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What's behind the celebrity baby obsession?

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
Photographers never pass up an opportunity to shoot the Jolie-Pitt family.
Photographers never pass up an opportunity to shoot the Jolie-Pitt family.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Children of celebrities are sought-after photo subjects
  • Some have their own legions of fans; there are sites dedicated to celeb kids
  • Magazine editor says attention is indicative of culture obsessed with stars and children
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(CNN) -- The paparazzi pursue them, their choice of outfits is constantly scrutinized, and they can't even catch a break when they're hanging out at bars.

That's monkey bars, by the way.

The children of celebrities are now just as famous as their parents, subject to news items and plastered on magazine covers. Some, like Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' daughter, Suri, are even the subjects of their own fan sites.

In a world driven absolutely to distraction by the lifestyles of the rich and the famous, these tiny-tot A-listers are in a league of their own.

Unlike in some countries -- including a handful in Europe -- where publications are prohibited from running photos of celebrities' children to allow them privacy, kids in the U.S. can have as much visibility as their famous parents. This access, fueled by an army of paparazzi and a seemingly insatiable public appetite for celebrity gossip, has created a booming market for celebrity kid coverage.

Virtually no week goes by in which the public isn't treated to images of the globe-trotting Jolie-Pitt clan, Nicole Richie and Joel Madden's daughter, Harlow, or Halle Berry's little Nahla.

Those shots often pop up on blogs dedicated to covering the lifestyles of the mini-celebs.

"Suri Cruise is sort of brought around everywhere like it's a runway, and Brad and Angelina certainly don't mind showing off their brood," said Ian Drew, senior editor with Us Weekly. "Some of the kids seem to enjoy it and even sometimes play it up for the cameras."

Jenny Schafer, senior editor for CelebrityBabyScoop.com, said her site's "demographics range from teens, to housewives, to business executives on their lunch breaks, to grandmas."

"People want to see if celebs are really like us," Schafer said. "Do their children have temper tantrums in public? Do their children use soothers? Do they ever get frustrated in public with their kids?"

The site was founded in September 2006 by mom Lisa Weber of Sparta, New Jersey, who Schafer said transformed her interest in Hollywood's progeny to what is now a full-time job -- one that earns 2.7 million unique page views per month.

Schafer said visitors can't get enough information about the six Jolie-Pitt kids (ages 20 months to 8 years old); Matilda Ledger, 4 (daughter of Michelle Williams and the late Heath Ledger); Violet and Seraphina Affleck (the 4-year-old and 1-year-old daughters of Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck); 3-year-old Kingston and 19-month-old Zuma Rossdale (sons of Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale); and Honor Warren (daughter of Jessica Alba and Cash Warren) who turns 2 in June.

Not all the images of these kids are benign: Debate has ensued after photos such as those featuring 3-year-old Suri Cruise wearing heels and shopping with her actress mom at cosmetic superstore Sephora.

But looking beyond the public interest, what type of effect might this intense media spotlight have on children who are learning how to dodge the paparazzi before their ABCs?

Dr. Haleh Stahl, a child, adult and couples psychologist based in Beverly Hills, California, said the children's attitudes are, to some extent, shaped by the way their celebrity parents handle and react to the situation.

"The way the parents receive that kind of attention could very well influence the children's perception," Stahl said. "Children look to their parents to know what an unknown situation means."

Stahl said that such intense media exposure at a young age could have a variety of effects on the children of celebrities.

"They may actually enjoy the attention and use it as a way to express their own individuality," she said. "Other may find it intrusive and feel intruded upon, just like adults."

That's why it's common to see 5-year-old Zahara Jolie-Pitt turning away from photographers on the way out of the toy store or 20-month-old Levi McConaughey tottering after his dad, Matthew, wearing a pair of matching jeans.

Us Weekly's Drew said the combination of cute kids and star power is almost irresistible in a culture that is "obsessed with children" and where "there is this martyrdom of motherhood."

"We live in a world where you feel good about yourself if you have kids and you think someone is strange if they don't [have children] or build their world around that lifestyle," Drew said.

Schafer said the key to the fascination could lie not so much in the lives of the stars but the lives of the fans.

"Whether it be burnout from the rigors of motherhood, stress at work or school, people like to escape for a few minutes here and there into the lives of celebrities," she said. "After all, their lives seem so different than ours."

 
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