The Aesthetics of Maternity…

PIN ITDo you read “those” blogs? I do. You know the ones I mean. The BEAUTIFUL ones. Where every photo is styled and every child is dressed perfectly and the lighting is spectacular and every image looks like it just fell out of some sort of awesome edgy children’s catalogue. White washed, soft hues, beautiful children, amazing homes, incredible architecture… Do you know the ones? I love them. I do. I love to look at the pictures and dream of a life outside of my lego-land existence, outside of the housing estate, outside of middle-class Australia with it’s department store furnishings and every-one-has-the-same wall decals and rugs and little colourful lights… I like to dream of far off lands and access to beautiful antiques and styling and money for funky clothes and magically becoming that effortless woman who knows how to style her own hair… (don’t let me near a hair dryer… I’m a menace).

I love these blogs because they make me dream. They remind me of the beauty in the world that can so quickly become so unbelievably ordinary it makes me want to poke out my own eyeballs.

But at the same time… they can make me feel inferior. And this isn’t “THEM” this is me. This is us. This is our social conditioning.This happens in all areas of life but at the moment I’m most interested in how this particular aesthetic encourages us(as mothers) to judge and compare.

Let’s talk about it. The aesthetics of maternity.

There has been a lot of recent research that has concentrated on what mothers DO. All of the mommy wars, the parenting debates, the articles, they focus on what we do as mothers. How we parent. But then all you have to do is have a look at some of the popular “baby-blogs” or turn on the TV or what a romantic comedy that has anything to do with pregnancy, childbirth or parenting to see that the styling of motherhood is becoming more and more prominent.

A focus on what mothers wear, what sort of stroller they push, what branded cotton their baby is dressed up to the nines in (don’t get me started on boleros, diamante encrusted doo-dads and knitted designer shrugs for babies – since when did our infants become teenagers?)… All you have to do is look around you (particularly in the affluent West – I didn’t encounter much of this if any in rural Indonesia) to see there is this incredible concern with the presentation of the maternal self. The mother.

Is there any link between how we good look and how well we parent?

Of course not. Of course not. Whether I wear my silk trousers (and who would with a one year old) or my bleach stained track pants – I am the same mother. Whether I push a stroller that costs the same price as the car I drive or I push the second hand run-around I got for a bargain price… I am the same mother. Whether I have shit on my foot or spew down my back or I smell sweet of perfume and perfectly groomed… I am the same mother.

So what is the obsession with how we look?

Mothering through consumption. We must have. We must own. Why? It’s very clever advertising. All mothers, regardless of their economic standing, regardless of their bank account, regardless of their upbringing, all mothers just want to do the best they can for their children. They want to nurture and provide and give and love and love and love. Companies selling baby paraphernalia know this. So they tell us, to be a better mother, you must buy THIS AMAZING PRODUCT. And we believe them. Because we are desperate to do the right thing by our kid. We don’t want that beautiful little person we have been gifted with to miss out on something.

I get it. I feel it too. I do. When friends say, Oh we got this amazing XYZ… it’s so great… I think, wow, maybe I should get it too. Maybe Bo is missing out. Maybe her little life would be better if she had it. But would it? Most of the time my logic kicks in and I shake a little sense into myself. No. What Bo needs is me. She cares very little for much else. She needs good food and comfortable clothes and love, love, love. That’s about it. That baby stuff? It’s not for the baby… it’s for us.

I choose carefully where we spend the little money that we have. I choose to spend it on good food and good experiences and the essentials like rent and bills and fuel. The rest? The little that is left over gets saved, so that one day we can move out and have our own space and I can feel a little more complete again.

The term “Yummy Mummy” is a somewhat new phenomenon . Along with “MILF” and the more recent sexualisation of the mother. On the flip side there is the “slummy mummy” – the mother who has “let herself go”.

I know that I see what we would call a “yummy mummy” in the shops and think how the hell does she do it? She is well groomed. She has long nails and beautifully groomed hair. She wears perfect clothes and is often in heels. I wonder how she does it. I’m there in the t-shirt I slept in… I haven’t showered today and I have a spit up stain on my shoulder that I won’t notice until I get home. Yummy? I don’t think so. Does that make this other mother a better mother than me, because she has it all together she has managed to wash clothes and put together a nice outfit and do her hair? Does it make her a worse mother, has she neglected her child so she can do these things? Of course not.

