A feminist take on parenting and politics

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Crib sheet: Handbooks for yummy mummies and MILFs

In which Glosswitch reads parenting books so you don't have to.

Cupcakes, from Flickr/tenderisthebridge, used under Creative Commons.
Cupcakes, from Flickr/tenderisthebridge, used under Creative Commons.

There are lots of things to worry about when you’re a new mum. Is your baby healthy? Will the two of you bond? How much sleep deprivation is required before the hallucinations start? And then there’s the question of whether or not you’re still sexy, or indeed sexy at all (since some of us were not exactly foxy ladies before the ravages of motherhood set in).

You might think you have other things to focus on now but seriously, this matters. You may not have thought of it in these terms before, but right now, to put it crudely: are you a mother whom I – by which I mean an impersonal, global “I” – would like to fuck? And if so, doesn’t that make you feel empowered?

According to Jessica Porter, author of The Milf Diet, there’s “something almost magical” about the term “MILF”:

“I’ve seen it in the eyes of every woman whom I’ve told about The Milf Diet. First the teensiest bit of shock and then a wonderful expression of joy. “I love it!”, they said, time and time again. Nine out of ten women surveyed had good feelings about the term ‘MILF.’”

This is because mummies, bless ‘em, are used to thinking of themselves as sexless mingers, whereas “’MILF’ acknowledges that women can – and do – stay sexy and vital, and that mothers can turn heads as well. Hooray! Things are looking up for us mummies. Not only do we get our own rubbish porn, now there’s a sexist term which suggests there may be people willing to shag us in real life! That’s right, us! Providing, that is, that we’re not total porkers. We’re all MILFs at heart, but if we eat too many Creme Eggs all this fuckability will slip through our pudgy fingers. Thankfully Porter’s on hand to lead us back to our true MILF state:

“One of the quickest routes to natural MILFiness is through food; by eating whole, natural foods and letting go of the processed, crappy “food,”, the female body finds its peaceful home again. Extra pounds simply fall away. Inner hardness softens. The plumbing works much better.”

To be honest, I think Porter could have stopped at “pounds fall away” (let’s not discuss “the plumbing,” thank you). Still, you get the idea. The real you, the sexy you, is kind of like you are now, only she’s bankrupt due to shopping at Holland and Barratt and Whole Foods rather than Asda.  

I do, sort of, get the thinking behind the yummy mummy / MILF / sexy mama etc. guidebook. It’s about self-esteem, albeit in that knock ‘em down, pretend to build ‘em up sort of way perfected by the women’s glossy mags. Porter suggests that “we MILFs” - using “MILFs” rather loosely, since she doesn’t have kids, just a book to sell – “have been waiting for the last two thousand years to get our sexuality back”.

That’s right, since the birth of Jesus Christ we mummies have been sexual zombies (something to do with the Virgin Mary setting standards too high, apparently). In The Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide Liz Fraser offers a slightly more considered view, arguing that it’s not that we are sexless, it’s just that the image of motherhood is: “the dreary, mumsy parenting books available to me left me, without exception, feeling like a highly unattractive, undesirable, lardy has-been, condemned to a life of grime, grudge and goo”. Compared to Porter’s linguistic restraint (she even uses “fornicate” to explain her much-loved acronym), I like Fraser’s style, but not necessarily her suggested solution to the problem of mummy drudgery:

“Real Yummy Mummies dedicate huge amounts of their time and emotional energy to loving and caring for their children – but always reserve some time to make themselves feel special too, which generally involves bottles of sweet-smelling lotions and gorgeous things to hang in their wardrobes.”

As an option I prefer this to Porter’s proposal that we avoid all “processed” food (hands off my Pot Noodles!), but … Well, I’ve nothing against nice stuff. If there are nice things to be hung in wardrobes, I’ll have them. But does this become your identity as a mother? Is it what makes you “feel special”?

It’s odd, isn’t it, that before you have kids it’s acceptable to admit to having a love-hate relationship with the diet and beauty industry. You might cleanse, tone and moisturise, but it’s not exactly what you’d call “a treat”. Feeling guilty about eating a Mars bar is a drag, not a sign of self-respect. Then suddenly, once you’re a mum, shaving your underarm hair counts as “pampering”. If you’re lucky, “me-time” might involve preparing a separate low-cal  – sorry, wholefood - meal for yourself while your toddler has a nap. Get back into your skinny jeans and – kazzam! – you’ve got your life back! Yay! It’s like feminism, only not remotely.

I’m not surprised many women feel they “lose themselves” when they become mothers. We still idealise the notion of self-sacrifice in mothers (so much so that self-interested mums like me can feel as though we’re fakes; if we were doing it for real, our own desires wouldn’t be there at all). Even if that wasn’t the case, it is difficult to feel like yourself when your body and your role has changed so dramatically. When you’ve got children to care for, it’s not really the done thing to indulge in a teenage “who AM I?” identity crisis. By contrast, spending lots of “you-time” paring away “excess” flesh and painting your face can feel like a way of re-asserting your own identity (at least, it felt like that for self-obsessed me).

I don’t, however, think it’s enough, or rather, I think it’s too much. The yummy mummy/MILF ideal seems to suggest that motherhood – your new identity – is offering you a second chance at being slim, beautiful, confident etc., just like the women in the glossies you couldn’t emulate the first time you tried it. Guess what? It’s unlikely to work this time, either. If you think you’ve lost yourself, it’s not because the real you is hiding under layers of “baby weight” (a term I despise, with its implication that even after you’ve given birth some parts of your body aren’t really your own).

I don’t believe wearing lipstick or losing weight makes you a worse mother. The slummy mummy ideal – whereby that fridge magnet that says “only dull women have clean homes” is taken at face value – seems to me just another way of dividing women by trite stereotype. All the same, I’m not so sure that as a mother all you need to redefine yourself is a kohl pencil. That, some whole grains and a copy of Fifty Shades. It’s all very well accessorising - but it’s not as though you weren’t a real, live person before you had kids.