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Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Films

Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down: Images of Pregnancy in Hollywood Films

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The image of a heavily pregnant woman, once considered ugly and indecent, is now common to Hollywood film. No longer is pregnancy a repulsive of shameful condition, but an attractive attribute, often enhancing the romantic or comedic storyline of a female protagonist. Kelly Oliver investigates this curious shift and its reflection of changing attitudes toward women’s roles in reproduction and the family. Yet not all representations signify progress. Oliver finds that in many pregnancy films, whether romantic, comedic, or horrific, our anxieties over modern reproductive practices and technologies are made manifest, and in some instances perpetuate conventions that curtail women’s freedom.
The image of a heavily pregnant woman, once considered ugly and indecent, is now common to Hollywood film. No longer is pregnancy a repulsive of shameful condition, but an attractive attribute, often enhancing the romantic or comedic storyline of a female protagonist. Kelly Oliver investigates this curious shift and its reflection of changing attitudes toward women’s roles in reproduction and the family. Yet not all representations signify progress. Oliver finds that in many pregnancy films, whether romantic, comedic, or horrific, our anxieties over modern reproductive practices and technologies are made manifest, and in some instances perpetuate conventions that curtail women’s freedom.

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Published by: Columbia University Press on Sep 18, 2012
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02/25/2013

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INTRODUCTION: FROM SHAMEFULTO SEXY
PREGNANT BELLIES EXPLODINGONTO THE SCREEN
Images o pregnancy, once scarce, now prolierate as a powerultechnological imperative drives the disembodiment o reproductionand secures its manipulation at a genetic level. The pregnant icon de-mands to be examined, or what it pictures and or what it leaves out.
—SANDRA MATTHEWS AND LAURA WEXLER (2000:218)
FROM THE MID-NINETEENTH CENTURY
until the late twentiethcentury, pregnancy was considered a medical condition that shouldbe hidden rom public view. Even prior to the medicalization o pregnancy, the pregnant body was considered a private aair andcertainly not or public display. When not pathologized, the preg-nant body was hidden rom view because it was considered ugly,even shameul. Women were advised to “lay-in,” which meant notleaving their homes or even their beds. In recent years this view haschanged dramatically. Now, women’s pregnant bodies are exhib-ited in ways that could not have been imagined just a ew decadesago. Pregnancy has become an obsession in popular culture wherepaparazzi are constantly on the lookout or celebrities’ telltale“baby bumps” and heavily pregnant bellies, and reality televi-sion shows and tabloid magazines parade teen pregnancies, sexy“momshells,” and celebrity baby woes and triumphs. Pregnancy
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INTRODUCTION: FROM SHAMEFUL TO SEXY
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and pregnant bodies have gone rom shameul and hidden to sexyand spectacular.This book sprang rom puzzlement over this drastic change inpopular conceptions o pregnancy. In just a couple o decades,how did we go rom abject pregnancy to pregnant glam, rompregnancy as shameul to pregnancy as sexy? How can we inter-pret what appears to be such a dramatic shit in ideals o preg-nancy and women’s roles in reproduction? Is it true that “we’vecome a long way baby” to get to the ideal o a woman having aamily and a successul career while keeping her knockout gureand sexy good looks? Or do these images o women’s seeminglynewound reedom to be pregnant, sexy, and nancially indepen-dent cover up deeper desires and ears? This book is an attempt tointerpret recent Hollywood representations o pregnancy in orderto diagnose the ways in which these images open up new possi-bilities or conceiving o pregnancy and women’s role in reproduc-tion, but also continue to reinorce old stereotypes and restrictionson women.Certainly, positive and desirable images o pregnant women area step orward. But i we look closer, we can see how these seem-ingly new stories repeat traditional ideas about abject maternalbodies, conventional notions o amily values, amiliar anxietiesover women’s role in reproduction, and ears o miscegenation.In addition, current ideals that promote pregnancy and maternityas desirable, especially or career women, bring new expectationsthat oten require heroic eorts and large doses o caeine, antide-pressants, and sleeping pills—not to mention Mama Spanx mater-nity wear, “mommy-tucks,” diet ads, and taxing workouts at thegym. Today, women are not only responsible or the health andwelare o their babies but also expected to stay beautiul and twhile pregnant and to lose their “baby at” as soon as possible inorder to “get their bodies back” (as one tabloid put it, suggestingthat their pregnant bodies are not their
real
bodies). Pregnancyhas become like an accessory worn by the rich and amous, anadornment that can be removed. Pregnant celebrities go rom lack
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