Judgement goes both ways. It truly does. It’s just as easy to judge the young mother in her low cut jeans with her g-string sticking out the back as it is to judge the dressed-to-the-nines thirty something mama complete with diamonds, bugaboo and nanny in tow. It’s easy to judge. It’s easy to make comment. But is it fair? No. It’s not fair at all.

We class ourselves and each other. We are classed into groups, just like we were in highschool. The nerds, the jocks, the drama kids, the rebels, the art-freaks, etc. etc. Because of how we look, choices we make and how we present ourselves to the world. It probably doesn’t surprise you that I think this sort of pigeon holing is ridiculous. But it’s when these groupings start to define the way we parent or the way we are judged on our parenting that I find it all a bit distressing. The crunchy mama, the routine mama etc. etc. this unspoken class system that opens up for mothers to be judged depending on a gross generalisation of their parenting philosophy

There is so much to be said here about the aesthetics of maternity. How we present ourselves to the world to be judged. How much money we make. The car we drive. The husband who provides (or does not provide). Some people have it all wrapped up in a neat, pretty little upper middle-class package complete with the people mover, the three bedroom house and the gloriously groomed Labrador.

Others, well, others are like me… Just muddling through with food on our jeans and a car that wont start.

And you know what? These things. These aesthetics. They shouldn’t matter at all. We are all the same. You and me and your pretty house and your stunning lounge room and your gorgeous kid and your beautiful blow… we are the same.We are mothers. We are women. We share an experience that is so much deeper than any of that surface crap. We are the same in all our glorious differences.

xox

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  • March 6, 2013 - 5:22 am

    Bettina - Brilliantly said. I am frequently frustrated by the consumerism imposed (and accepted) by mothers. When we are ovewhelmed, sleep deprived and feeling anxious it is easy to believe that this toy, this trinket, this sleep device will fix everything. That our child won’t whine anymore if they have x,y or z. But the reality is most children are happy with a patch of dirt and a cardboard box. And yes they will whine, cause that’s what they do. Love it Sash.

    Bettina
    http://www.littleoldsouls.comReplyCancel

  • March 6, 2013 - 5:39 am

    Angie - Great blog and so true!! We are all mums just doing our best! To have my 13 year old still hug me, tell me she loves me everyday and still insist on being tucked in at night.. I feel I am doing something right. They go to a private school thanks to my ex’s parents but in know way do we live that life and I don’t think they would change it.. Other than to live closer to school which at 630am with 4 kids in tow I did agree:)))ReplyCancel

  • March 6, 2013 - 6:32 am

    Julie - Excellent post. I believe a lot of parenting, and with that the Mum, has fallen prey to consumerism. We all want the best for our child, so often we fall prey to thinking the best is the most expensive.
    We women need to stop judging other women/mothers and accept all. It should not matter if that Mum, is young, or old, wealthy or not, most Mums are just trying to be good parents.

    http://iliska-dreams.blogspot.com.au/ReplyCancel

  • March 6, 2013 - 6:33 am

    jane@flightplatformliving - i love those blogs as well! i love them and beat myself up with them like a big bloggy beautiful stick! i once went shopping with a dog turd hanging from my leg…does that make me a slummy mummy? (it was a long story but basically it became attached whilst cleaning my house…yes cleaning!)ReplyCancel

    • March 6, 2013 - 10:14 am

      Cassie Nguyen - Ha! Jane, that’s a classic! I did an entire class at gym the other night before I realised I had tomato sauce all down my pants. 😀ReplyCancel

  • March 6, 2013 - 7:09 am

    maxabella - All just the same and the priorities we had before becoming a mother might be the same, they might be different. I have cared a lot less about ‘keeping up appearances’ since becoming a mum. It is so much less important to me to be ‘seen’ to be successful or attractive. I’d rather SHOW success and attractiveness by the things that I do.

