This “supermom” ideal began to emerge in celebrity media profiles during the 1980s, as part of a post-second wave feminist push to promote mothers in the work force, said Elizabeth Podnieks, a professor of English at Ryerson University in Canada, whose research focuses on motherhood in popular culture. “There was this sense that the celebrity mother was the perfect role model for contemporary women,” she said. “They had these glamorous careers but were also these glamorous mothers.” That there was an enormous amount of money and child care support undergirding this glamour went unspoken.
The ideal went into overdrive in the early ’00s, said Anne Helen Petersen, a celebrity gossip expert and the author of “Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman.” That’s when tabloid magazines were competing for paparazzi photos of celebrities just living their lives, Ms. Petersen said, and the so-called “basketball” pregnancy was held up as the goal — that’s when a woman’s body looks otherwise unchanged by carrying a baby, save for a cute, easily adorned bump, like they swallowed a basketball.
In the early ’10s, when social media became ubiquitous, stars “internalized that tabloid surveillance and took control of it themselves,” Ms. Petersen said. In some ways, it was a smart move — after all, celebrity pregnancy is a big business now, and many of Ms. Baldwin’s Instagram posts are sponsored content for various pregnancy and kid-related products.
But there is a dark side. “They can’t escape from that lens once they turn it on themselves,” Ms. Petersen said. This is something Ms. Baldwin has lamented. In an interview with The Times in December she said, “I am entitled to my privacy. People say, ‘No, you’re not entitled to your privacy because you married a famous person and you have Instagram.’ Well, that’s not really true.”
Both Ms. Petersen and Dr. Podnieks find Ms. Baldwin’s stated desire for privacy tough to square with her savvy use of social media. “When they post these images, they’re promoting a number of things. It’s not done innocently or naïvely,” Dr. Podnieks said. In Ms. Baldwin’s case, when she posts a photo of herself just months postpartum in lingerie, “she’s promoting her capabilities as a fitness instructor,” said Dr. Podnieks; she’s implying that if you use her methods, you too can look like her.