LN: What a composite, Brad Scharlott. But, please, MAKE.IT.STOP! I don’t mean to shout. But my head hurts from looking at this freeze-frame (the lower one above) of Mrs. Palin’s mid-section circa April 2008.
BS: What we are looking at is a screen capture from one of the famous Elan Frank video scenes shot April 7-8 in 2008, when Palin was supposed to be about eight months pregnant – about 10 days before she reportedly gave birth. For those who have seen it, this is the point in the video where Sarah thumps her stomach while making some strange comments (which we’ll get to shortly) about her tight abs helping hide her pregnancy.
I have no idea who deserves credit for first brightening this segment of the video, but for at least a few years folks have known that if you lighten a screen grab from this part, what you see looks remarkably like a square pillow where Sarah’s stomach should be. (Andrew Sullivan recently ran essentially the same picture in his blog.)
I thought it might be helpful to see another very pregnant belly for comparison, so here is Christina Aguilera at about seven and a half months pregnant:
LN: But you’re also talking different angles, fabric versus skin. Sitting versus standing.
BS: I did look for picture of an eight-month pregnant woman sitting like Palin, but not many are to be found. The standing versus sitting actually helps make my point – the belly of a pregnant woman will bunch up more when she is sitting than when she is standing, yet here we see the standing Aguilera with a bigger belly than the sitting Palin. Likewise, the lack of material around Aguilera’s belly should make it seem smaller versus Palin’s, which is clothed.
As to the angle, the side view of Aguilera’s belly gives us a sense of the typical roundness of a very pregnant woman’s stomach. We don’t have that same angle with Palin, but two things let us know that her belly is more flat than round. First, the position of her hands, which we can see are nearly flat as they slap against the belly. And, second, the pattern of light being reflected off the material covering the stomach. I uniformly lightened the picture – I did not move any pixels nor did I give isolated areas special treatment. So the relative flatness you perceive in the stomach area is an accurate depiction of reality – her belly really does look more like a first-base bag than a basketball.
LN: But let’s be honest: Couldn’t Palin’s appearance easily be explained by the way the black shirt folded under her bust and under her belly?
BS: Well, Laura, perhaps you should watch the video here: Elan Frank Interviews Sarah Palin-April 2008 part 1. (Go to about 0:27 for the belly thump.) As you can see, the camera pans up and down from her face to her midsection, and you can see the black shirt is hugging her body – there are no odd folds creating an illusion.
LN: The shadows on the sides. They can be shadows, right? Not necessarily the contours of a SQUARE PILLOW! I’m sorry. I’m shouting again.
BS: Well, actually, Frank was using professional lighting equipment to ensure there would be no distracting shadows.
Sadly for me, I’ve never experienced a pregnancy up close and personal. My wife and I have adopted two children, but we have not had children biologically. So I have no good sense of what shape an eight-month pregnant lady’s belly may take. But I sense you are not comfortable with the square pillow shape. Why is that?
LN: Because I simply do not want to believe that this woman – any woman – shoved a square pillow under her shirt. I do not want to believe anyone could so smugly mug for the camera and thump a pillow. It’s abnormal beyond reason. It would be insane.
BS: Well, as I mentioned, Sarah says some odd things when talking to Frank – let’s have a look at a transcription:
[Sarah talking as she thumps her belly] “I feel great! It’s been extraordinarily comfortable and easy this pregnancy. In fact, I did not tell anyone I was pregnant until last month, and I hid it till last month, and then … didn’t even purposely really try to hide it, just, ah, my abs were tight, and I could hide it [laughs] – till this month, there was no way …” [video segment ends here]
Sarah seems here not entirely sure what story she wants to tell: Was she hiding the pregnancy? She kind of says yes, then kind of says no, then points to her tight abs.
LN: I agree. The conflict is there. Her ambivalence has been critical to the story. It’s been the reason she hid the pregnancy, according to her. But it also alludes to not really being sure what her narrative was. Or maybe it was an indication that she didn’t know the story herself until the baby would have been seven months along. Kind of like a child who makes up the story as they go.
BS: Again, I am not an expert on pregnancy, but it seems to me that a woman with tight abs would show a pregnancy sooner, not later, than other women, because there would be so little fat to camouflage the baby bump. What’s your take on that, Laura? Can tight abs, perhaps, squash a fetus into a smaller size and thus hide it?
LN: First of all, or rather, finally, let’s debunk Mrs. Palin’s tight abs theory. I was so lean and buff when I was pregnant, you could bounce a dime off my ass. I was fit, ten years younger than she was, and it was my first pregnancy. And my belly was showing before 4 months. So abdominal muscles are a moot point. But she has had a good way of deflecting points for 2.5 years. Rhetorical mention of DNA, stretch marks, and tight abs are a method of deflection. They make the interviewer laugh nervously and look away.
BS: And men reporters, especially, I imagine, have been willing to let her play the “mommy parts” card – they have shied away from asking about leaking fluids and breast-feeding, and have avoided confronting Palin about the shape of her body during her purported last pregnancy.
For what it’s worth, Palin’s abs have seemingly gotten tighter over the years. Here is a photo of Sarah (on the right) in what has been widely reported as her first pregnancy:
LN: Thank you again, Prof. Brad Scharlott, photography expert and close follower of this story. I really appreciate your time. Up next, our “resident” neonatologist has some analysis for us that is sure to make some people thump their heads.