What happens when you go to live among the rich people? Dr Wednesday Martin is a social researcher with a background in anthropology. She moved to Manhattan’s most prestigious ZIP code, the Upper East Side, had a baby and wrote a book. Primates of Park Avenue is an anthropological memoir of Manhattan motherhood, and this is just a tiny part of it.
My OB wisely counseled that childbirth and recovery were “nine months up and nine months down,” like most of my peers, I did not feel I had nine months. I was in a hurry, impatient to be the old, taut me, apprehensive and preoccupied beyond reason that it would never happen.
Mothers all across the country feel a version of this fear; women’s magazines such as Fit Pregnancy and New Mommy Workout and stringent postpregnancy exercise DVDs and online classes attest to our collective terror. But here on the Upper East Side, the anxieties and pressures are greater. Whereas women in Nebraska and Michigan might hop on the treadmill in the basement when they can, and skip Dunkin’ Donuts, and take their time with the last 10 pounds, perhaps resigning themselves to all or a portion of it remaining, my tribe of mommies was another matter. Just as we had to excel at being beautifully pregnant, so, too, we had to be the most gorgeous mothers of infants, babies, toddlers, and young children that it was possible to be.
As this was the Upper East Side, the first order of business, once I had decided to exercise, was to shop. Lululemon was the brand of choice; it had eclipsed Athleta and was an intrinsic and ubiquitous part of the Upper East Side mommy uniform by the time I was ready to rumble. Skintight yet thicker than regular spandex, shockingly comfortable, with whimsical details (fun prints abounded) and smart concessions to women’s actual lives, needs, and desires (pockets in places that didn’t create bulk, for one), lululemon was an inescapable part of life in my neighborhood. It telegraphed, “I have time to exercise, and here’s the payoff.” Part of lululemon’s appeal, I realized the first time I tried on their pants and a fitted jacket, was that these items weren’t merely unforgivingly tight and formfitting. And they weren’t merely clothing—they also functioned as a kind of girdle or exoskeleton, smoothing out bumps, holding everything up and in while they appeared to bare all. For the first year or two after lululemon hit the streets, women wore their lulu pants with longer lulu tops or jackets to cover the derriere and loin areas. Or tied long-sleeved lulu shirts around their waists. And then came a moment when women collectively declared, “I have a crotch. And a bottom. Deal with it.” Habituation was swift. What had at first looked outrageously exhibitionistic—exposing the ventral and dorsal sides of a female Homo sapiens between her waist and pubis—quickly became no big deal. What choice did men have but to become desensitized by the barrage of lululemon-clad nether regions, the nearly constant, inescapable exposure?