Donna Freydkin, USA TODAY
May ushered in shiny spring days, balmy nights and the latest heated pregnancy whisperings to blast around the world, this time surrounding the ever-enigmatic Beyonce.
A few of the notable headlines:
Rumor: Beyonce Pregnant?
Beyoncé is due with tot No. 2
It's True! Beyoncé Is Pregnant!!!
To date, the singer, clad in second-skin ensembles while on her world tour, has not commented, and so far, there's no hint of any kind of bump. But that hasn't stopped the feverish speculation.
But of course, that's nothing new. Just look at Jennifer Aniston, who at this point should preside over a brood larger than the Duggar clan. Glance at tabloid headlines from the past few years, and Aniston's uterus has been the topic of seemingly endless covers trumpeting her many, many fictional pregnancies. Kim Kardashian's ever-growing actual belly is the subject of countless daily analyses and critiques.
It's all part and parcel of the phenomenon known as bump watch, which has the weeklies, and their online counterparts, frantically scrutinizing normally flat celebrity bellies to figure out which might be popping as a result of something more than just a hearty lunch.
"We're seeing the monetization of the baby bump. Nowadays, if you have the bump, you flaunt it. Kim Kardashian exposes hers 24/7. And she's getting 24/7 coverage," says Gary Morgan, the SVP of Corbis Entertainment and co-founder of Splash News. "You see a trend in magazines that are dealing with the female demographic. They want to tell a happy story of pregnancy and clearly, a lot of times it's not true."
Busy Philipps, pregnant with her second daughter, called the hubbub "ridiculous. The websites, the blogs, the magazines - generally, gossip tends to be salacious and full of bad news, so pregnancy seems like something everyone can get behind and feel good about. But I'd say in the past two years, now it seems like the tide is turned. People are taking pleasure in these headlines about how fat someone is. It's so crazy. It's turning it into something negative."
And usually, accuracy doesn't even matter. Sometimes, as with Jessica Simpson's second pregnancy - broken by US in November - the news is right on. But more often than not, the frantic announcements are just shots in the dark, aimed at getting clicks and at moving issues on a very competitive newsstand. And oftentimes, the scuttlebutt is more comical than anything. In June 2011, InTouch promised that Lady Gaga was ready for motherhood due to her "fuller midriff."
"There's no accountability whatsoever. Saying someone is bloated is now credible. Who cares if it's right or wrong? It sells," says Amy Tara Koch, author of the pregnancy guide Bump It Up.
Stars themselves are generally more bemused than bothered by bump-watch madness.
"The media has a lot of pages to fill and they write nonsense now. It's silly. Let women have their pregnancy and be happy and healthy and get as big as they want. Let's all be nice to each other," says Gwyneth Paltrow.
Adds Sarah Jessica Parker, a mother of three: "Everyone is pregnant all the time. It's become an industry. Maternity has become a cottage industry for the tabloids. It's one more way to feel as though you're getting information that you think is intimate about someone. We've explored marriages and relationships and affairs. This is the last frontier. This is kind of it. No one talked about it in the '50s. It suggested sexual intimacy. It was not to be seen on camera."
Indeed, back in Hollywood's golden age, pregnancy was never flaunted or, god forbid, advertised. Grace Kelly famously used her Hermes bag, later dubbed the Kelly in her honor, to shield her belly. Mostly, stars disappeared when they were with child, and re-appeared post-baby, svelte and smiling. And then came the infamous August 1991 Demi Moore Vanity Fair cover, featuring the actress gloriously expecting and very naked.
"That was the tipping point. After that, it became OK to take pictures of celebrities while they were pregnant. It wasn't a private moment anymore. Before, actors would go on hiatus while pregnant," says Koch. "Today, it's an absolute moment. Pages in every tabloid are devoted to pregnancy."
