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See? The tabs were right all along!

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Finally, we have the official announcement that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting a baby.

What a relief.

Not because the royal infant will ensure the smooth succession of the British monarchy, which seems a rather remote concern in 21st-century Canada. No, the reason the palace statement is such a blessed release is because we can finally leave behind all the pointless, paper-wasting pregnancy speculation.

The poor duchess has been maybe, possibly, probably, almost certainly pregnant since she got married. (Actually, the defiantly trashy OK! magazine got the jump on the regal baby bump by suggesting Kate was pregnant before the wedding.)

And now the unseemly womb watchers finally get to be right -- but really only by virtue of having been steadily wrong for over 19 months. Correctness has suddenly overtaken what had been their regularly voiced -- and regularly wrong -- assertions about Kate's "interesting condition." The phantom symptoms, the yellow arrows pointing to the royal abdomen, the quoted assurances from the duchess's "close friends" and "unnamed royal sources" that have been floating around since April 2011 suddenly mean something.

It's often said that you can't be "a bit pregnant," but that message didn't seem to get through to the tabloid media in the long lead-up to the duchess's actual pregnancy. For over a year, the tabs kept scanning Kate's face, body and behaviour for the tiniest indications of anything remotely pregnanty.

She's drinking water! She's holding her hands in the general region of her stomach! She's politely declining peanut paste in Copenhagen! She's giving her husband a knowing look!

Of course, because her husband is Prince William, the mags could sound as if they were concerned with royal succession and the public weal and all that. But really, the media microscope on Kate's belly just seemed like another example of the public scrutiny of female celebrities' bodies, which in the past decade has become increasingly snarky, invasive and unforgiving. Possible pregnancies, actual pregnancies and post-pregnancies have turned into entertainment spectacles. Taking a bottom-line approach to female body image, mass media often seems to confuse the miracle of life with "getting fat," and the looming threat of "baby weight" often seems to eclipse the actual baby.

Faced with the slender duchess, the tabs had been reduced to analyzing wayward folds in her dresses in a desperate search for baby bumps. In the absence of visible swells, they improvised handily. "Pregnancy and anorexia shocker! 95 lbs & having a baby," shouted the Star in July 2011, deciding to work with Kate's skinniness. A later cover photo last September suggests that the impatient tabloid might have augmented the duchess's stomach with some help from Photoshop.

Other outlets have gone beyond bump-watching to even more subtle physical examinations. The Daily Beast's ghastly royal gossip writer decided that the Duchess was enceinte because she was exhibiting "preg-face." Evidently that's a thing now, and evidently it means any celebrity visage that doesn't resemble the stricken-whippet look of Victoria Beckham.

Now that Will and Kate have gone public, we can finally stop with the is-she-or-isn't-she conjectures. Unfortunately, we're just getting started with the what-to-expect-when-you're expecting line. One acerbic Brit commentator has already dubbed the duchess "dilatey-Katie," anticipating the merciless micro-coverage of the royal labour and delivery. Ouch.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 8, 2012 E3

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