities feel about this? It’s hard to imagine Jennifer Garner calls out the paparazzi for her Brentwood family jaunts any more than Reese Witherspoon invites photographers to her children’s birthday parties at Disneyland. Just like us, they likely enjoy taking their children out of the house and into public spaces. This simple act can be a terrifying event – I’ve been caught in a paparazzi crush several times on the streets of Hollywood, and I feel like I’ve barely lived to tell about it. So what does an experience like that do to a child? Only tattered security blankets may tell the tale.

Even the celebrities invite attention to their children. TV actress Elisabeth Rohm blogs regularly for People Magazine, recently detailing how she and her child dealt with the loss of her favorite stuffed animal. 90210 actor Ian Ziering does the same for celebrity fathers. Its mommy-blogging gone Hollywood and it’s no different than the Facebook forums and WordPressed articles we’re sharing amongst ourselves.

Let’s say you decide to forgo the baby bump in Hollywood? You are still risking the ire of the public. Last year, the bloggers at Babble infamously asked us to consider “The [Jennifer] Aniston syndrome” by investigating the soon-to-be barren wombs of some of Hollywood’s leading ladies. After creating a storm of controversy, Babble apologized and pulled the blog, but not before I wrote about it, as well as did several other disgusted bloggers.

Hollywood’s baby coverage is just business as usual. Outside of the confines of Tinsel Town, women regularly wrestle with the decision to have kids, career, or both. With a distinct “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” mentality, we’re applauded for having babies. And if you’re childless? Everyone wants to know why. After all, we’re entitled to know – aren’t we?

So really, Hollywood is just one giant Thanksgiving dinner table filled with your nosy aunts and inquiring cousins. When we endure the “when are you going to have a baby?” question casually tossed over the gravy bowl, we’re really just standing in a supermarket checkout line eyeing the tabloid headlines detailing the adventures of the Jolie-Pitt child crew of six. Once again, we’re playing out our own fears in one big cultural Meta monster. Except this monster breeds.

This is the latest installment in Katherine Butler’s column, Shade Grown Hollywood, where celebrity becomes conscious. “Shade grown” refers literally to shade grown coffee, a farming method that “incorporates principles of natural ecology to promote natural ecological relationships.” Shade Grown is our sustainable twist on Hollywood.

Image: lsuchick142/Flickr

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.