Crib sheet: Handbooks for yummy mummies and MILFs

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

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.

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

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

Graham Brady illustration
Show Hide image

Tory backbench leader Graham Brady: “When we vote to leave the EU, the PM should stay”

As chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady is a king among Tory backbenchers. So what does the ardent Eurosceptic make of David Cameron’s prospects in the EU referendum – and afterwards?

Enter Graham Brady’s office and you are treated to a magnificent panoramic view of the Palace of Westminster and Parliament Square. It is an appropriately grand vantage point for one of the most influential MPs. As the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, Brady is an essential barometer of Tory opinion. In recognition of this, he was one of the first guests to No 10 Downing Street in the hours following David Cameron’s general election victory. A prime minister with a majority of 12 – the smallest of any single-party government since October 1974 – must take permanent heed of his backbenchers.

I met Brady, 48, shortly before the start of Prime Minister’s Questions on 10 February. Among Conservative MPs below us in Portcullis House, there remained only one topic of discussion: Europe. Cameron’s draft agreement with the EU has failed to persuade many Eurosceptics that they should vote in favour of membership of the Union when the referendum is likely held on 23 June. Brady, who entered parliament in 1997 as the MP for Altrincham and Sale West, is one of those who intends to campaign for withdrawal.

“There is a very long-term problem that there is a massive difference between what Britain thought it was joining – the European Economic Community – and what it actually was joining,” he said. “There was no appetite or decision to join a political Europe . . . That is something that has always needed to be resolved in some way and I think the more the eurozone, in particular, integrates with the continuing crisis, the more we will have to see massive political and fiscal integration and probably, still, the departure of some of the weaker eurozone countries. As that process goes on, the United Kingdom has got to redefine its relationship in a meaningful way.”

In advance of the European Council summit in Brussels on 18-19 February, he warned that Cameron’s renegotiations had fallen far short. “The reforms that are being sought by the Prime Minister, while all welcome changes, don’t come anywhere near to that fundamental reform of the nature of our relationship with the EU.”

I asked Brady, who was elected to lead the 1922 Committee in 2010, how many of his Conservative colleagues he expected to join him. “It’s very hard to say. I’ve always thought that a clear majority of Conservative members of parliament are deeply unhappy about the shape of the current European Union. And probably a clear majority would have a preference of leaving the EU as it is today. I suspect that roughly 100 will declare that they’re campaigning for Britain to leave. But many more will be very sympathetic to that objective.”

His estimate of 100 is notably higher than the 50 to 70 predicted by Steve Baker, the co-chairman of Conservatives for Britain.

In recent weeks, Eurosceptics have complained as pro-EU cabinet ministers have campaigned for membership while front-bench opponents have remained “gagged”. Brady told me it was “not unreasonable” for Cameron to force them to abide by collective responsibility until the renegotiation had concluded. But, he added: “What is important is that once the deal is done things should be brought to a conclusion as rapidly as possible. I hope there will be a cabinet meeting, if not on the Friday after the Prime Minister returns, then on the Saturday morning, [so] that the cabinet can agree its collective position and also agree that those who don’t share that view are free to say so and free to campaign.”

Some MPs expect as few as five cabinet members to support EU withdrawal (Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Priti Patel, Theresa Villiers and John Whittingdale) although others remain hopeful of persuading Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to join them. “I hope that everybody who is really committed to Britain’s future as a free, independent democracy will realise this is a key decision point,” Brady said.

“There’s no doubt that if Boris Johnson were to campaign for Britain to leave it would bring an energy and buzz to the campaign. Of course that would be welcome, and I hope that Michael Gove will resolve his dilemma in the same direction.”

I asked Brady if he was worried by what some Eurosceptics call “the Farage problem”: that the most prominent opponent of EU membership is also the most polarising. “Nigel Farage is very good at what he does,” he said of the Ukip leader. “He’s a very effective communicator with some audiences, so clearly he has a role in the campaign. Given the salience of the issue for him and his party, it would be unreasonable to expect him not to be prominent in the campaign. But he is a Marmite character and I think this is why it’s so important that there should be a wide range of different voices.”

Brady, who had just returned from a breakfast meeting in the City of London, told me that a number of business people have revealed to him that although their “institutional position is firmly that we should remain in the EU . . . privately their view is completely the opposite”.

Two days before we met, Cameron had been accused of “scaremongering” for warning that “the Jungle”, the refugee camp in Calais, could move to Dover in the event of EU withdrawal. Brady told me that the Prime Minister’s remarks were indeed “inaccurate” and that it was “enormously helpful of the French government to point out that it wasn’t going to happen”.

Were Britain to vote to leave the EU, as polls suggest is possible, many Tory MPs on both sides believe that Cameron would have to resign as Prime Minister. But Brady rejected this suggestion. “No. When we vote to leave the European Union I think it is very important that we have a period of stability. I think it would be hugely valuable to have an experienced team in place to deal with the renegotiation, I think it’s actually very important that the Prime Minister should stay.”

I noted that he referred to “when” Britain leaves the EU, suggesting he was confident of victory. “I’m always confident of victory,” he replied with a smile.

Given Cameron’s decision to pre-resign before the election by vowing to serve only two terms, there will be a Conservative leadership contest before 2020. I asked Brady whether, as some have suggested, the members’ ballot should be widened to include more than two candidates.

“The rules are constructed for each contest by the 1922 executive and agreed with the party board. The only stipulation in the constitution of the party is that we should provide ‘a choice’ to the party members. That has always been construed as a choice of two. I can’t see any reason why parliamentary colleagues would wish to reduce their own influence in the process by putting forward a larger field.”

The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has argued that it is essential there be a female candidate (ideally herself). Brady offered her some advice: “I have very fond recollections of a woman leading the Conservative Party. I hope that if Nicky wants to launch her campaign seriously, she’ll talk to me about how we might promote more grammar schools and selective education as one of the ways that we can stimulate real social mobility in the country again – and she’ll have my support.” It was after the then shadow education secretary, David Willetts, argued in 2007 that grammar schools inhibited social mobility that Brady resigned as shadow minister for Europe.

If there is one stipulation that most Conservative members and MPs will make, it is that there be an anti-EU candidate in the field. I asked Brady whether he would consider standing himself.

“I say to people that I’m very happy with being the returning officer for any leadership contest,” he replied. But the man with a better feel for Conservative backbench opinion than any other ended our conversation with this prediction. “I do think it’s very likely that if we put two candidates forward to the party in the country, at least one of them will have been someone who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU.” 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 11 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle