two hundred and forty

Read IN BED: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud

Word & Images by Hannah-Rose Yee

“If you were born in 1991 you’ve never known a time when pregnancy wasn’t performed in public. 1991 was the year in which Demi Moore appeared naked, seven months pregnant with her second daughter, Scout, on the cover of Vanity Fair. The cover became instantly iconic, mocked and replicated and spoofed in the manner of meme culture decades before online memes existed. In some quarters, it was considered obscene: Many supermarkets displayed it with the sort of paper wrap reserved for Playboy. “It’s tacky,” one twenty-three-year-old woman told the Los Angeles Times. She couldn’t imagine “why anyone would want to display her swollen stomach like that – and why people would want to look at it.”

Anne Helen Petersen’s essay collection Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman begins with a bittersweet admission: The idea for the book came when she cast her vote for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 American Presidential election.

What follows are a few blissful paragraphs when Petersen, along with many other women in America – and bolstered by the hopes of women around the world – felt like she was walking on air. Finally, finally, a woman was going to sit in the White House. Until, as we all know, she didn’t.

Which is why this book feels so urgent and so angry. Each chapter documents a female celebrity, unruly and unrepentant, and the ways in which those women were perceived as other in society. Serena Williams? She’s too strong. Melissa McCarthy? Too fat. Madonna is too old and Hillary too shrill. In one chapter, extracted on Buzzfeed – where Petersen is a senior culture writer – she details how Kim Kardashian was too pregnant.

That chapter sums up what makes this book of cultural criticism so resonant. Petersen tracks the progression of public pregnancy, from Demi Moore’s nude cover of Vanity Fair right up until Kim’s appearance on the red carpet, pregnant and resplendent in floral Givenchy. Not only is Kim’s persona unpacked and examined here but the whole idea of what it is to be a pregnant woman in society is explored.

This is a searingly intelligent and well-researched book that also feels immensely readable, which is no small feat. Enjoy it, and then pass it on to your best female friend. This is a book that needs to be talked about.

This is a searingly intelligent and well-researched book that also feels immensely readable, which is no small feat. Enjoy it, and then pass it on to your best female friend. This is a book that needs to be talked about.