So far this week, a very not-pregnant Jennifer Aniston has had to explain that she's merely "gained a couple of pounds" since quitting smoking, while an increasingly big-bellied Jessica Simpson remains conspicuously silent about her obvious midsection girth. We are living in strange times indeed, celebrity womb-wise.
We've come a long way from the days when Lucille Ball's pregnancy was so discreetly managed, that she couldn't even use the word "pregnant" on her own television show, and since Shirley Jones quietly plowed through her work in "The Music Man" while costume designers diligently let out her dresses. Then in August 1991, celebrity fecundity jumped the shark when Demi Moore appeared nude and ready to drop on the cover of Vanity Fair. In the 20 years since then, tabloid culture has eagerly made a mountain out of every muffin top, turning every C-lister's bout of bloat into a possible baby bump. And when a woman does go public with her status, she's still subject to intense -- nay, crackpot -- scrutiny. Witness the obsessive attention Beyonce's abdomen area has been getting of late, and rumors that she's faking the whole thing. Note to everybody: Real life rarely resembles a plot point on "Glee."
Meanwhile, Simpson seems to be swelling up like a tick these days, but is keeping her lips firmly zipped. The New York Post speculated that Simpson -- who has made a career of belching and flatulence on her reality show, and who on Tuesday tweeted a photo of herself on a toilet -- might have discovered discretion in the hope of a six-figure payoff. Simpson, who's engaged to former San Francisco 49er Eric Johnson, is allegedly shopping around her exclusive story – and access to the obligatory post-baby photo spread -- to the cool tune of $500,000. Because why get knocked up if you can't leverage the crap out of it? But regardless of her motives, Simpson appears to have committed the cardinal sin of waiting too long to make hay of her blessed event. When and if she finally grants that big tell-all, it'll likely be the biggest "No duh" since Ricky Martin came out. "Is she or isn't she?" sells magazines. But "Guess why I can't see my feet, y'all?" is, with every passing day, considerably less of a tabloid bombshell.
Which brings us to poor Jen. Child-free and 42, Aniston is the reigning queen of baby speculation. Does a week go by without her face on the cover of some supermarket rag, the words "baby" and "drama" or "at last" or "heartbreak" blazing somewhere nearby? If I were Jennifer Aniston, I think I'd get pregnant just to shut Bonnie Fuller the hell up.
Maybe it's because Aniston seems to have so much -- she's rich, successful and was just voted America's "hottest body" in a new Fitness and Yahoo! poll – that the idea that she's in fact a barren, miserable crone holds some public fascination. She can't possibly be happy just being a beautiful movie star, right? RIGHT? I mean, Brad Pitt left her and now he's got six kids – doesn't that say something?
Maybe. Or maybe, crazy as this may sound to some, Jennifer Aniston is cool with not being a mother. It happens! All the time! But the frantic attention her stubbornly unpregnant body gets definitely says something about where we are as a culture that we continue to define women – powerful, attractive, wealthy women – by their ability to reproduce. That they can either parlay their fertility into a branding opportunity, or apologetically admit that the few extra ounces on the undisputed hottest body in America are not in fact an imminent bundle of joy. You've come a long way, babymakers.
We are all – the famous and the not, the MTV teen moms and the pampered housewives, the perfectly dressed supermoms and the contentedly child-free – more than the contents of our uteri. That's why I strongly believe the government needs to stay out of our wombs. And it's high time Us magazine scrams as well.