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.

Photo: Getty Images
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Bomb Isil? That's exactly what they want

The government appears not to answer the nature of its enemy, warns Maria Norris.

As MPs are set to vote on further airstrikes in Syria, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that the government does not fully appreciate the complexity of the problem Isil poses. Just a cursory glance at its magazine, the pronouncements of its leaders and its ideology reveals that Isil is desperate for Western bombs to fall out of the sky. As Martin Chulov argues, Isil is fighting a war it believes was preordained since the early days of Islam. Isil’s obsession with the city of Dabiq, in Northern Syria, stems from a hadith which prophesises that the ‘Crusader’ army will land in the city as a precursor to a final battle where Islam will emerge victorious. Dabiq is also the name of its magazine, which starts every issue with the same quote: "The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify -- by Allah's permission -- until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq". Isil wants a war with the West. If we don’t negotiate with terrorists, then we also should not give them what they want.

Further, bombs are indiscriminate and will inevitably lead to the suffering of those trapped in Isil territories. Isil is counting on this suffering to swell their ranks. Civilian suffering from airstrikes only underline the narrative that the West is at war with Islam, which plays directly into Isil’s hands. And despite misleading headlines and the genuine government concern with individuals fleeing to Syria, Isis is supremely unpopular. It is no wonder that its magazine is filled with glossy adds begging people to move to its territories.  You cannot be a state without people. Terrorist attacks such as Paris thus have a two-pronged purpose: they provoke the West to respond with its military, and they act as a recruitment drive. The fact that fake Syrian passports were found around the sites of the Paris attacks is no coincidence as Isil are both seeking to stem the flow of refugees from its territories and hoping to provoke an Islamophobic backlash. They hope that, as more Muslims feel alienated in the West, more will join them, not just as fighters, but as the doctors, nurses and teachers it desperately needs.

In addition to this, airstrikes overlook the fact that Isil is a result of what Fawaz Gerges calls a severe, organic institutional crisis in the Middle East. In a lecture at the London School of Economics earlier this year, Gerges pointed out the dysfunction created when a region that is incredibly resource rich also is also deeply undemocratic, riddled with corruption, food insecurity, unemployment and poverty. This forms an institutional vacuum that is filled by non-state actors as the population does not trust its political structures. Further, the civil war in Syria is also the site of the toxic soup of Middle Eastern state dysfunction. Iran supports Assad, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, fund anti-Shia groups in Syria. Throw in the Kurdish conflict, Turkey’s ambiguous position and Russian bombs, it is difficult to see how airstrikes will solve anything.

Finally, it is crucial that Isil is seen as a direct result of the Iraq war. The American-led invasion destroyed the institutions, giving the Shia majority power almost overnight, creating deep dissatisfaction in the Sunni regions of Iraq. On top of this thousands of foreign fighters flooded Iraq to fight the invaders, attracting disenfranchised and angry Sunnis. The result is that since 2003, Iraq has been embroiled in a sectarian civil war.  It is in civil war, inherently connected to the Iraq War, that you find the roots of Isil. As even the Prime Minister concedes that ground troops are necessary, albeit it regional ground troops with its own set of problems, it is important to consider what further monster can arise from the ashes of another ill-thought out military intervention in the Middle East.
We have had decades of military intervention in the Middle East with disastrous consequences. Airstrikes represent business as usual, when what we actually need is a radically new approach. Who is funding Isil? Who is buying its oil? How to curb Isil’s recruitment drives? What can be done about the refugees? How to end the conflict in Syria? What happens to Assad? These are questions hopefully being addressed in talks recently held in Vienna with Russian, Ira, the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states. Airstrikes do not answer any of these questions. What airstrikes do is give Isil exactly what it is asking for. Surely this is reason enough not to bomb Syria. 

Maria W. Norris is a PhD candidate and a teacher at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her PhD is on the UK counter-terrorism strategy since 9/11 and its relationship with identity. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.