Last week belonged to Cardi B. The Brooklyn rapper released her debut album Invasion Of Privacy to worldwide acclaim and hysteria – it immediately went gold – and was on track to become the first female rapper to top the US album charts for six years. Cardi, whose real name is Belcalis Almanzar, was also booked for the coveted performance slot on Saturday Night Live, one of the most talked about entertainment shows in the world.
All of this was overshadowed, however, when Cardi used her performance of new single Be Careful to show the world her pregnancy bump, ending months of speculation that she was expecting. The term ‘breaking the internet’ was invented for moments like this: the rapper’s social media followers went wild. A video posted on Cardi’s Instagram story showed her backstage following the performance, throwing her hands in the air and exclaiming, ‘I’m finally free,’ to screams and applause from her friends.
It’s a bittersweet moment to watch: on the one hand Cardi – who is engaged to rapper Offset – looks so happy it’s hard not to smile. But take a second to think about what she actually said – that she feels free – and the moment takes on a more problematic context.
Rapper Remy Ma summed it up when she wrote in a Sunday morning Instagram post directed at her friend Cardi, ‘For so many years they made us (women) feel like we had to pretend to be single, pretend to not have a real life, and put our lives on hold to “entertain” the masses. Meanwhile, you feel trapped in your own body, a prisoner to your career, and so unhappy when you [sic] supposed to be having the time of your life... I am so happy you are free too.’
Indeed, Cardi has been forced to address questions about her pregnancy several times over the last few months, and was the subject of incessant tabloid reports which speculated whether she was hiding a bump with outfits that had gone from skintight to voluminous. When one fan asked her in the comments section of an Instagram post, Cardi responded in a typically defiant fashion: ‘No bitch I’m just getting fat. Let me [get] fat in peace.’
In the climate of Me Too and Time’s Up, when women are claiming back their bodies, it’s jarring that the rapper is yet another victim of the world’s obsession with what female bodies look like – and the sense of ownership that’s felt when they change.
Social media has meant that our looks and our bodies regularly go on display for judgement and comment, but has also made it so much harder for anyone to keep anything to themselves. If you’re a celebrity it’s near impossible – after all, it’s part of the job to hand your private life over to your fans, right?
So when an A-lister like Cheryl Cole or Kylie Jenner goes off-radar for nine months it can mean only one thing: they’re pregnant. Both stars did just that last year, adopting a social media blackout (bar a few carefully positioned selfies). They chose not to address their pregnancies, chose not to make a statement and chose not to appear in public, ‘showing off’ their bumps.
Kylie Jenner, 20, who gave birth to her baby Stormi by Travis Scott in February, said when she finally revealed the news, ‘I understand you’re used to me bringing you along on all my journeys. My pregnancy was one I chose not to do in front of the world.’ She added, ‘I knew for myself I needed to prepare for this role of a lifetime in the most positive, stress-free, and healthy way I knew how. There was no gotcha moment, no big paid reveal I had planned. I knew my baby would feel every stress and every emotion, so I chose to do it this way for my little life and our happiness.’
Of course, the media has a huge role to play in this game of cat and mouse. Where coy headlines like ‘Tum-thing to tell us?’ were once the norm, online and tabloid reports now take pregnancy speculation to frenzied new levels. And where they go, social media users follow, demanding to know the truth.
Grazia hasn’t been totally free of blame in the past, but times have changed – and we would now never add to speculation. In part, because we’ve seen the effect such pressure can have. In 2016, Jennifer Aniston made the unprecedented decision to write an op-ed for The Huffington Post on the years of scrutiny she had been subjected to. ‘For the record, I am not pregnant,’ she said. ‘What I am is fed up.’ She added, ‘The way I am portrayed by the media is simply a reflection of how we see and portray women in general, measured against some warped standard of beauty... Is she pregnant? Is she eating too much? Has she let herself go? Is her marriage on the rocks because the camera detects some physical “imperfection”?’
Similarly, the BBC Breakfast presenter Steph McGovern was tweeted a string of congratulations during a live segment in January. She replied, ‘For those who are congratulating me on my “pregnancy”. I am not “with child”, I am “with pot belly”.’ All that amounts to is giving statements about why our bodies look a certain way. Weight gain, pregnancy, bloating or just a big lunch: these are our bodies. We should never have to explain them, just like men never do.