What that women needs more than anything is some moisturiser.
Show Hide image

Dove’s “A Mother’s Body” ad idealises motherhood to exploit women’s bodies

It’s sickly and patronising, yet somehow as long as wages for housework and an end to objectification remain off the table, a cream with one quarter moisturiser sometimes feels better than nothing.

From an early age little girls are taught to hate their bodies. For many it’s a hatred that becomes so embedded we no longer feel it as hate. It is just who we are and what we do. Our bodies are objects to be despised and, alienated from them, we take from this what we can. The revulsion becomes a means of bonding with other women. We talk about muffin tops and thunder thighs, and of what we ate yesterday, laughing at our lack of self-control while craving forgiveness.  If we have children, this practice remains, only the wording changes. We mention jelly bellies and mummy tummies, cutesy rhymes which suggest we don’t really care (after all, we now have others to think of).

It’s all a game, this public dance of rueful self-acceptance. None of us wants to go too far into how we really feel in our own flesh. After all, that's self-indulgent and women — mothers in particular — are not meant to be self-indulgent. When we are alone in front of the mirror we might pinch ourselves until we bruise, muttering “fat bitch” under our breath, but in company we trivialise our self-hate. It makes it easier to kid ourselves it doesn't hurt all that much.

This trend has not gone unnoticed by advertisers. Our need to trivialise has created the opening into which brands such as Dove, L’Oréal and Boots No 7 can step, reassuring us that the way we feel is “normal”, just part and parcel of being a “real” woman (hurray!). Their mawkish “feel good about yourself” adverts grant us permission (within reason) to have bodies that age and sag and, filled with gratitude, we purchase overpriced white creams which don't promise miracles — not for the likes of you! — but stand as proof that we love ourselves. Such products don't change how the world sees us but true beauty comes from within, right? Hence should you feel the same as you did before you just haven't bought enough feel -good lotion yet.

Dove’s latest campaign — A Mother’s Body — is particularly clinical in the way it hones in on two key insecurities: the fear of women that they are unattractive and the fear of mothers that their work is of no value. One might argue that neither of these fears come from within – women are judged disproportionately on their looks and the work mothers do is undervalued – but once the insecurity has wormed its way into your soul, what difference does it make? It’s there and you feel it and when a kindly advertiser comes along, offering to soothe your pain, what can you do? Women know what’s going on with slogans such as “you’re worth it” and body acceptance campaigns such as Dove’s. We could be in the room when the ad execs came up with it. And yet, as long as wages for housework and an end to objectification remain off the table, a cream with one quarter moisturiser (whatever that means) sometimes feels better than nothing.

So I watch the advert in the only context available to me, in that mother’s body of my own, and the following things go through my mind: cute baby … yay, that woman has a slightly fat tummy … and an arse … does that mean my tummy’s allowed to be that fat? Is this good? What if it’s fatter? … God, I’m not half as energetic with my kids … I’m a really crap, hands-off mum compared to her … Why does it keep cutting to her having a bath? Oh, she’s dolling herself up … probably for her husband who’s been at work … hey, is this empowerment? Oh. It’s an engaging montage, with a charming poem, but I keep coming back to this: is Dove basically saying that it’s okay to be a tiny bit podgy if you’re an ace, devoted mummy? And that you shouldn’t feel you’re not an ace, devoted mummy because you’re definitely the type who carries on “when all [her] body longs for is one hot coffee” and who, at the end of the day, has “smiles hiding weeps because they have not stopped for week on week”?  Brilliant. No pressure, then.

When I watch advertisements like this I can’t help feeling am being “liberated” from one narrow, unrealistic version of motherhood only to come slap-bang up against another. In many ways, this new one is worse. When Claudia Schiffer cuddles a cherubic tot and says “my wrinkles are full and so is my life” at least I can piss myself laughing (with the help of that weak pelvic floor than is not, it seems, an integral part of having “a mother’s body”). When, on the other hand, something is sold to me as “real” I have no such excuse. I am being told this is the limit of what I am allowed to be. This far, but no further.

I’m conscious that some will see the Dove advert in a positive light, as an appreciation of the work that mothers do behind closed doors. I am all for appreciating that. However, I am tired of the soft focus pseudo-realism that pervades all “honest” representations of motherhood. It pats us on the head, says “you’re great” and then leaves us up to our elbows in dirty nappies (albeit with an overpriced beauty balm to slap on said elbows later). An idealisation of the sacrifices mothers make goes hand in hand with the exploitation of their work; indeed, it justifies it. Your work is not real work, but a labour of love. Of course you feel underappreciated. That goes with the territory. Here, have a bath. Put on some make-up. Yeah, you look fine (for a mother, that is).

I want more than this. I do not want permission not to hate my own body just because said body is useful when it comes to undertaking unpaid work. I want support for mothers, a fairer division of labour, and recognition of the true economic value of what mothers do. I want to be able to eat a doughnut without feeling I’ve earned it by being Mary bloody Poppins. Above all, I want mother’s bodies to be seen as the bodies of human beings: not objects, not tools, but flesh, blood and endless possibility. 

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

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.