I remember when gossip columns devoted space to Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. Now we’ve got Amber Portwood, the young woman on “16 & Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” who Star magazine says is pregnant with her second baby. Amber is already the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Leah, with ex-fiance Gary Shirley. Star says she’s dating a cage fighter named Clinton Yunker and “is hoping that the child is Shirley’s nonetheless.”
There’s no escaping the “Teen Mom” girls now. Just admit it: it’s dirt cheap for paparazzi to photograph them, so they are claiming tabloid domination. And while Catelynn and Tyler (who gave their kid up for adoption) are the couple who tug our heart strings, you couldn’t avoid Amber if you tried.
And that worries me.As someone who reads gossip blogs and magazines for pleasure, but also receives “Breaking News!” alerts from gossip blogs and mags professionally, “Amber Portwood” is a name I’ve come to loathe. Every other day there is another damn item about Child Protective Services taking Leah from her after she was filmed slapping and punching her ex-fiance. In-between days are filled in with deets about their on-again, off-again relationship and the other men she’s supposedly dating. Oh, and then there was the time she was apparently getting her daughter’s face tattooed on her stomach.
But I also wonder if the drama of Amber Portwood is so free-flowing because we’re thirsting for a young woman to hate on a show that otherwise portrays women in difficult positions quite positively. While the young moms often struggle, all seem to make an effort to do the best by their kids, regardless of whether they are privileged like Maci and Farrah or poor like Catelynn and Amber. The other girls have done their turns in the magazines as well, of course, but they often seem like redemption stories: Farrah reconciling with her mom, Maci and her new boyfriend, etc. Yet there’s no end to dreadfully alarming details of Amber’s life served up for our consumption. She’s dating a cage fighter? Really?! And before that wasn’t she dating a guy with a criminal record (who was not a sex offender, as misreported by the media, but out on work release)?
When I’ve watched “Teen Mom” and “16 & Pregnant,” I’m more taken by the bad behavior of the young fathers. Many of them are absentees or show a disinterest in the nitty-gritty of parenting, like 2 a.m. feedings. That’s something that I, personally, am sensitive to because my own dad became a father when he was only 21 years old and he stepped up to the plate and raised his kids. Why aren’t these slacker 16-year-old boys the ones ridiculed on the magazine covers? The pile-on with Amber Portwood seems more of a judgment to me of people like Amber, on top of her as an individual.
Amber had sex when she was very young. She’s poor. She’s struggled in past seasons with her schoolwork. She’s physically violent. She’s potty-mouthed. She speaks English poorly. She’s carrying a few extra pounds. Her boyfriends seem like the types of guys you wouldn’t want within 100 feet of your children. There is absolutely nothing charming about her; I’ve read more than a few commenters call Amber a term — which I consider to be racist — “white trash.” Amber is everything — practically the embodiment, to be honest — society tells us to be unsympathetic about in a woman. People love to hate Amber Portwood because she’s a poor, uneducated overweight teen mother.
I don’t mean to sound as if I’m condoning Amber’s poor life choices — of which there are many. I think the girl’s a frightening mess. I do feel compassion for her because I’m wary of the reasons women in our culture become villains. (Omarosa, anyone? Kristin Cavallari on “The Hills”?) The public will never stop having a taste for the seemingly birth-control-less, foul-mouthed brat dating a cage fighter. But maybe we should ask ourselves why we love to hate her so much.