The XX Factor

The Tabloid Coverage of “Teen Mom” Stars Has Become Despicable

Yesterday evening I got a press release from Us Weekly about their exclusive! on reality star Amber Portwood . The young mother, 20, who appeared on MTV’s 16 and Pregnant and now is on Teen Mom , has been reunited with her 2-year-old daughter, Leah-who had temporarily been made a ward of the state. Leah was taken away because earlier this month, Amber’s ex-fiance and Leah’s father, Gary Shirley, pressed charges against Amber for allegedly attacking him in front of Leah.

Just last week there was another article, this time in USA Today , in which someone accused Teen Mom -and the tabloids’ obsession with its stars -of glamorizing teen pregnancy. As I noted in a piece I wrote earlier this year about the 16 and Pregnant / Teen Mom phenomenon, the producers mean for these shows to be a powerful public service, as they show the difficult realities of being young, uneducated, often poor, and a parent. Indeed, the show itself paints an extremely unvarnished portrait of these women and their usually hapless boyfriends, and its creators are well-meaning. But as producer Morgan J. Freeman told USA Today , “Frankly, it’s a challenge to stay focused on the real issues, stay focused on the real challenges in all of our girls’ lives with this sort of larger cloud of the tabloids, the media circus, the glamorizing and glorifying aspects of it.”

I agree with Freeman that the tabloids are a negative force in these girls’ lives, but not because they are glamorized. One look at the Us Weekly article on Portwood makes this argument seem ludicrous: Yes, having your daughter taken away and having anger and depression issues is really fancy and desirable! Us Weekly articles like this are bad for the Teen Mom stars because they’re using these young women who are in a bad place. Unlike the shows,which Freeman produces, the tabloids do not present these women in a kind and nuanced way. This is not showing unflattering photos of rich and successful moms like Jennifer Garner in the supermarket, which is what the celebrity weeklies used to do, or even revealing the drug-addled lows of powerful people like Lindsay Lohan. This is exploiting the messy sorrows of struggling, extremely young women, and it’s despicable.