Nude pictures of Amber Portwood, one of MTV’s Teen Moms, have surfaced online. (This is the same teen mom who was charged with domestic battery of her baby’s father and neglect of a dependent, by the way.) Nude photos of the tabloid-famous in and of themselves aren’t that big a deal these days, but still. How did these girls, totally normal and unremarkable except for the fact of their young motherhood, go from being interesting case studies to tabloid celebrities followed to the pumpkin patch by Us Weekly?
Teen Mom started in 2009 as a spinoff of 16 and Pregnant, which followed very young mothers during their pregnancies and births. Teen Mom follows them into their early years of motherhood. It’s fascinating to watch them do mundane things like take their babies to the grocery store and fight with their baby daddies about money. Even though they’re mostly pretty boring and vacant. I would know – I’ve seen both series in their entirety.
The dissonance of a 16-year-old high school sophomore waking up in the middle of the night to nurse her baby, of a 17-year-old moving in with her fiancé and a toddler and keeping house like a grown adult – it’s not as if it’s new or anything. And whether we’d like to think about it or not, it’s the story of more teenagers than we’d like to admit (although less than in the past). But remember what it was like to be 16, and then add a screaming baby on top of that. The drama quotient just explodes.
Admirably, the series uses that palpable drama in a really servicey way. Teen Mom shows us just how hard it is, just how taxing and unglamorous and un-fun, to become a mother before you’ve even graduated high school. Before commercial breaks, there’s even a screen that pops up directing viewers to a MTV-sponsored site about preventing teen pregnancy. This stuff should be required viewing in sex ed classes all over the country.
But now that the moms are becoming famous in contexts outside the show – now that they’re being gossiped about and photographed everywhere – the efficacy of the series’ message is diluted. I’m not in the camp that thinks these shows “glamorize” or “encourage” teen pregnancy – that argument is silly and incomplete at best. I don’t think any sane teenager could watch an episode of Teen Mom or 16 and Pregnant and think, “I want that.” But when the moms become personalities, it does, in a way, make the whole thing seem glamorous, or at least it makes you momentarily forget the dirty diapers and colic and the cheating boyfriends and lack of money.
And now that they’re posing for nude photos, however amateurish and sad they may be? Yikes.