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.

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There is nothing compassionate about Britain’s Dickensian tolerance of begging

I was called “heartless” for urging police to refer beggars to support services. But funding drug habits to salve a liberal conscience is the truly cruel approach.

In Rochdale, like many other towns across the country, we’re working hard to support small businesses and make our high streets inviting places for people to visit. So it doesn’t help when growing numbers of aggressive street beggars are becoming a regular fixture on the streets, accosting shoppers.

I’ve raised this with the police on several occasions now and when I tweeted that they needed to enforce laws preventing begging and refer them to appropriate services, all hell broke loose on social media. I was condemned as heartless, evil and, of course, the favourite insult of all left-wing trolls, “a Tory”.

An article in the Guardian supported this knee-jerk consensus that I was a typically out-of-touch politician who didn’t understand the underlying reasons for begging and accused me of being “misguided” and showing “open disdain” for the poor. 

The problem is, this isn’t true, as I know plenty about begging.

Before I became an MP, I worked as a researcher for The Big Issue and went on to set up a social research company that carried out significant research on street begging, including a major report that was published by the homeless charity, Crisis.

When I worked at The Big Issue, the strapline on the magazine used to say: “Working not Begging”. This encapsulated its philosophy of dignity in work and empowering people to help themselves. I’ve seen many people’s lives transformed through the work of The Big Issue, but I’ve never seen one person’s life transformed by thrusting small change at them as they beg in the street.

The Big Issue’s founder, John Bird, has argued this position very eloquently over the years. Giving to beggars helps no one, he says. “On the contrary, it locks the beggar in a downward spiral of abject dependency and victimhood, where all self-respect, honesty and hope are lost.”

Even though he’s now doing great work in the House of Lords, much of Bird’s transformative zeal is lost on politicians. Too many on the right have no interest in helping the poor, while too many on the left are more interested in easing their conscience than grappling with the hard solutions required to turn chaotic lives around.

But a good starting point is always to examine the facts.

The Labour leader of Manchester City Council, Richard Leese, has cited evidence that suggests that 80 per cent of street beggars in Manchester are not homeless. And national police figures have shown that fewer than one in five people arrested for begging are homeless.

Further research overwhelmingly shows the most powerful motivating force behind begging is to fund drug addiction. The homeless charity, Thames Reach, estimates that 80 per cent of beggars in London do so to support a drug habit, particularly crack cocaine and heroin, while drug-testing figures by the Metropolitan Police on beggars indicated that between 70 and 80 per cent tested positive for Class A drugs.

It’s important to distinguish that homelessness and begging can be very different sets of circumstances. As Thames Reach puts it, “most rough sleepers don’t beg and most beggars aren’t rough sleepers”.

And this is why they often require different solutions.

In the case of begging, breaking a chaotic drug dependency is hard and the important first step is arrest referral – ie. the police referring beggars on to specialised support services.  The police approach to begging is inconsistent – with action often only coming after local pressure. For example, when West Midlands Police received over 1,000 complaints about street begging, a crackdown was launched. This is not the case everywhere, but only the police have the power to pick beggars up and start a process that can turn their lives around.

With drug-related deaths hitting record levels in England and Wales in recent years, combined with cuts to drug addiction services and a nine per cent cut to local authority health budgets over the next three years, all the conditions are in place for things to get a lot worse.

This week there will be an important homelessness debate in Parliament, as Bob Blackman MP's Homelessness Reduction Bill is due to come back before the House of Commons for report stage. This is welcome legislation, but until we start to properly distinguish the unique set of problems and needs that beggars have, I fear begging on the streets will increase.

Eighteen years ago, I was involved in a report called Drugs at the Sharp End, which called on the government to urgently review its drug strategy. Its findings were presented to the government’s drugs czar Keith Hellawell on Newsnight and there was a sense that the penny was finally dropping.

I feel we’ve gone backwards since then. Not just in the progress that has been undone through services being cut, but also in terms of general attitudes towards begging.

A Dickensian tolerance of begging demonstrates an appalling Victorian attitude that has no place in 21st century Britain. Do we really think it’s acceptable for our fellow citizens to live as beggars with no real way out? And well-meaning displays of “compassion” are losing touch with pragmatic policy. This well-intentioned approach is starting to become symptomatic of the shallow, placard-waving gesture politics of the left, which helps no one and has no connection to meaningful action.

If we’re going make sure begging has no place in modern Britain, then we can’t let misguided sentiment get in the way of a genuine drive to transform lives through evidenced-based effective policy.

Simon Danczuk is MP for Rochdale.