Deepika Padukone’s baby bump & society’s weird preoccupation with celebrity pregnancies

Ever since Deepika Padukone disclosed her pregnancy, the internet has been viewing her changing body as a spectacle for public scrutiny. But she is not the first to bear the brunt of this weird cultural fixation.
A stylised image of a pregnant Deepika Padukone speaking into a microphone, with cameras trained on her in the background
Deepika Padukone’s baby bump & society’s weird preoccupation with celebrity pregnancies
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The paparazzi ran amok on May 20, when Bollywood actor-couple Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh stepped out to vote for the Lok Sabha elections in Mumbai. This was the first time Deepika was making a public appearance with a visible baby bump after her pregnancy announcement, and pictures and videos of the couple wearing matching white shirts and black sunglasses quickly went viral on the internet. Some of the videos showed Ranveer shielding Deepika from the crowd, as she protectively covered her lower abdomen. 

But even as a section of the internet showered the couple with well-wishes, another section was concerned that Deepika did not look “pregnant enough.” What followed the allegation was a barrage of disparaging remarks against the 38-year-old actor, who was blatantly cyber harassed with vile accusations of “faking a baby bump” while “deceptively opting for surrogacy”. All this, apparently because she did not fit into the internet’s preconceived notions of how a pregnant woman should look.

Of course, public appearances and media scrutiny are part and parcel of an actor’s life, and the lines between their private and public lives often get blurred under the scrutiny of cameras. Celebrity pregnancies especially have been a matter of a widespread obsession for years, a phenomenon that has evolved into a cultural preoccupation of sorts, further intensified in the age of the internet.

In India, when an actor discloses her pregnancy or is rumoured to be expecting, she quickly becomes a focal point of a great deal of conjecture, her perceived ‘baby bump’ turning into a spectacle for public scrutiny. What follows is a persistent invasion of privacy and body shaming — a troubling trend that sheds light on how society perceives and stereotypes pregnant women at large.

Recently, it has seemed as if every time Deepika steps out into the city, she is subjected to relentless surveillance. While some police her body, the way she walks or the outfits she wears, a section of internet trolls hit a new low by speculating if she was wearing a ‘fake pregnancy belly’.

Deepika met the attacks and criticism with a dignified silence, continuing to post new photos and videos on Instagram as she always does, normalising the sight of her growing baby bump to her fans and followers.

Many came to her support, with renowned journalist Faye D'Souza leading the charge against the trolls. “Deepika Padukone stepped out to do her democratic duty and vote. She did not ask for your feedback on her body or her pregnancy. You have no right to comment on any aspect of her life. Stop it. Behave,” Faye wrote in her Instagram post.

Deepika’s colleagues in the industry including Alia Bhatt, Shruthi Seth, Aahana Kumra, and Tina Datta offered their solidarity in the form of likes and comments.

The harassment Deepika has been facing, however, is hardly an isolated incident, and it reflects some of our society’s fundamental misperceptions surrounding pregnancy and a flagrant disrespect for personal boundaries. It also ignores the fact that pregnancy affects each woman differently. There is no single standard to how a pregnant person may appear, and the added scrutiny of the public eye to such a physically and mentally transformative experience can be intrusive and taxing.

A psychologist told TNM that particularly during life-changing milestones such as a pregnancy, celebrities’ mental health can be severely impacted by constant attention and invasions of privacy. “The pressure to project a particular image could result in increased stress and anxiety. It could also lead to depression, as the negative comments and intrusive media attention can evoke depressing thoughts, poor self-esteem, and pessimism,” she said. 

Negative reactions from the public on bodily changes during pregnancy can also cause a distortion of one’s self-perception, the psychologist added, pointing out that it can trigger body image issues as well.

Life on society’s timeline

Actors Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor’s pregnancy announcement in 2022 was supposed to be a joyous celebration for the couple, but instead it invited a stream of unwelcome comments, trolls, and speculations. Her Instagram post was met with intrusive and misogynistic questions about the timeline of their marriage and the pregnancy, with some wondering if they “rushed into marriage because she was pregnant,” while others questioned if it wasn’t “too early for them to be parents” after marriage.

Notably, a majority of the vitriol was reserved for Alia and not Ranbir, reflecting the deep-seated misogyny embedded behind these personal attacks. She also had to face questions about her decision to work on multiple large-scale projects while pregnant, as she was promoting Brahmastra (2022) and simultaneously shooting for her Hollywood debut Heart of Stone (2023) at the time.

Other actors such as Kalki Koechlin, Dia Mirza, and Amy Jackson have also faced heavy criticism while announcing their pregnancies, solely because their timeline deviated from what society deemed fit. The reactions are a stark manifestation of the patriarchal social system’s centuries-long attempts to curtail and control women’s lives.

On the eighth season of the popular interview show Koffee with Karan, hosted by director-producer Karan Johar, Alia expressed her displeasure with being repeatedly questioned about how her pregnancy would impact her career. “What irritated me was, from what lens are you asking this question? That ‘Oh! I am a woman and in the peak of my career?’ I am not saying this. You are saying this. I intend to act till I am 95. As long as I can walk,” she said. 

