The real problem with our society’s obsession with the celebrity baby bump is not what it shows, but rather what it hides.
Everywhere you turn, celebrity women are sporting the baby bump. Jessica Simpson shared her naked bump on the April cover of Elle. Actress Nia Long struck a similar pose on the cover of Ebony back in October. And both were clearly homages to Annie Leibovitz’s iconic Demi Moore photo of 1991.
In the case of 2012’s most famous new mom, R&B diva Beyoncé, “the absence of evidence” of her bump led to maelstrom of Internet rumors. Blogs questioning the legitimacy of her pregnancy were so cruel, her younger sister, Solange, took to Twitter to defend her.
Even I got caught up. Now in my first pregnancy, I went through great lengths to insure that I was bump couture. Vintage empire waist dresses, trips to Rosie Pope Maternity store and my infatuation with well-dressed celebrity mom made the last nine months a fashion feast.
Only one caveat: my bump came with no lucrative endorsement deals, fashion lines or Oxygen reality shows. I was not part of the “growing number of underemployed actresses, singers and would-be entrepreneurs” who are discovering, as New York Times writer Jacob Bernstein puts it, that “motherhood pays.”
For the vast majority of American women, however, pregnancy and childbirth make us more financially vulnerable, not less. Consider that women without children make ninety cents to a man’s dollar, mothers make seventy-three cents to a man’s dollar, and single moms make only about sixty cents to a man’s dollar. Race and ethnicity matter too. “At Rope’s End,” a report by NYU’s Women of Color Policy Network, found that black and Latino single mothers have a median wealth of zero, whereas white women report a median wealth of $6,000.
In our recession, single women mothers are most likely to be unemployed and as a result, their children are more likely to experience the devastating impacts of our stalled economy. Finally, a 2007 study from Cornell University showed that all things being equal—résumés and job experiences—mothers were offered $11,000 lower starting salaries than non-mothers. In contrast, fathers were offered $6,000 more in starting salaries than non-fathers.
Fortunately, organizations like the American Association of University Women and MomsRising respond to this great income disparity by lobbying Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that President Obama says “will help ensure that men and women who do equal work receive the equal pay that they and their families deserve." By creating stronger motivation for employers to base wage discrepancies on genuine business needs rather than gender and empowering women to negotiate for equal pay, the is a first step towards protecting mothers from workplace discrimination.
Until then, only for the chosen few does the baby bump mean a financial one.