by MIA FREEDMAN
Remember the term ‘mumsy’? It used to mean dowdy. Frumpy. Daggy. Until a decade ago, there was a pervasive sense that once you had a baby, you crossed over into the land of asexual invisibility. It was a time before Yummy Mummies. Or MILFs. There were just…..mothers and they usually drove station wagons and wore high waisted jeans in a non-ironic way.
I entered this land for the first time aged 25, massively daunted. None of my friends were there yet. They were still doing Tequila shots and sleeping in.
And since saturation media coverage of celebrity pregnancies and famous mothers hadn’t begun, my mental hard drive contained almost no pop culture imagery of motherhood.
I could vaguely recall Princess Diana being pregnant but she was a Princess. Then there was Benita from Playschool who I’d always revered as motherhood’s holy grail because she was always cheery, appeared deeply interested in craft and spent much of her time engaged in floor play. Oh, and Carol Brady. That’s how motherhood looked, right?
There was my own mum of course – my ultimate role model – but I had nobody around my age to give me visual clues.
Did I have to cut my hair and switch to Easy Listening? Must I rebuild my wardrobe around polar fleece and Crocs? Buy a Laura Ashley headband? Wear ballet flats? In the end, I did what most new mothers do and just muddled through in a haze of blind confidence and desperate insecurity.
When my son was just a few months old, there’s a photo of me breast-feeding him one evening before I went out to a work Christmas party. I’m wearing a short black dress that’s yanked to the side so he could grab a quick snack. I love what that image says about the different aspects of my new life, all crashing together as I tried to figure out who I was.
And that, for me, is how motherhood has rolled ever since. It’s about wearing a bunch of different hats and looking however you want. Being a mother and being sexually attractive do not have to be mutually exclusive. It’s about choices.
Pregnancy is the same. Remember when Demi Moore posed for the cover of Vanity Fair and freaked everyone out with her taboo-busting juxtaposition of pregnant and sexy? Now newstands are heaving with naked pregnant celebrities on magazine covers. This could be read as liberating. Or, alternatively, as exhausting. Has the pendulum swung too far from mumsy to yummy mummy? Does a woman not even get nine months respite from having to look hot?
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Being a sexy mother was once unthinkable; a contradiction in terms. Now it seems to have become base-line compulsory. In an essay called “The tyranny of the sexy Mom” in Time magazine, Susanna Schrobsdorff writes: “Suddenly that permission to be sexy and motherly turned into a mandate. And we’re complicit. We cannot stop staring at the zillions of body-after-baby photosonline. We can (and do) buy baby bibs that say “My Mom Is Hotter than Your Mom.” School-drop-off sweatpants have to be Juicy Couture–sexy. How exhausting it all is — especially given the equal and almost opposite pressure to be hyper-attentive supermoms too.”
Pregnant bikini contests, endless media coverage of the Victoria’s Secret models who have had babies “and are runway ready in no time!” and a media obsession with the weight loss of new mothers above all else….. none of this looks very liberating to me.
When Jennifer Garner appeared on a beach wearing a one piece swimsuit a few months after having her third child this year, the response was extreme. Women wrote her open thank you letters, almost weeping with gratitude that she was not wearing a bikini or posing on a magazine cover with a six pack.
“Thank you, Jennifer Garner!” gushed one website. “There are so many ways you make looking like a normal mom seem completely acceptable and even cool.”
Pathetic, isn’t it? This is how starved women are for a realistic depiction of ourselves – and our lives – in the media. Lives where in the months after having baby, looking hot plummets down the list of priorities and even possibilities, replaced with such things as keeping a small human alive, retaining your sanity and finding time to shower and put milk on your cereal in the same 24hr period.
As Mary Elizabeth Williams writes for Salon: “what’s galling about this latest manifestation of our cultural obsession with mothers and their bodies – their naked pregnant bodies, their bikini-clad postpartum ones – is the implication that a woman who admits her weight hasn’t magically dropped off is somehow heroic.” True. How did going to the beach in a swimsuit with your kids become a heroic act?
Here’s the thing: a culture that expects mothers to be ‘yummy’ and incessantly celebrates it over all else is just as limiting as one that implies you can’t be a ‘good’ mother if you have tattoos or a piercing or a short skirt.
And it’s time we said bollocks to all of that.
Do you consider yourself a ‘yummy mummy’? Has pressure on mums to lose weight post-birth gone too far?