After her whirlwind, $200,000 baby shower last week, Meghan Markle left New York with the word “Mummy” hanging from her neck in 18-karat gold.
Royal watchers and fashion writers assumed the $850 Jennifer Meyer necklace had been a gift from friends. (Though Gayle King, who had been invited to the soiree, told CBS This Morning that Markle was waiting to open her presents at home in England, with Prince Harry at her side.)
How Markle received the piece is a minor detail. A matter of more urgency loomed large: How can you buy it, too?
Marie Claire UK declared that the piece “is the sweet accessory we all needed.”
“Meghan Markle’s sweet new necklace is the perfect gift for any mom,” read the headline for a Today post that shopped out the original option, along with a few cheaper (and much less glamorous) choices.
The “Mummy” necklace was just the latest in a series of maternity-chic outfits which Markle has been the unofficial spokesperson for. There was the $35 H&M midi she wore to an engagement at an animal welfare charity. A $218 T-shirt dress from Hatch Markle chose for a trip to a job training organization was dubbed “surprisingly affordable.”
Not since the early aughts, when tabloids like Us Weekly and Star would circle the “baby bumps” growing underneath the slip dresses of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan as infallible proof of their pregnancies, has America been so enthralled by the miracle of life. Markle may be Mom-To-Be-in-Chief for now, but she’s just one piece of the weird maternity marketing puzzle.
According to Forbes, millennial moms have a U.S. spending power of $2.4 trillion, and they control 85 percent of household purchases. These women have no shortage of options when it comes to what to buy—the baby and home goods market is snowballing faster than a Target-aisle temper tantrum.
Bastion of relatability Chrissy Teigen is Pampers' first “Creative Consultant,” repping the brand’s Pure Collection. In a video for the ad campaign, Teigen softly coos about her daughter, Luna, who wears a gender-neutral green onesie and rolls around on a plush white blanket that either conjures up visions of comfort or a neurotic fear of staining.
Last year, former Victoria’s Secret model Karolina Kurkova launched Gryph & IvyRose. The line of herbal remedies earned the somewhat suspect comparison of “Goop for kids.” It's more of a place for mommies to purchase $22.50 “Moody Blues” tinctures that “help children out of those moody moments with poria mushroom, organic licorice root, and seven other carefully curated botanicals.”
Just today, WWD reported that husband and wife Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard have showed up to the celebrity entrepreneur baby shower too with Hello Bello, a cutely-titled, “mostly organic, plant-ingredient-based baby-care line.”
Bell cited the fact that she has family in Ohio and Oregon as a reason for choosing to partner with Walmart. “As a working parent, you don’t have time to seek out the fun boutiques in your area to shop for your children,” said Bell, nailing her perhaps-rehearsed, accessibility-themed talking points. She added that in Hello Bello ads, “We talk about poop and butt cheeks and disgusting stuff.“
Miles from Walmart, fashion week runways have begun to cast pregnant women in fashion shows. The illustrator Corey Wash walked for Gypsy Sport’s fleshy presentation in a sheer black-and-white overlay that rested over her bump. “Stepping out with my belly was a magical moment... I felt powerful,” Wash told Vogueworld after the show.
Last year, the model Slick Woods was rushed to the hospital just an hour after walking Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty show in a barely-there strappy teddy and black pasties. After giving birth, Woods posted an Instagram caption that passionately read, “This is the face of a WOMAN IN LABOR, we hold shit down most of us don’t even know how much we’re going through, I’m here to say I CAN DO WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT WHENEVER THE FUCK I WANT AND SO CAN YOU.”
Even the Vatican is not immune to the obsession. At a New Year’s Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis delivered a speech inspired by mothers that could have doubled as very fancy Pampers copy. Francis said, “We need to learn from mothers that heroism is shown in self-giving, strength in compassion, wisdom in meekness.”
He added, “A world that looks to the future without a mother’s gaze is shortsighted.”
And yet for now, it seems that the gaze is firmly on mothers, or at least as far as our visual culture is concerned. Though it is a major no-no for outlets to speculate on whether or not a woman is pregnant, once the announcement is made, all bets are off.
As soon as Markle made her happy news public in October, a deluge of coverage and inevitable criticism ensued. The duchess was either flying too much or cradling her growing figure in a way deemed inauthentic. (Never mind the fact that Markle might want to physically shield her bump from the perennial paparazzi who follow her every move.)
Second wave mommy-mania may be a bit more humane than the days of “Is she or isn't she?” but it's still just as much of a machine. Perhaps Bell's ads about baby butts do make one mother feel less alone, just like unwrapping a “Mummy” necklace at a shower could make a woman feel more loved. That representation is important, but the fact remains: this isn't relatable. It's still just an ad.