Do 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.