Audition. Finally get role. Get more roles. Become international sex symbol. Have baby?
That seems to be the path of Jessica Alba, the 26-year-old actress regarded by both men's magazines and men on the street as one of the sexiest women in the world. She announced yesterday that she and her long-time boyfriend, Cash Warren, are expecting. Bye-bye taut belly, hello baby bump.
Alba's the latest 20-something star to make the move toward motherhood. Christina Aguilera, also 26, showed off her enormous orange stomach on the January 2008 cover of Marie Claire. Britney Spears went from pop princess to perturbed parent at age 23. Reese Witherspoon also gave birth to her daughter, Ava, at 23.
These are women who, after years of auditions, months of shooting and hours on the treadmill, finally established themselves as rising stars. A generation of actresses and singers before them -- including Madonna, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis -- waited until they were pushing or past 40 and cemented in their careers before becoming mothers.
So why is young Hollywood jumping on the baby bandwagon when they're all so ... young?
To be fair, Hollywood's young moms aren't young when compared with their nonfamous counterparts. In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the average age of new mothers in the United States is 25.2 years old. But these tabloid darlings are bucking the old industry standard of waiting until the absolute last minute to bear children (the better to preserve a sexy figure and image) by embracing motherhood while their peers are club hopping and getting busted for DUIs. Some argue it's for all the right reasons.
"I think it's pro feminist," said E! online gossip columnist Ted Casablanca. "It's all about choice. It's taking the old mold and breaking it. It's saying, 'I will not be defined by my womb.' It's saying, 'I can have a dynamic career and be a dynamic mom at the same time,' rather than saying, 'I have to choose between the two.'"
In other words, "I am pregnant starlet, hear me roar." Before Aguilera bared her belly for Marie Claire, a bulging Spears posed on the August 2006 cover of Harper's Bazaar. Sure, Demi Moore broke the mold in 1991 when she posed nude on the cover of Vanity Fair while seven months pregnant, but 20-something-with-child stars seem to flaunt their status more than ever.
"There's a way to use pregnancy to your advantage," said S. Tia Brown, senior editor of InTouch Weekly. "Everyone loves to watch the growing baby bumps."
Sometimes becoming a new mom can revamp a rattled reputation.
"A lot of times, pregnancy might be used to defuse a bad girl image. It's a way of publicly announcing 'My dirty days are behind me' in the case of Christina," said Village Voice gossip columnist Michael Musto, referring to Aguilera's 1990s role as the naughty pop princess next to the nice Spears.
And sometimes, young stars get pregnant not for publicity, not for a new image but simply for the kids.
"It's hard for some people to understand why a woman who has so much -- fame, money, a great career -- wants a baby. But it's just maternal instinct," said psychoanalyst Bethany Marshall. "We're so used to pathologizing our stars because the ones who are messed up get the most attention, and it's easy to pathologize the fact that someone wants to be a mother -- but there's nothing wrong with being a mother."
With the exception of Spears, whose problems probably stem far deeper than having kids at a young age, getting pregnant hasn't seemed to have held back the new generation of Hollywood stars.
Witherspoon won an Oscar after becoming a mom. Posh Spice Victoria Beckham bore the first of her three-kid clan at age 25; now she's back on tour and bigger than ever. And as long as she hits the gym to regain her "Fantastic Four" figure after giving birth, Alba will probably bounce right back to No. 1 on all those hottest-of-the-hot lists.
"The public has gone beyond the Madonna-whore syndrome, where once somebody has given birth, they're not considered sexy anymore," Musto said. "People are now more willing to embrace the idea of literally a hot mama. And that's what I think she'll be."