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Sophie Hunter Cumberbatch 1.jpg

Moon Bumps and Real Dolls: The Celebrity Fake Baby Conspiracy That’s Taken Over Fandom

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | August 12, 2022 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | August 12, 2022 |

Sophie Hunter Cumberbatch 1.jpg

If you believe certain circles of the internet, no celebrity is in control of their own life. They may be rich and famous and have every door open to them, but they’re all miserable puppets of almighty PR manipulations. Their relationships are fake. Their emotions are all for show. Even their children don’t exist.

Whenever a major celebrity or their partner announces the arrival of a baby, some people seem to lose their damn minds. When Beyoncé was pregnant with Blue Ivy, conspiracists went wild trying to ‘prove’ that she was actually wearing a fake bump. The same thing happened to both Kim Kardashian and Meghan Markle. Many tinhat shippers of Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles are convinced that the former’s son is either not his, a plant baby (?) hired by his record label, or a scheme to keep his ‘real’ romance hidden. Benedict Cumberbatch and his wife Sophie Hunter have faced horrific abuse with a major focus on the notion that she entrapped her husband with fake pregnancies and children who may or may not actually be dolls. The Atlantic even interviewed one so-called fan who had spent years pushing this lie. Chrissy Teigen, now pregnant again following the devastating loss of her son, is a new target. Now, even Amber Heard is facing the wrath of this curiously familiar conspiracy, with Johnny Depp fans trying to push the narrative that her own baby daughter was hired for publicity. The ‘proof’ of this claim comes from an image of a woman who looks like Heard pushing an empty pram, because apparently there’s no other reason for someone to be seen in public with one of those unless it’s to accidentally prove that their fake baby had to be returned to the rental place?

We live in deeply conspiratorial times. The spread of misinformation has never happened more speedily, never been so easy to monetize, never felt so inescapably ingrained in our daily lives. It covers every aspect of our being, from politics to academia to, of course, celebrity. Since my field of interest is mostly the last one, I’ve been privy to some truly bananas conspiracy theories involving the most famous people on the planet. They’re always ridiculous, frequently terrifying, and seldom easy to explain away. They’re also inadvertently extremely revealing about the ways that we dehumanize others as part of a ceaseless search for answers that do not exist.

It’s fascinating yet deeply telling how frequently the fake baby conspiracy pops up in fandoms across the board. It’s weird enough that this has happened once but that it seems to be a wearily inevitable part of a fandom focused on real people is equal parts tedious and terrifying. As with all fandom conspiracies (and, really, also those in political spheres), the basic tenets are near-identical from case to case. The excuses are all the same, as are the ways that ‘evidence’ is garnered. Nothing can ever be refuted because the goalposts are always in motion. These people could be watching a live birth take place in their own home and they’d find a way to claim that the entire thing was a false flag operation.

What is most striking about the fake baby conspiracy is how much it relies on a fundamental misunderstanding of pregnancy. All those decades of schools offering sex education of questionable quality are finally paying off, I suppose. Beyoncé was consistently shamed as not being really pregnant because people thought her bump moved around in an unnatural manner. Sophie Hunter faced similar claims with various images being used to ‘prove’ the erratic changing size of her body. Meghan Markle’s ability to squat while pregnant was viewed as a red flag. All these women are doing is living while pregnant and doing exactly what billions before them have done. Bodies change, and they’re extremely prone to weird movement when there’s a literal human being growing inside of you and kicking at your organs like they’re in an MMA tournament. They can seem much smaller one day then huge the next. Perhaps decades of many people viewing pregnancy mostly through fiction, where skinny actresses wear unmoving prosthetic bumps that are always the same shape, has warped their understanding of how this extremely common phenomenon works. That is kind of concerning, to be honest. Are we so in denial about our own bodies? Or are we so resentful of the act of being pregnant and not retreating to a darkened room like a damsel in a gothic novel?

The doll aspect is especially ghoulish. We’re long past the era of celebrity where famous people were encouraged to trot their kids out at red carpet galas and for the paparazzi. Indeed, the latter’s invasiveness towards celeb offspring has been greatly limited by various law changes, which is why you’re more likely to see their faces blurred in articles than not. Even the most A-List of Hollywood are keeping their families out of the spotlight. Wouldn’t you follow suit if you knew how many weirdos out there want to make up hurtful theories about their existence?

Of course, the more they’re kept out of the spotlight, the more the fires are fuelled (this isn’t a direct trajectory, more a reminder that there’s no way to win against someone who plays by rules they make up and change every single day.) When we do see their faces, these people analyse them for genetic markers or ways to ‘prove’ that they’re not even alive. It is more believable to these strangers that a wildly famous person would fake a pregnancy, keep it out of the press for months, pretend to give birth, then cart around a toy in view of photographers rather than, you know, just be pregnant.

Not every parent gets pregnant, and not every parent becomes so through the same trajectory. Amber Heard’s daughter is constantly used as a conspiratorial punching bag by Depp cultists who can’t decide if she’s a doll, a for-hire plant, or the result of surrogacy via Elon Musk. All of this is another way to pretend that Heard is a liar, a sociopath on the level of a serial killer. She’s compulsive, she makes up everything, including her own offspring. Nothing Heard does will please those who have spent years trying to ruin her life. And she’s not the only one who has had to struggle with this.

The majority of conspiracists in this field, at least from my experience, are women, usually in middle age and not the teenagers who are viewed as the majority behind such reasoning. The pipeline from weird fandom conspiracy to QAnon central is a short one that really deserves greater scrutiny. It’d be easy to write all of this off as jealousy but I’m not sure that covers it. Sure, I bet a lot of these women are mad that Cumberbatch or Prince Harry or Louis Tomlinson didn’t knock them up, but it’s not as though their friends in these fandom hives would change their tune or approve of any woman in that position. No woman can win.

By forcing this sort of unbearable fury on any woman, they’re just strengthening a wider societal shift that has led to a conservative-led battle to all but criminalize the act of being pregnant. The ways we talk about pregnancy and parenthood with celebrities merely echoes our bigger issues and attitudes. That encompasses a lot of areas of scorn: the judgment of Rihanna’s wardrobe while heavily pregnant, the pressure many women feel to ‘spring back’ to their pre-baby bodies; the ways Meghan was scrutinized for ‘holding her bump too performatively’, and so on.

Pregnancy as a whole is viewed so suspiciously, and celebrities experiencing it for the world to see must live with a staggering pressure to live up to impossible expectations, many of which regular parents feel they must emulate. Their bodies are seen as public property and that includes their children. For these conspiracists, there’s no way to do pregnancy right, which isn’t all that different from the media attitudes towards celebrities. The fake baby cycle is just the most heightened version of this furore. In a world where women’s every move is judged, where the act of being pregnant (or choosing not to be) has become so irrevocably toxic, why not throw a moon bump or two in there to really hammer home your hatred?

So much of the anti-choice discourse relies on the notion that no woman is able to make decisions about their own body. We’re all too fragile and stupid, so the state must step in to ensure we don’t screw up everything. To be in possession of a uterus is to become public property, little more than a pet to be passed around like a broodmare. It’s no wonder that celebrities have become a socially acceptable means for so many of us to debate these stifling regulations. A fake pregnancy conspiracy may seem silly from the outside (and it totally is bullsh*t) but in a world where we face ceaseless surveillance and legal demands over our bodies, such conspiracies cannot help but seem wearily inevitable.

Kayleigh is a features writer and editor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to her podcast, The Hollywood Read.

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