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April 24, 2014

Celebrity quack moms are a terrible influence on everyday parents

NEW YORK — On April 15, the actress Alicia Silverstone released a book called "The Kind Mama: A Simple Guide to Supercharged Fertility, a Radiant Pregnancy, a Sweeter Birth, and a Healthier, More Beautiful Beginning." It's chock-full of attachment parenting lessons and dangerous misinformation. The Daily Beast compiled some of the book's more outrageous claims. These include the notion that postpartum depression is caused by eating processed sugars, allowing your baby to sleep in its own crib is neglectful, the diaper industry is "fueled by corporate-backed pseudoscience," and most troubling, that some children are "never the same" after they get vaccines.

Silverstone's book is just the latest in a plague of risible, crunchy parenting books written by celebrities without medical degrees. Fellow attachment parent and non-vaccinator Mayim Bialik published a book called "Beyond the Sling" in 2012. Jenny McCarthy, who won't let go of the repeatedly disproven notion that vaccines cause autism, has written several books on pregnancy and baby-rearing. Why do these things keep getting published?

It's the unfortunate confluence of two related 21st century trends: our obsession with celebrity moms, and our focus on "natural" parenting. Sixty years ago, Lucille Ball wasn't even allowed to say the word "pregnant" on television; in 1991, when Demi Moore appeared nude and 7-months-pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair, it was considered "vulgar." Now, People magazine has an entire section devoted to parents and kids, B, C and D-list celebrities try to maintain their relevance by becoming mommy bloggers, and not a day goes by without a celebrity announcing her pregnancy on the red carpet or her new addition on Twitter. Having a baby somehow burnishes their normal-person bona fides, and makes them relatable. Stars: they're just like us! Some of them have uteri!

But as any critical reader of celebrity coverage knows, stars are not just like us. They are better looking, have more money, time and support. Which is why it's so aggravating that they are promoting attachment parenting techniques that are inaccessible to most working parents. When Alicia Silverstone tells other mothers that they are borderline monsters if they don't let their kid sleep in a family bed, not only is she not considering the latest scientific evidence on co-sleeping, she's also telling working parents who desperately need a good night sleep that they're not doing right by their children.

Same goes for elimination communication, otherwise known as potty training your kids before they can even sit up on their own. Both Silverstone and Bialik push EC in their books, and because they have the money and the help to watch their kid 24/7, that method of potty training worked for them. If you try telling your local day care that your 6 month old goes diaper-free, they will probably laugh so hard tears form in their eyes before they chuck you out the door.

Most of these things are just silly, not dangerous. But even the dangerous ones - like the anti-vaccine thing - are a product of the blithe privilege of the wealthy celebrity mom. As Lindy West puts it in Jezebel, "Spreading hysterical misinformation about vaccines (even if you're just criticizing vax schedules and not shilling a direct vaccine-to-autism connection) might not seem like a big deal to families that can afford high-quality out-of-pocket medical care, but it is a very big, life-and-death deal to the low-income and immunocompromised."

The reason these books are still published is also, obviously, because they sell: At the time of this writing, Silverstone's book is No. 4 on Amazon's list of books about motherhood. So this is a message to all the book editors out there. I implore you, please stop giving these women book deals. Or, more feasibly, since publishers want to make money off these moms, for the love of God, hire a fact-checker to clean up their mess.

    

 

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