Are celebrities misleading women about pregnancy? Researchers think so. Authors and researchers from New York University School of Medicine and New York University Langone Medical Center completed a comprehensive study of popular women’s magazines—US Weekly, Cosmopolitan and People—over a four-year period. The Daily Mail reports their findings as follows: “Just over half of female celebrities featured were of ‘advanced maternal age’—35 and above—and one in three celebrities that were mentioned as having children were over 40.”
Yet, as the researchers noted, only two of the 240 women admitted to using fertility treatments and not one brought up the possibility that they might have used donor sperm or eggs. Even among the women who adopted children or openly used surrogates, not one mentioned anything about infertility. These celebrities are, in effect, painting a picture of effortless conception and everlasting fertility and researchers are concerned about the impact this could have on non-celebrity women trying to conceive.
It’s not hard to understand the researchers’ concerns about the message these celebrities are sending, but do celebrities truly owe it to us to come clean about their fertility or, as the case may be, infertility? No.
True, fans have come to expect transparency when it comes to the famous people they follow on Twitter and watch on the screen. And for better or worse, our society is transfixed by celebrities. For better or for worse, these icons are a mainstay of our American culture. Psychologist James Houran, the creator of a popular celebrity worship questionnaire, says, “Celebrities act like a drug,” and, because they are just about everywhere, “[t]hey’re an easy fix.” With every interview we read or watch, we learn a new tidbit or two about our favorite stars, all the while feeding our addiction and keeping us wanting more. In time, the quest for the latest celebrity gossip turns into idolization and before you know it, society as a whole starts holding these stars to near-impossible standards.
Alexandra Pollard of Dazed Digital explains, “They’re expected to be role models, spokespeople and beacons of political and social progress. If a pop star possesses an attribute that deviates from the mainstream, they’re expected to represent, without reservation or flaw, everyone who falls into that same deviation. It often feels as if we hold pop stars to account with the same vitriol as we do politicians—but they never ran for this office.”
Childlessness is arguably more accepted now than it has ever been. The growing child-free movement has become more vocal about advocating for the choice not to have children. Nevertheless, most women still want children, and the stigma of being a woman without children, or a woman who struggles to have children and can’t, lingers. It is still so prevalent, in fact, that the researchers cite the stigma of infertility as the likely reason these female celebrities stayed quiet about their own situations. We don’t expect the average woman to go around talking about her fertility situation; why would researchers hold celebrity women to a higher standard and expect them to act as “beacons of social progress” for the infertile or childless? Even in a celebrity age, some things should remain private.
Thankfully, there is something we can do that doesn’t involve calling out all of the celebrities we suspect used fertility treatments. We also don’t need researchers to force celebrities into telling us the nitty-gritty about their “geriatric pregnancies.” Instead, let us simply show support for the women who have already spoken up—women like Mariah Carey who conceived twins via IVF and Gabrielle Union who revealed that she has suffered many miscarriages. These celebrities can be sources of encouragement for women struggling with infertility and they can also pave the way for other celebrities to share their stories—but only if they want to.