Thursday, January 26, 2012

Something Oddly Familiar: What to Expect When You're Expecting Film Promos

I know, I know, "never judge a book by its cover." But what about judging movies by their posters?

I'm talking about the star-studded cast for the upcoming What to Expect When You're Expecting. Five new promo posters for the film have been released, and they are . . . interesting.

Images from ivillage
Body Portrayal 
First, there's the obvious issue of unrealistic body image. Many of these women are sporting late third-trimester baby bumps, and yet they are all fit, thin, and radiant. This is an unrealistic depiction of pregnancy, and thin celebs may be contributing to the problem of "pregorexia," the dangerous restriction of calories during pregnancy by a mother-to-be who is desperate to avoid weight gain. To be fair, since these celebrities are already much thinner and fitter than the general population, this is really just an extension of the well-documented narrow portrayal of body type (and the damaging effects) in the media. Still, it's worth pointing out that these posters further that narrow portrayal of women's bodies and that the effect it can have on viewers may be exacerbated by the fact that women are already sensitive about pregnancy weight gain. 

For the record, I'm not saying that we shouldn't show any thin women on the screen. I don't want to set up a dichotomy that suggests "real women" are curvy and thus thin women are somehow "fake." (See more from Sociological Images on how this kind of thinking damages all of us). But look at those posters again. The range of body type displayed is limited from thin to very-thin. I'm just asking for a more realistic representation. 

I also take issues with the combination of tag lines and clothing for each of these women, which seems to be setting them up to play very narrowly defined characters. From top to bottom:
  • The Edgy One- Dressed in black with punk-inspired bracelets, Anna Kendrick's character declares "You pee on a stick. It's pretty idiot proof." I look for her character to be the one who's trying to stay cool and disconnected. She'll likely be rolling her eyes at those pregnant ladies going into a panic. Then she'll have some moment of crisis that makes her realize how real this all is. You know the drill. 
  • The Earth Mama- Jennifer Lopez's character is dressed in an earth-toned sundress with her hair pulled back in a casual bun. She has on natural-looking bracelets and is wearing subtle make-up. She's our Earth Mama, and that fits with tagline of "I can't wait to meet my baby." Her plot line revolves around adoption, and I suspect that her character will be a very relatable and sympathetic one that the audience roots for. 
  • The Overwhelmed Housewife- Elizabeth Banks' character is shown cursing ("I'm calling bull$#!%. Pregnancy sucks.") yet she's also wearing traditional pearls and a girly-pink fitted dress with floral lace. Her hair and make-up are pronounced and professional. She is likely going to portray an All-American woman who has been able to handle it all with grace and thought dealing with pregnancy would just be a matter of doing it the "right" way. She'll get her comeuppance when she realizes that pregnancy's not all that it's cracked up to be. I suspect that her character will start out annoying and become more sympathetic when she reaches her breaking point. 
  • The Sexy One- Long, flowing blond locks, a black dress over a feminine-but-not-girly green camisole, delicate gold jewelry, and a come-hither stare: Brooklynn Decker's character is sexy. Just in case all of that didn't make it clear enough, her tagline says "I just have all this extra energy. Plus I'm crazy horny." She's Sex and the City's Samantha--but pregnant. 
  • The Sporty One- Cameron Diaz's character has her hair pulled back in a pony tail. She's wearing athletic gear and very natural makeup. Her arms are toned. Her tagline says "If I knew I'd have a rack like this, I would have gotten knocked up years ago" which demonstrates that even a fitness-focused woman should ultimately be concerned with her physical (sexual) appeal. 
Wait. I've seen this somewhere before. Like, maybe in 1997. I really, really, really wanna zigga-zig-what?

It's the pregnant Spice Girls!

Anna Kendrick is Scary Spice with her edgy, not-going-to-conform attitude, Jennifer Lopez is Baby Spice with her sweet, gentle nature, Elizabeth Banks is Posh Spice with her sense of style and refinement (gone awry by pregnancy, no doubt), Brooklynn Decker is Ginger with her undeniable sex appeal, and Cameron Diaz is Sporty Spice with her athletic wear and pony tail. 

I know these posters are just quick glimpses meant to promote the movie, but I'm not particularly excited about seeing worn out cliches for female identity stuffed with fake belly bumps and primed to be stereotypical lenses through which to view impending motherhood. 

I'm willing (even hoping) to be wrong, as I would like to see more pop culture portrayals of pregnancy and parenthood in ways that make us question our assumptions. It's just that--judging from the glimpses they've given me so far--I don't think this will be it. 

Here's the trailer:

What do you think? Do you plan to watch it? Do you think it will be good?


  1. typical crappy movie.... won't be rushing to see it. Certainly won't pay to see it. I can't believe how cliche it is...

  2. I had no idea that this book was even coming out as a movie. And you are are correct , it is the pregnant spice girls. The media is too afrais to show what pregnancy is truly like. I cannot recall off the top of my head the last movie that I saw that had the accurate depiction. not this glorified version of what it was. I did not look like any of those woman. I wasn't fit, I didn't wear fashionable clothing, i'm not even sure i combed my hair. I was lucky to get dressed some days. I don't even think I read the book "What to expect." I owned it, but did not read it. I will not be seeing this movie anytime soon.

  3. Oh, HELL no, I won't be seeing this. As I type this, I'm sitting here 8 months pregnant, with a sick 3-year old next to me, and I'm wearing the same damn yoga pants and my husband's undershirt I've been wearing for the past three months because they are all that feel comfortable. I absolutely do not feel sporty, or posh, or sexy, or anything except uncomfortable, grossed out, and annoyed.

    And most of my mom friends feel the same way about being pregnant - it is a means to an end that we endure.

    Movies like this can kiss my @$$.

  4. Those posters blow my mind. (And I'm even a skinny white stylish pregnant woman.) I'd sort of like to see it just to rip on it ... once I can borrow it for free from my library ... but my partner's so genuinely appalled by the trailer he saw a few months back (and the whole mainstream narrative about pregnancy and birth) that he may not want to play ball.

  5. First off, from this trailer I can tell that this movie is in no way based on this book. (I'm not sure HOW you would turn this book into a movie). Second, this type of narrative is so foreign from my very POSITIVE experience of pregnancy and childbirth (I felt great the majority of my pregnancy; I was amazed at what my body was doing; I did not want to punch my husband in the face at any point), even the "positive" representation of pregnancy (the magical pregnancy unicorn?) is off the mark. Not to mention the depiction of breastfeeding and fatherhood in this brief trailer.

    It's not even a constructive sort of satire. The only reason I might watch it is for a MST3K type experience.

    1. I'm totally down for a MST3K-esque group viewing.