A Brief History Of The Bump Watch

Not just the territory of celebrity weeklies, the bump watch is as old as time. Gossips were counting the months and checking waistlines in Pepys' letters, and those Empire-waisted dresses must have been a blessing in a time when any hint of a bump was considered unsightly. But when did it become not just okay but de rigueur to examine women's waistlines and speculate about their uteruses? Part of it, of course, is that tabloids just got more intrusive, period — for the past twenty years, nothing has been off-limits. But our obsession with other women's reproduction seems both significant and alarming. We demand that stars have babies, feel they have the duty of 19th century ladies of the manor to reproduce, want explanations when they don't. In their role as proxy-women, we want them to have babies, but stay glamorous and lose the "baby weight" (the sister of the "bump-watch" and the "bikini body," also our collective business) within a matter of weeks. What was once considered unsightly — the visible proof of sexuality in a woman — is now mandatory. And when you think about it, that's bizarre. No wonder stars like Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman are producing "surprise" babies — via adoption or surrogates — not, of course, that it keeps their bellies from being scrutinized.


A Brief History Of The Bump Watch 16th-20th Century: Pregnant bellies are kept out of the public eye, and in the last few months of pregnancy, women enter "confinement" — a safety as well as social precaution. Bump-watching is necessarily limited. That said, some portraits memorialize pregnancy — both in case of mortality and to emphasize the family's fertility and future. The original bump-watch.

1905: Sears launches (hideous) maternity wear. Women at least have something to wear when they go out. That they didn't have to make.

A Brief History Of The Bump Watch 1900-1950: Although women were not as confined during pregnancy, "bump-watching" was still a largely private endeavor. Social historian Clare Hanson speculates that social discomfort with the pregnant state was "connected not only with the embarrassment inspired by visible signs of female sexual activity, but also with the fact that the pregnant body acts both as a reminder of our material origins and a signifier of the (uncertain) future." In short, women are not photographed pregnant. The baby just sort of appears!

A Brief History Of The Bump Watch 1952: Lucy Ricardo was pregnant on camera. This was a major leap for the bump-watch: not only could you literally watch the bump, it was implicitly okay. Of course, they weren't allowed to use the word "pregnant."

A Brief History Of The Bump Watch 1960s: While the sexual revolution and hippie culture may have partially de-stigmatized out-of-wedlock pregnancy, there couldn't have been much sport in watching the bumps of hippies who really couldn't have cared less. Besides, mainstream media still wasn't in the bump-watch game.


1991: Demi Moore wears nothing but a bump on the cover of Vanity Fair .


2004: First recorded use of "bump watch." A personal blogger begins a weekly chronicle of her tummy's growth, christens it "bump watch."


A Brief History Of The Bump Watch 2005: "Baby Bump" and the rapidly-ensuing "Bump Watch" enters the cultural ether. How? Why? Suddenly, there it was. The first usage I can find was in reference to — simultaneously — Katie Holmes, Gwyneth, and Jennifer Garner. Of course, none of these was secret — at this point, the bump watch was still benign and consensual.

A Brief History Of The Bump Watch 2007: "Bump Watch" goes out of control. As high-waisted loose tops come into vogue, tabloids go mad, accusing everyone of pregnancy. "Bump watch" becomes part of the lexicon.

A Brief History Of The Bump Watch 2008: "Bump Watch" morphs into "baby or burrito"-style analyses, like a sort of kamikaze, vigilante bump-watch.

2010: There is such a surfeit of pregnant celebrities voluntarily admitting to pregnancy that tabs are momentarily lulled by promise of consensual "Bump Watches." Bumps of Natalie Portman, Kelly Preston, Kate Hudson fully-documented.

A Brief History Of The Bump Watch 2011: Fed up with surreptitious bump watch, Pink tweets her own bump shot. The bump watch, reclaimed.