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Does the tyranny of the ‘sexy’ mom really exist?


We all know wearing a post-baby bikini is de rigeur for Hollywood actresses. It allows them the opportunity to flout their newly rediscovered six packs mere months after delivering their children — a testament to their supposedly superhuman powers alongside remaining hairless, mascara-ed and sans grey hair at all times.

But Jennifer Garner recently threw that all to the wind and wore a (gasp) retro-inspired maillot. How terribly “average mom”.

The attention the suit  has recieved (all positive, by the way, from sources like US magazine and The Today Show),  has led to a post on TIME magazine’s Ideas blog questioning the new(ish) pressure on moms to be sexy and maternal at the same time.

Yes, the same magazine that intentionally posted an extremely attractive mother nursing her three-year-old on its cover  is now admonishing the rest of the media for pushing women to be both Madonna and Whore in one go.

But before we go and cry “pot calling kettle,” let’s examine the argument that Susanna Schrobdorff is making here:

  • Jennifer Garner wore a one-piece bathing suit, the media liked it for looking sexy. (Why didn’t US magazine call it “cool” or “normal?” asks Schrobdorff.  Well, probably because it’s US magazine and normal doesn’t sell.)
  • Twenty years ago, being maternal and sexy were pretty much mutually exclusive.
  • Now, women are expected to be both super-sexpots and super-moms, which is exhausting.
  • When moms self-objectify, it influences their daughters’ view of women.
  • But let’s not  blame moms too much.  But let’s also not return to wearing mom jeans.
  • Mom jeans are bad, but Juicy Couture is also bad. Wear something kind of middle-of-the-road. Maybe some J Crew slacks?
If anything, this post shows how absolutely convoluted and confused our feelings are about being moms, being sexy, and being sexy moms.  Mothers want to feel sexy and to be viewed as sexual creatures, but we don’t want to be pressured or objectified.  It’s a natural continuation of the struggle many women feel before becoming mothers, only now the matter is further complicated by motherhood.
As Schobdorff notes, it’s kind of nice to be able to be a sexy mom, a hybrid-creature that was essentially chimerical in the media until Demi Moore’s Vanity Fair cover. Her argument is that the permission has turned into a “mandate”, and now moms are caught in the exhausting act of trying to look sexy and trying to be a good mom.
But is it really a mandate? Do most women really feel pressure to wear a bikini after having a baby? I certainly don’t. My idea of looking sexy is donning sausage-casing control undergarments and wearing a dress with high heels. I feel absolutely no compulsion to compete with the celebrities under pressure of movie contracts, paparazzi and talent competition anymore. Their job is to look good. They have trainers, chefs and airbrushing. I gave up comparing myself to them a long time ago.
Schrobdorff ultimately recommends that we be gentle on ourselves (and our daughters) by easing up on the quest for maternal hotness, which is kind of a a cold cup of weak tea in terms of an argument. Sure, there are some non-celebrity moms that go out of their way to look like bombshells with their babies, but most moms I see are dressed to make themselves feel good, not to live up to some celebrity-rag standard.
Do we really need permission to relax about our looks from an outside source? Or are we grown up enough to decide how we want to look (and what level of hotness we want to achieve) for ourselves?
What we really need to do is stop comparing ourselves, stop competing. It’s not about who bounced back from maternity fastest, not about who breastfed longest, not even about who’s kid sleeps through the night first. It’s about embracing what motherhood is for you, and giving other women the permission to be the mom they want to be; even if that mom is more Peg Bundy than Jennifer Garner.
There’s no right way to be a mom; no level of sexiness that’s too piquant, no mom jeans too prudish. There isn’t, and never should be, a mom uniform.
And if there really is a tyranny of the ‘sexy’ mom, we should all feel happy that it’s fairly easy to ignore.
Photo via Patricil on Flickr
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