Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Labor and Delivery: Television Actresses’ Pregnant Performances from 1948-2016, examines the labor of six pregnant actresses working on United States television. Mary Kay Stearns, Lucille Ball, Jane Leeves, Kerry Washington, and Katey Sagal all worked through pregnancies while filming their respective television shows. These women exemplify the multitude of actresses who maintained their careers and their pregnancies in the television industry. This is the first study of its kind to examine the labor of an actresses’ pregnant body on film while she performs a role other than herself. Previous examinations of pregnancy in performance are few but have largely focused on representations of the pregnant body in film and television. My study differs from these projects in that it is solely concerned with how the actresses pregnant body affects and is affected by the constraints of the naturalist genre on television.

This project is the beginning of an archive of televised pregnant labor. It examines how the television industry, television actresses, and television audiences have learned to accommodate the pregnant laboring body. I argue that pregnant laboring actresses and the television industry that employs them show United States television audiences pregnant bodies at work, and for better or worse, the television industry is a model of how to accommodate pregnancy in the workplace. Ultimately, I conclude that given the restraints of naturalism there is no perfect way for the television industry to accommodate actresses’ pregnancies, but their pregnant performances provide a national platform for pregnant bodies to be seen working by millions of people.

In examining the pregnant televised labor of these actresses within the fields of theatre and performance studies, this study troubles naturalism as the default television performance genre. It establishes the history of television pregnancy camouflage techniques and questions the effectiveness of those techniques by examining audience response. This project lays a foundation for deeper analysis of the pregnant body in naturalist televised performance. The ways in which an actress’ pregnant body is modified, commodified, camouflaged, or disregarded within the television industry informs how pregnant bodies are discussed and treated outside of the television screen.



Committee Chair

Walsh, Shannon