Ban the bump-watch: Beyoncé's belly scrutiny is sexist, invasive and bad for all women

While we're at it, let's also ban the term "baby bump"

Published July 16, 2015 4:58PM (EDT)

Beyonce       (AP/Jordan Strauss)
Beyonce (AP/Jordan Strauss)

If you’re a female celebrity of child-bearing age, prepare to have your belly, and your every move concerning it, scrutinized ad nauseam. Welcome to the age of the bump watch, where if a woman sports anything other than a flat stomach, or dares to carry an item in front of her belly, you guessed it: she’s probably pregnant.

Tabloid magazines are famous for this, but the most recent offender is, which asked “Is Beyoncé hiding something?” after she was photographed over a several month period holding a laptop and handbags in the vicinity of her stomach area—you know, carrying items. In several of the photos featured, she’s not even entirely hiding her stomach, so their point is pretty much moot.

The phrase “bump watch” has always bothered me. Firstly, I have never been pregnant and probably look like I have a “bump” every day because I’m human and have a stomach. I once sat down to get a pedicure and due to the way my dress draped around my belly, was asked if I was pregnant. That’s mortifying. We shouldn’t be scanning women and eagerly awaiting the moment they start to procreate.

Secondly, it encourages the kind of obsessive scrutiny of women’s bodies that I would hope we’re moving away from. Even Michelle Obama has been drawn into this ridiculous circus. It’s one thing to critique a star’s outfit, or to admire her maternity style once she’s come out about being pregnant, but to try to guess if she is or isn’t with child based on paltry clues is sexist and insulting. What if she’s trying to get pregnant but hasn’t yet? What if she was recently pregnant and had a miscarriage? What if she’s pregnant and doesn’t know yet—or knows and is going to have an abortion or isn’t sure what to do about the pregnancy? Or maybe she’s simply gained some weight? Women do that too. Male celebs’ weight gains are noted only when they are particularly drastic, but for women, because we are though to always be on the cusp of being fertile, a few pounds is enough to launch a thousand rumors.

This guessing game of trying to figure out if there’s a burrito or a fetus inside a woman has got to stop. It contributes to a culture where all women are just a few pounds away from being inundated with invasive questions about when they’re due, or simply being ferociously sized up. Think of the implications—if we assume that any woman with a hint of a belly, or one who holds her purse in front of her, is pregnant, and then we see her doing something pregnant women aren’t “supposed” to do, like drink or smoke, she’ll be judged even more. Yes, it happens, as Molly Sanchez detailed at The Bold Italic:

My boyfriend and I were participating in our favorite couples sport, taking shots and drinking beer at a local bar. I had just downed my shot when a drunken girl hobbled over to us. “Excuse me,” she slurred, “but my friend over there wants to know why a pregnant girl is taking shots at a bar.” I swiveled my head around. A pregnant woman taking shots at a bar? That’s the kind of freak show I’d love to see live! Then I realized what was happening. She was talking about me. I was the freak show.

This kind of assumption is the natural end result of a culture that assumes women in a certain age range are simply pre-pregnant, rather than human beings who naturally have different weights and body shapes.

There are legitimate reasons why many women might want to hide a pregnancy. It may be in the early stages and she is waiting to enter the second trimester before sharing her news. She may want to bolster her chances of getting hired, or fear losing business, as photographer Vanessa Scavone, who kept her pregnancy a secret for 8 months, did. Scavone also detailed another reason she wanted to hide her news:

When I did start to tell people in person that I was pregnant, I somehow became a porcelain doll to a lot of them. There'd be gasps if I picked up a couple books or decided to climb on a step-stool to reach something. I constantly had to remind people that I was "pregnant, not disabled" and that I was in perfect control of my own body and knew what my limits were.

Or she may just be a private person and not want to the added scrutiny and unwanted touching that being pregnant in public can entail. That women are assumed to be less dedicated workers because they’re pregnant is a whole other issue that needs to be eradicated, but is a clue why a woman should have the right to hide or reveal her pregnancy as she desires.

Not to mention that for pregnant women, following these kinds of stories can actually be damaging to their health. According to a study Jayne Krisjanous, a marketing professor at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, summarized by Science of Us, “moms-to-be who were most interested in celebrity pregnancies, and who were already highly concerned with their own appearance, were more likely to stress about the weight they were gaining.” For everyone else, these kinds of stories may not add stress, but they plants the idea that we should be deeply invested in knowing the moment a celebrity conceives, whether she wants or not she wants us to have that information.

Here’s a rule that works well for celebrities and everyone else: unless a woman tells you she’s pregnant, assume she’s not. If she’s having the kid, you’ll find out in good time.

By Rachel Kramer Bussel

Rachel Kramer Bussel is the author of "Sex & Cupcakes: A Juicy Collection of Essays" and the editor of more than 70 anthologies, including "The Big Book of Orgasms" and the Best Women's Erotica of the Year series. She teaches erotica writing workshops online and in-person, writes widely about books, culture, sex, dating and herself, and Tweets @raquelita.

MORE FROM Rachel Kramer Bussel

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Beyonce Celebrity Pregnancy Pro-natalism Sexism Tabloids