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Why Do Moms Have to be So Sexy?

This week's Evil Mother Lady confession: What's up with the sexy mom media obsession?

So, now it is time for the next confession: What’s up with this sexy mom media obsession? I realize it is the summer of swimsuits but why are we as a nation obsessing about which celebrity mom has bounced her body back into bikini perfection after having a baby or marveling at how a mom in a one-piece swimsuit can be cool and sexy and retro? How did becoming a mom evolve into a frantic quest to reclaim your “hotness”? And why would people want to worry about women’s bodies post-pregnancy? Don’t we objectify them enough, using women’s bodies to sell most everything? It’s so bad in our society that teenage girls have forced magazines marketed to them to stop the airbrushing to make models' bodies more than perfect, fed up with the eating disorders and pressures to conform that result from girls buying into the implicit messages bombarding them.

Even my little people have clued into the issue, in spite of our household’s lack of television and avoidance of most marketing venues aimed at young girls and women. My oldest emailed me a story link to Time magazine’s article by Susanna Schrobsdorff on “The Tyranny of the ‘Sexy’ Mom” about actress Jennifer Garner wearing a bikini, joking that she didn’t have to worry about that one at least. “Thank goodness my mom is fashion-illiterate” was her exact comment to me. She took it as a commentary on moms dressing inappropriately, feeling like they have to wear a bikini to “compete” with the teens, much like the hordes of moms spending time and money on themselves at Forever 21 and other other teen clothing stores, trying to recapture and retain their “hotness.” 

I remember the 1991 Vogue cover photograph quoted in the article, Demi Moore very pregnant and very nude. It was taboo-breaking in a women’s liberation way, allowing women to view themselves as sexually attractive beings who were pregnant. Before that, pregnancy clothes were made to conceal the pregnancy, to not call attention to the moms-to-be as women. You could be sexy until you were pregnant and then you were a mom (unless you were a vixen, trouble-making loose woman like the soap operas villainesses). With the burst of feminist boundary pushing of the '80s and '90s, society loosened constraints and moms were allowed to be sexy as they wanted, when they wanted. So, how did liberation morph back into objectification of women and their bodies again? When did sexy mom become the expected norm?

Being freed from that objectification was one of the few freedoms I enjoyed after having children. As a mother with babies and toddlers, I was largely insulated from the cultural pressure to have to look a certain way and have a certain shape (no slight intended against Demi; I enjoyed the mom blanket society draped around women). Living life covered in sticky fingerprints with no time to grab more than a quick shower meant people didn’t look at me as woman, as an object of desire. I was only a mom. When I wanted to be more, to feel sexy, I dressed up and went out on the town with my husband, the guy I wanted to think I was sexy. The rest of the time, I was just me. 

And that was the point the article conveyed. If you “look at the Garner photo without the sexy label (added by the magazine) and what you see is a woman not trying to look hot. In fact, she doesn’t seem to be trying to look like anything.” So, how about you?

Erik Marquis August 22, 2012 at 04:27 PM
The objectification of women by the media (and perpetuated by Hollywood) is a sad commentary on the shallowness of our society. HOWEVER, I think in this instance, stars such as Garner are excellent role models. Too many women decide that once they are pregnant, they don't have to worry about nutrition or fitness because they no longer need to attract men. This sets a terrible example for their daughters and does far more damage than a magazine ever could.
Shauntel Lowe August 22, 2012 at 05:50 PM
I'd even say that both sides of the message—that you need to obsess about your looks/body to attract men, and that once you have one, your fitness isn't important—are bad for young girls. The same goes for boys, too, since they often deal with eating disorders and body image issues.

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