Surrogacy amidst scrutiny

When actor Priyanka Chopra announced on January 22, 2022, that she and her husband Nick Jonas have welcomed a child through surrogacy, she was immediately inundated with criticism for choosing surrogacy as an option, which quickly devolved into vile personal attacks on her and her child. She was accused of ‘outsourcing pregnancy’ and ‘renting a womb to not ruin her figure’, and even subjected to speculations of ‘how good of a mother she would be’ solely due to her chosen route to parenthood. The backlash was not only intrusive but also deeply insensitive.

Even Bollywood’s ‘king’ Shah Rukh Khan and his wife Gauri Khan had experienced severe social media trolling after opting for surrogacy, with aspersions being cast on the veracity of Gauri being the child’s mother. Down south, superstar Nayanthara and her husband director Vignesh Shivan also faced similarly repulsive badgering.

Priyanka had addressed the cyber harassment she faced in a cover interview with British Vogue in 2023, explaining, “I had medical complications. This was a necessary step. And, I am so grateful that I was in a position where I could do this.” She also said that the attack on her daughter was what made the criticism even more hurtful. 

Admittedly, commercial surrogacy is a complex issue marred by ethical dilemmas, and is often viewed as an exploitative practice primarily due to the socioeconomic inequality between surrogate mothers and intended parents. But the reasons behind a person’s decision to opt for surrogacy are often intensely personal and complicated, which the people who attack them remain unaware of and distanced from. Shilpa Shetty, for instance, had to issue a clarification after intense harassment that her own decision to opt for a surrogate second child was made after exhausting other options, including the more widely accepted practice of adoption.

It also has to be stated that much of the stigma surrounding surrogacy arises from India’s own obsession with associating motherhood with a certain sense of ‘purity’, which the women who opt for surrogacy are often accused of ‘polluting’.

Pregnancy glamour

Despite the alarming fascination with celebrity pregnancies, celebrities who voluntarily and happily flaunt pictures of their own pregnancies are often met with vile criticism. Case in point are the experiences of actors Sonam Kapoor and Anushka Sharma, who had done maternity photo shoots that featured on the covers of Vogue India. In a rather hypocritical turn of events, the photo shoots were met with backlash.

Sonam ended up facing allegations of “using her unborn baby for fame,” and was handed out unsolicited advice that being pregnant was “not for fashion” and that she should “just do modelling” instead. Later in an interview with Vogue, Sonam responded, “I think the one thing I have grown out of is reacting to things I don’t need to react to. Thankfully, a lot of it has come with age, but it’s also because I understand that I live a very charmed life. I come from a place of extreme privilege and I literally have nothing to complain about, so if someone is saying something negative about me from behind a keyboard, it really is none of my business.”

Anushka Sharma too faced similar criticism, with comments asking her if she wasn’t “ashamed” and accusing her of dressing inappropriately. She was questioned on the “necessity” of turning a “private experience into a public spectacle.” Anushka chose to not react to the hate.

The criticism directed at Sonam and Anushka exposed the Indian society’s double standards, where it constantly scrutinises pregnant women and police their bodies, while simultaneously shaming them if they unapologetically embraced their bodies of their own volition. 

Post-pregnancy body shaming

Women in the spotlight are almost constantly under immense pressure to maintain body types that adhere to the world’s conventional standards of beauty. So when pregnancy is added to the mix, their changing bodies immediately come under tremendous scrutiny. They are expected to ‘bounce back’ into their former figures soon after the delivery, with little respect given to how taxing childbirth can be to a woman’s body and mind.

Actors including Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor, and Neha Dhupia have had to face intense body shaming after giving birth, and have publicly spoken up about their experiences. Neha Dhupia, for instance, once came across an article headlined “Neha Dhupia Shocking Weight Gain Post Pregnancy At Femina Stylista West 2019,” to which she responded with a critical Instagram post.

“I don’t owe anyone an explanation because fatshaming like this doesn’t bother me one bit. But I do want to address this as a larger problem because fatshaming needs to stop for everyone, not just celebs,” she said.

A food vlogger was recently seen taking a jibe at actor Swara Bhasker for her weight gain after pregnancy. Sharing two of Swara’s photos, the vlogger asked on X, “What did she eat?” Swara clapped back with an admonishment, “She had a baby. And do better, Nalini!”

Such comments on postpartum bodies are a stark manifestation of the unrealistic expectations society places on women, perpetuating the harmful belief that there’s a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way for a body to look. They are blatantly dismissive of the significant physical changes that a woman's body experiences throughout pregnancy and childbirth, and also expose a disturbing cultural fixation with women’s bodies.

‘Is she pregnant or not?’

Actor Katrina Kaif is the latest to experience India’s preoccupation with celebrity pregnancies, as speculations that she is pregnant have been following her around since she decided to take time away from the public eye and stay in London.

The persistent expectation that celebrities announce every personal information about their lives to their fans and followers is a troublesome facet of celebrity culture, which in turn seems to be the reason for such obsessive conjectures. But amid all this, the speculators tend to forget how stressful of an environment they are creating for the individual concerned, while putting pressure on them to publicly confront or refute the rumours.

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