Refusing to Perform Pregnancy is a Radical Act // Notes on Kylie Jenner
A personal note from E, reflecting on Kylie Jenner's pregnancy.
On February 1, 2018, Kylie Jenner gave birth to her daughter. On February 4, she released this video, "To Our Daughter," documenting the private journey of her pregnancy, breaking the months' long silence re: the mystery of her motherhood status.
Directed by Tyler Ross, with music by Jacob Wilkinson-Smith, the video is sentimental, vulnerable, soft. It's low-fi enough to illicit nostalgia for old home-video, and its emotional arc is complete with dialogue from friends and family. In 11 minutes, we see Kylie's interactions over the last nine months with her family and doctors; we learn about her food cravings and changing body; we see her experience her daughter's heart beat; and ultimately, we hear the sounds of her daughter coming into the world. The sheer degree of raw intimacy exhibited in this video, seemingly unfiltered and unedited, is incredibly human.
I'm keenly aware that many in the feminist community will roll their eyes at this announcement. It's very on-brand to bash the Kardashian / Jenner empire, and Kylie Jenner is no exception, being a particularly contentious public figure. In our corner of the world, she is known for her frequent cultural appropriation, extortionately priced make-up, and the commodification of her mega-celebrity status. For those who don't watch the carefully-curated programming produced by her family, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, (and the various television offshoots, mobile apps, social media updates, etc), we learn of her personal happenings secondhand. We read ironic tweets. We see endless think pieces speculating on her cultural influence, critiquing her choices while devouring / ridiculing / worshiping whatever scrap she has thrown the public. Society's appetite for Kardashian / Jenner inside scoop and propensity for criticism is ravenous, all-consuming, and frankly dehumanizing.
Kylie is a 20 year old beauty mogul. Her celebrity precedes her. For her the sake of brand and livelihood, she lives exhaustively in the public eye, sharing her personal and intimate day-to-day experiences with her followers and the world at large. And yet, with her pregnancy, she decided to live this moment privately. She did not give into the relentless pressures of the media and fan base, who tirelessly demanded photos, details, explanations.
Kylie's refusal to perform pregnancy for the public is a radical, feminist act.
Accompanying the release of her video was this note on her Instagram account:
"my pregnancy was one i chose not to do in front of the world."
Women in the public eye, regardless of celebrity status, are pressured to perform their pregnancies for the world. In the age of social media, this performance feels like an absolute requirement for womanhood. Pregnant women are scrutinized for their bodies, for their pre-birth parenting decisions, for every choice made along the way. By not sharing these experiences with the public, she did not allow for the public's comment or influence. She took a bold stance with her base, ignoring the opportunities to monetize the experience, signifying that this was a journey she would perform alone.
Kylie isn't the first celebrity to refuse to perform pregnancy. Beyoncé and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie both chose to go about their pregnancies privately, and have received praise and critique alike for these choices. Women who exist outside of the public sphere similarly make this choice for themselves. Regardless of celebrity status, this privacy of motherhood is still radical.
Say what you must about Kylie Jenner. But her decision to enjoy her pregnancy as a private, un-monetized, dignified personal journey is one that I deeply, deeply respect. And it is an act that the feminist community should recognize.