    As an aesthete, I’d engross myself in those beautiful blogs forever if it made me feel good. But it just doesn’t. On the one hand they make me doubt my choice to not spend as much time getting things ‘looking right’ in my life. On the other hand, they make me feel busier than ever. xReplyCancel

  • March 6, 2013 - 7:21 am

    Lila Wolff - I’ve had it all tied up in a pretty bow before, good jobs, huge house, nice cars. Under that veneer it was ugly.
    Now I’m not “together” but I’ve never been more myself or happier, and that happiness goes to the core.
    So not only is judging on the surface a bad way to live life it’s inaccurate because looks are deceiving.ReplyCancel

    • March 6, 2013 - 7:47 am

      Your Mummy - This post leads me to ask. All those years ago, was I a Yummy Mummy or a Slummy Mummy the day that I woke up with a block of chocolate stuck to my thigh?ReplyCancel

  • March 6, 2013 - 8:05 am

    Lilybett - Mothering through consumption. So true. I see this quite a lot and have fallen victim to it myself. But the reality was I didn’t feel like a better mother when I had x, y or z. I just felt more laden, more buried under stuff.

    P.S. Hear you on the hair drying. New haircut has not delivered on its promise to do all the work. Am trying to embrace my new maternal wave that appeared post pregnancy.ReplyCancel

  • March 6, 2013 - 10:18 am

    Cassie Nguyen - I actually don’t real those kinds of blogs anymore. Not very often anyway. And it’s totally for my own reasons and my own reactions to them. Most often all I see in them is what I don’t have, what I wish for. Which is, as you point out, pretty useless and ridiculous! But that’s my own bag. And one I will be able to increase my own awareness of with reminders like this. That we’re all in the same game, and those ‘beautiful’ kids’ smiles are the same as my beautiful kid’s smile. That the love that mama talks about is the same as the love I talk about.

    Sash & Lilybett, the answer to all my hair-styling problems has been a perm. Seriously. Love it. 😛ReplyCancel

  • March 6, 2013 - 10:30 am

    Xantheose - Thank you for this post.ReplyCancel

  • March 6, 2013 - 12:23 pm

    Cherry - This is such a beautiful post, and so completely true!!!ReplyCancel

  • March 6, 2013 - 5:07 pm

    Hanna - Sash, I love your blog and can’t believe I have never commented here but this post really spoke to me, having just given birth three weeks ago. Dealing with a new body and massive new boobs (not an understatement!) has been a real challenge. My first day on my own with my son resulted in my husband coming home to find me wandering around topless, still in my pjs and having not brushed my teeth all day but with a massive smile on my face, having survived the day! I am now looking forward to an opportunity to reinvent my style and my attitude to the way I look at my body. Please keep up with the brilliant writing. I love reading your story.ReplyCancel

  • March 7, 2013 - 12:43 am

    Dora - you women.
    are so inspired!

    kisses from PerúReplyCancel

  • March 7, 2013 - 3:44 am

    Lisa - Hi Sash! I love to read your blog but I think you are being a little coquettish here talking about all those fabulously beautiful other blogger mommies, all the while belittleing yourself…you blog is definitely in the top third of asthetically pleasing blogs right now. You may not do it with a lot of money, say Bugaboo and Diamonds, but I’d even say your photos are some of the most nicely composed in terms of light, colour and style out there in blogland right now…it’s the style of an edgy, thrifty, young, rebellious woman and this is much more interesting than a rich plastic housewife anyway.
    I get what you are trying to say and it’s an important message, but don’t try to separate yourself from aesthethics when obviously you are taking full advantage of its appeal to people on you blog. It’s nothing to be ashamed of but selling yourself as something you are clearly not just to create a feeling of community with the real “ugly ducklings” out there.ReplyCancel

    • March 7, 2013 - 1:02 pm

      Sash - Hey Lisa. Thanks for your comment. I agree with you in some ways… and in others, not so much. But that’s OK. I’m not sure if I said that I am against aesthetics… if I did, I was misrepresenting myself. We all have our own aesthetic, of course, it’s not something that can be avoided, even if we tried. In fact, the sheer act of rebelling against a particular aesthetic is an aesthetic in itself – have you SEEN the current hair do that’s all the rage? The one that looks like bed hair but actually takes hours to perfect? :)

      Anyway, my point is perhaps we got our wires crossed a little. I’m talking about judgement, and how we judge each other and ourselves. I’m not trying to ever “sell” myelf as something I am not. I’m just trying to keep it real, and to let people know that this is a safe place for them to do that too… that we should all feel safe to just be ourselves, no matter what our society expects of us… no matter if our jeans are stained or we bite our un-manicured nails. Looks can be deceiving is a very true saying – in fact it’s true for both sides, the manicured and the less so…!

