Ready for a lesson in how to spin a celeb pregnancy announcement out of nothing?
Holly Willoughby is a woman of many talents. As fans of ITV’s This Morning and Dancing on Ice will already be aware, she’s a television presenter – and a much loved one at that. She’s also a model and author, though, and she’s launched a few fashion collections over the years, too.
Willoughby is also, however, a mother to three children. And, despite the fact she prefers to keep her personal life just that, it’s this detail which tabloids are most interested in. So much so that, when the Celebrity Juice star recently shared a post on Instagram teasing a new project, it sparked a plethora of speculative pregnancy headlines.
It all kicked off when Willoughby shared a behind-the-scenes photo of herself from what clearly looked like a professional shoot. “Have a little news coming soon, and it’s the stuff of dreams,” she captioned the post.
12 words. 12 words – none of which, I hasten to add, have anything to do with pregnancy or motherhood – was all it took to send UK tabloids into a tailspin.
“Holly Willoughby fuels pregnancy rumours as fans go wild for ‘dreamy’ announcement,” screamed one headline.
Another opted for: “Holly Willoughby fuels pregnancy rumours with cryptic Instagram post.”
And still one more declared: “Holly Willoughby sparks pregnancy speculation as she teases ‘exciting’ announcement.”
There were many other articles of this nature, of course, and almost all included a paragraph or two about how Willoughby once said she was “broody” in a throwaway comment. And fans were every bit as convinced that Willoughby’s “dream” project would be… well, another baby.
“She’s properly pregnant,” one commented under the original Instagram post.
“Pregnant?!” asked another.
“Up the fluff?” said one more.
And a fourth added: “A new baby on the way, how exciting!”
Guess what? Everyone was wrong. Obviously.
“Rise and shine,” Willoughby wrote in a second post, opting to ignore the furore her previous post had caused. “Introducing my new Spring/Summer bedding collection exclusively with @DunelmUK… full of timeless designs that I’ve fallen in love with, and ones I hope you’ll adore too.”
Cue a lot of awkward backtracking from tabloids – and a fair few disappointed comments on Instagram, too (“I’m sad we won’t get another Willoughbaby,” wrote one, leaning into their pun with gusto).
It’s just one of those things, I guess. A silly mix-up, a miscommunication… and quite a funny one at that, especially if you watched it all play out in real-time as I did. But it begs a bigger question, really: why was everyone so quick to assume that Willoughby’s “dream” was to fall pregnant?
As previously reported by Stylist, our preoccupation with the lives of others is a by-product of the psychology that evolved in prehistoric times. As Daniel Kruger, an evolutionary psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, told CBC, high-profile births have become such a media phenomenon because they combine two fascinations humans have as part of our evolved heritage: an interest in infants and children, and an interest in high-status individuals.
That interest in small children is very much a characteristic of our species and any other species where an adult other than a mother may provide parental care to newborns or younger offspring, says Kruger.
“You see this happening in other primates,” he adds, noting that documentaries have been produced focusing on chimpanzees giving birth at zoos, and the offspring being introduced to other chimps. “You just see the fascination in their faces with the new infant.”
This I can get on board with. I completely understand why people would want to coo and cluck over a celebrity’s baby announcement, and why such announcements tend to receive the most likes on social media (see Beyoncé’s record-breaking Instagram post if you don’t believe me). There’s just something so soul-soothing about a baby photo, and about the idea that someone wants to share their happy – and deeply personal news – with the world.
What I can’t get on board with, though, is the fact that Willoughby’s post triggered such a wave of misplaced speculation when it had absolutely nothing about babies. Nada. Zilch. All she wanted to blow her own trumpet (as she has every right to do) and let everyone know that she’s got a brand new side-hustle. Instead, the world decided that the only news she’d want to shout about would have to do with her reproductive status.
This reaction wouldn’t have felt out of place in the 50s, I suppose. Back then, women were primarily housewives, so getting sprogged-up was typically the end goal. And, even in 2020, falling pregnant (if that’s something you want, of course) is absolutely good news. However, we need to remember that pregnancy isn’t the only good news – and it isn’t for everyone: some women can’t have children, for starters, and there are many, many reasons why someone might not want to have a baby of their own, too.
More important than this, though? We need to stop assuming that motherhood is the be-all and end-all of a woman’s existence. After all, there are so many opportunities available to us, and so many achievements to celebrate: think graduations, promotions, business launches, side hustles and getting on the property ladder, to name just a few. And so, when we see someone shouting out about their “big announcement”, we should remember that it could be anything. To immediately assume “baby news” is… well, it’s reductive, at best. Plus, it kind of puts a dampener on whatever they have to tell you: if they’re pregnant, you’ve spoiled the surprise. If they’re not pregnant and gearing up to tell you something major, you’ve implied (however accidentally) that it will never live up to the excitement of a new baby. Way to go, champ.
With this in mind, we’d like to congratulate Willoughby on her new side hustle. We have no doubt it will prove a success: after all, the ‘Holly Willoughby effect’ saw her M&S launch sell out in record time.
A note to our readers: as we’ve said countless times before, you should never ask a woman if she’s pregnant (unless, you know, you’re a doctor and you’re asking for medical reasons). It doesn’t matter if she says she has “exciting news” to share. It doesn’t matter if she feels nauseous in the mornings, or is wearing a baggy empire-waisted outfit, or avoiding alcohol. It especially doesn’t matter if her belly has popped so far that you have to back up 10 steps so that she can turn around.
Why? Because it is absolutely none of your business, unless she decides to make it your business. So please wait for her to confirm her news, in her own time, and in her own way. Thanks.