I am admittedly reading too much feminist literature at the moment. An upcoming project on body image in female weightlifters has me surrounded by a pile of books from the 70's. It has me thinking far too much and too deeply about the origin of our society's body norms. But these now old women with no bras have some pretty good points. We women spend our entire youth learning the art of feminine wiles with the ultimate aim of being attractive enough to bag a fella who's successful enough to keep us housed and fed. And then you breed, while hopefully maintaining enough of your looks to keep him hooked.
Although it seems a pretty harsh way to look at something that for many of us is our personal love story, it does offer some perspective on the pressures faced by modern mums, and the dilemmas posed by the modern social archetype of the Yummy Mummy. The books on my desk from the 80's mourn the death of feminism and that from the 60's, in a brief 15-20 years, it was dropped from political and social consciousness like an ugly prom date. And indeed, most women I know wouldn't count themselves as feminists, even though they'd be all up for equal pay. So feminism got forgotten as soon as women were allowed to work and sexual harassment became an actual crime, rather than just the normal way chicks got spoken to by men. Now feminism is kind of like a dirty word, as if pointing out any potential inequality still lurking between the genders is just being a grumpy man-hater.
But the feminists nowadays, if there are any left, would surely have something to say about the Yummy Mummy obsession in modern media and society. It's not enough to have got pregnant, endured the birth, the sleepless nights, the contentious breastfeeding decisions, the relationship changes. Oh no, what's important is that you looked good doing it. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the immaculately turned out mum. The one with perfectly toned tummy, despite the three month old cooing away contentedly in her coordinated designer buggy/car seat/nappy bag combo. Flowing, freshly washed tresses of expensive looking highlights framing a surprisingly glowing and well-rested complexion. She's had the time to wash her jeans and that shirt looks downright ironed! And all that before we even start with the well turned out baby. Hot damn, how does she do it? And what's wrong with the rest of us? Trudging zombie-like to the corner shop with Rice Krispies in our hair. Somebody else's Rice Krispies. From yesterday's breakfast.
And I guess the problem with the Yummy Mummy is that it is a concept used against the rest of the Rice Krispie encrusted ones; one that keeps us all chasing an impossible and ridiculous ideal. A kind of measuring stick against which we all fall short. It’s an unfair expectation, and one that places the value of a mum on her appearance primarily. Her sexual appeal is still the most important and defining factor in her value, over and above the other million strengths, abilities and sacrifices she makes daily. It's a distraction from the important stuff, like actually raising the kids. As with the term MILF, which inelegantly implies that mothers fall neatly into two categories - ones that you'd still do it with and ones you wouldn't. And as crude as it is, modern mothers would rather be a MILF than not. But you can hardly blame them as it's an image that we are bombarded with in the media - how beautiful so-and-so looks and how fast she dropped the baby weight and how bloody happy she is. Sorry, but I call bullshit.
What can I say about the frumpy mum? The fat mum? The frazzled, haggard, one trying to hold down whatever career a person can manage on three hours sleep and un-brushed teeth while still having to be the spring of eternal patience and love for little junior. The ones that haven't lost the baby weight, can't be bothered to match their socks and let their children wear whatever scabby bits of ill-fitting clothes are clean. These kind are ignored, although they are the real deal. They are less represented in what we read and see and maybe even are kind of frowned upon, if we're all honest with ourselves. Or at least it’s pretty true that the ones who appear to have all together and look good doing it are praised as the shining examples of womanhood.
It's not fair, and I'd even go so far as to say that the label of Yummy Mummy is sexist. I'm not blaming men. After all, we can decide what media to read, what to believe and choose to value ourselves for more than our sexual appeal. It's just that collectively, maybe even without realising it, we all expect a lot from a mother. That she has it all, does it all and manages to look good doing it. For me, I'm giving myself permission to dry shampoo another day so I can focus on what's important rather than whether or not it's attractive.