      I don’t think I need to sell myself as something I’m not to create a sense of community, in fact, my aim is to do the opposite. I’m glad you are engaging with me and with the content – I like to read your comments… and I’m not sure what you mean by the real “ugly ducklings” out there – but hopefully that is a reference to the positive end in the actual Ugly Duckling story and not a judgement of anyone else. xx

      Love.ReplyCancel

  • March 7, 2013 - 12:14 pm

    Rachel - I read those blogs too and while I like looking at the pretty pictures, I find I just feel empty after reading them after a while. There’s often no substance behind the images and really, why am I making myself feel jealous of a lifestyle that I will never have the money or time for and is likely staged anyway? I think your blog is beautiful as well as real which I think is why so many people like reading it. I remember you posting pics of your home in the village and thinking what a good job you’d done of making a typical local Indonesian house look interesting and exotic :pReplyCancel

  • March 8, 2013 - 3:26 am

    Uriel - Awesome blog, thanks for writing in this blog, its going to be amazing to read more about that!!ReplyCancel

  • March 8, 2013 - 7:57 am

    bron@babyspace (@babykidspace) - this has been on my mind a lot recently. yes, I LOVE the beautiful blogs with their beautiful pictures — which by the way you have too, but also with topical and thought-provoking commentary — and I think the question here (well, for me anyway) is not one of aesthetics but of comparison, control and identity. and also blog genre which I posted about yesterday.
    all v interesting to discuss and read about. love reading your post as always :)ReplyCancel

  • March 9, 2013 - 2:16 am

    Rebecca - I agree with most of the women here. I used to read those blogs when my daughter was first born. I don’t now cause I can’t relate to them. I don’t always match and my hair isn’t always cute. It would be nice to look more together, but I have a heard enough time making sure the basics are taken care of.ReplyCancel

  • March 9, 2013 - 7:48 pm

    Sallie @ inaminutemammy - Lovely blog! I am a SAHM and used to wonder each morning at school drop off how some of the mums looked so, for want of a better word, ‘perfect’. It took a while before I realised that perfect to me isn’t the same as perfect to my daughter. She thinks I’m perfect the way I am (bloodshot eyes and all !) I now dress for myself. If I want to feel a bit more ‘with it’ I will. Otherwise catch me in my paint splattered shorts and ponytail every weekday morning at the local primary school. Mind you there’s more of us out there than you think xxReplyCancel

  • April 21, 2013 - 7:34 pm

    Zanni Louise - Yes, I think about this topic too from time to time. I tried not to be too affected by the aesthetics of maternity, but it gets you. When I had my first child we had virtually no money. Everything we owned for her was second hand or a gift. I think because I couldn’t afford things, I often envied the nice stroller a friend had or the beautiful organic cot. My mum particularly was very generous towards us, though, and we were given many beautiful things. Now that we have a bit more money, we do buy the things we like, but still generally get them second hand. And only get things we need.
    Talking aesthetics generally, though, I feel blogs fill the place of lifestyle magazines, for me at least. In the past, I salivated over the homes and lives of those in Country Style or Frankie. Now, it is over the lives of those in blogs. Bloggers with great photographic or design skills (like yourself) certainly have a great appeal, because as well as being beautiful writers, your readers are attracted by the overall aesthetic of the blog, and I guess to the life behind the blogger.
    I think, like those magazines, beautiful blogs, and stylish mummies don’t have to make us cringe about our own situations. Rather, they create a sprinkle of beauty, and provide some inspiration perhaps. Have I missed the point completely? Maybe…it’s 11pm, and that is too late for a mummy of two littlies….Zanni xReplyCancel

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