At its most basic, a pregnancy is a happy, positive, uplifting story, appealing to the largely female audiences who read the tabloids. But there's a flip side. If a rumor is true, it may force someone to confirm it earlier than is comfortable for her. And if it's not true - well, you're basically mocking someone's body. "I love bump watch. My mom always told me that even if their water just broke right there, you should just ask them if they need to know where the restroom is. What are you trying to say? I look like I'm a blimp," says Paula Patton.
For the most part, celebrities ignore the rumors, unless there's a compelling reason to address them - like a movie they're about to start shooting that might be affected or delayed by a baby surprise.
"There are times you don't want to respond. Sometimes, it depends on what you're doing in your life. If you're doing a film, you need to make sure that everyone knows you're not pregnant. In that case, it's responsible to say you're not pregnant," says Kate Hudson, the mom of sons Bing and Ryder.
Mostly, she says the speculation is "just silly. It's one of those things, I don't pay it much mind maybe because it's happened so many times that I've had to say I'm not pregnant. I guess people look forward to seeing life grow. But most of the time, most of us are not pregnant."
Does it matter that most of the stories are abjectly incorrect? Not at all, says Koch. "There's no accountability whatsoever. Saying someone is bloated is now credible. Who cares if it's right or wrong? It sells," she says.
One reason for the demand in coverage is that pregnancy has gotten so much sexier. You have a dreamy Jenna Dewan-Tatum flaunting her belly in Glamour, or Simpson and Kim Kardashian posting selfies of their bumps to share with their millions of followers.
So why do we care, you might wonder? Because we think of celebrities are something akin to our friends.
"Celebrities are amplified versions of what we care about. Our celebrities now are not people that are distant from us. We mimic them and believe we can consume our way to being closer to them. Whether it's through buying Oscar dress knock-offs, or getting Jessica Simpson's baby carrier, it's another way for us to emulate them," says Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, an associate professor at University of Southern California and the author of Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity.
"And today, motherhood is not just about carrying a baby. It's about looking beautiful while carrying a baby. Celebrities do this best and if they don't, they're vilified. Kim Kardashian is putting on weight like a normal woman and she gets made fun of."
Yet some actors manage to avoid playing the game. Naomi Watts never publicly announced her pregnancies and managed to float under the radar. Back in 2009, a rounder Penelope Cruz swung by the Toronto International Film Festival to promote her new Pedro Almodovar film. Faster than you can say onesie, the deeply private actress was fielding pesky questions about her girth. She lamented that non-stop, unsubstantiated pregnancy rumors had led acquaintances to shower her with baby gifts. In fact, it wasn't until almost a year later that Cruz confirmed that she was, in fact, expecting her first baby with hubby Javier Bardem.
"Celebrities complain incessantly about their lack of privacy. As much as they might protest, it's a sad day when paparazzi aren't following you around," says maternity designer Liz Lange. "If you want to be famous, this goes along with it. Yet sometimes it's going too far. You scratch your tummy and you're suddenly pregnant. But the ones who want to be more private seem to manage it."
Tabloid coverage can go overboard, and veer from silly speculation to downright mean commentary, mocking pregnant celebs for too much weight gain, or not enough. Kardashian has been slapped on many a cover and ridiculed for her offbeat and often unflattering maternity style choices, and the Duchess of Cambridge has been questioned for being too thin. That doesn't sit well with everyone.
"I just think you should leave mothers alone. It's a very insensitive game to play. It's very insulting. If someone is not pregnant and you say they are, that's rude. I find it really inappropriate," says stylist Rachel Zoe. "You don't know what a woman is going through. What if she's trying and she isn't and it's all over the press? Leave it alone until they announce it."
Even though Zoe chronicled her pregnancy on her Bravo reality show, she opted to not reveal it in real time. "When I got pregnant, they found out because the wind blew when I was at an event. I wasn't announcing anything," she says.
And yet, photographers, and the websites and magazines that rely on them, are waiting for that one money shot: "Without a doubt, the first pregnant picture of Jennifer Aniston would be every photographer's dream," says Morgan.
Especially if it's legit.