The Tyranny of the ‘Sexy’ Mom

Have Americans become too obsessed with how women's bodies do — or don't — spring back into shape after having a baby?

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Jennifer Garner made news recently for wearing a one-piece bathing suit. Yup, in America it’s a big deal when a 40-year-old actress and mother of three does not appear in a bikini with ridiculously toned abs four months after giving birth. “Jennifer Garner Unveils Sexy Post-Baby Body in a Retro Swimsuit!” gushed US magazine. How incredibly evolved of them. TodayShow.com chimed in with “Thank you, Jennifer Garner! There are so many ways you make looking like a normal mom seem completely acceptable and even cool.”

Agreed. But before we start celebrating this as some kind of breakthrough, remember that US magazine didn’t call Garner cool or normal; it called her “sexy.” And therein lies the problem. Twenty years ago, it seemed like a huge step forward for women to be considered sexually attractive and a good mother at the same time. Prior to that, studies showed that being desirable and being maternal were considered mutually exclusive. But then in 1991, Demi Moore went and broke about a thousand taboos by posing nude and pregnant for the cover of Vanity Fair, saying she hoped it would give pregnant women “permission” to be sexy.

(MORE: 50 Shades of Grey: Why Is It News That Women Like Sex?)

It was the dawn of the age of the sexy mom, and there was no going back. “Reversal of the traditional separation between maternity and sex has exploded onto the scene in recent years as the media is full of hot mammas … yummy mummies, knocked-up knock outs,” writes Kelly Oliver in the journal Hypatia. She points out that what started as a kind of feminist liberation for women is now slipping into old-fashioned objectification. (Take, for example, a certain popular yet vulgar acronym for desirable mothers that we cannot print here.) Suddenly that  permission to be sexy and motherly turned into a mandate. And we’re complicit. We cannot stop staring at the zillions of body-after-baby photos online. We can (and do) buy baby bibs that say “My Mom Is Hotter than Your Mom.” School-drop-off sweatpants have to be Juicy Couture–sexy.

How exhausting it all is — especially given the equal and almost opposite pressure to be hyper-attentive supermoms too.

(MORE: How Feminism Begat Intensive Mothering)

While indulging in the mental junk food of celebrity magazines isn’t the end of the world, it does feed into an addictive contrast-and-compare game we play with our bodies, which numerous studies have shown erode our self-image and predispose us to have depression. It’s not surprising that in a nation where three-quarters of us are overweight or obese, we can feel like losers when we’re not sexier than ever after having a baby like Jessica Alba.

This attitude has a trickle-down effect. A new report published this month in the journal Sex Roles revealed that many 6-to-9-year-old girls already think of themselves as sexual objects. Psychologists showed the girls two paper dolls, one dressed in tight, cleavage-revealing “sexy” clothes and the other wearing a trendy but covered-up outfit. Most girls identified the sexy doll as the one most likely to be popular and the one they wanted to look like. Interestingly, media consumption did not seem to play a role in the doll they picked. But a mother’s self-image did. Those girls with moms who reported self-objectifying tendencies, like worrying about their clothes and appearance many times a day, were more likely to pick the sexy doll.

(MORE: The War on Women Begins with Girls)

Of course, we don’t want to get on the blame-Mom bandwagon. And we really don’t want a return to mom jeans. But maybe we can give ourselves and others some time off in the relentless pursuit of post-pregnancy hotness. If not for ourselves, then for our daughters. Those after-baby shots of actresses in bikinis have an air of awkwardness and self-consciousness that is pure high school. Who wants that? Meanwhile, look at the Garner photo without the sexy label and what you see is a woman not trying to look hot. In fact, she doesn’t seem to be trying to look like anything.

98 comments
setarcos89
setarcos89

I find it curious how the men who are commenting on this post (people who will never become pregnant and give birth) are waxing poetic about discipline. Men, in general lose weight quicker than women and never have to deal with the weight gain that is part of pregnancy, telling women what to do and how to look like on this post. In a recent article, a man went on the same diet that his girlfriend was on and he didn't last a day.

Ben Hifni
Ben Hifni

This message have brought to you by 

NAILMEN

National Association of Immigrant and Local Men

Ben Hifni
Ben Hifni

Thank you sexy moms (and sexy non-moms) for helping to increase the statistical and probable chances that there will be many more men 

with an increase level of arousal  on our streets, in our sisters' neighborhoods and around our daughters' schools the sexier you ladies appear in public and in the mass media

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

Okay, at the risk of sounding like some crazy doomsday prepper.  This article is a bit puzzling.

America is highly so highly sexualized in every way that sex is used to advertise everything, from bubble gum to car insurance. My point is that kids are part of the recipients of this wholesale pounding of sexiness from cradle to birth. They do not know better and think that they are expected to be sexy. Women are not spared either, and many buy into the birth today, thin tomorrow snap back.

Also, and I might get railed for this. This culture adores "celebrities". I do not know why actors and reality show actors are called "celebrities" or "stars", why? Did they discover a cure for cancer? Pretending to be someone else earning this much adulation is coarse. It makes you wonder if "civilized" society is not a group of well dressed barbarians. STARS?? Give me a break.

Anyway, regarding our bodies after pregnancy. Part of the problem comes from these actors aka stars. I worked with, and knew a few actors a few year back, and was shocked that when some of these women gave birth, they continued to eat paper when they were hungry just to get rid of the weight. Yes, paper is what many young models used to eat to quell the hunger. I don't know if many still do.

21st century America is a SUPER visual, highly sexualized and strange environment. So you have a choice. You either take the rules some faceless fashion "forward charlatan" and starve yourself and your body instead of focusing on nurturing the new life you have brought into the world, or take your time, get HEALTHY and be the best in the body you earned from your DNA. Live on your own terms because in this case, the majority opinion in this issue is plain WRONG.

I suggest you do the latter.

Great piece!!

http://blackrepublicanandmywor...

  

  

BSF1
BSF1

Where is the Garner photo???

John Luma
John Luma

I don't think it's a "tyranny." It comes down to our cultural ideals. You can decide to be physically in shape, or not. Going back at least 80 years -- our "modern" American history -- our ideals have always been expressed in our movie stars, our athletes, our youth. I don't think this is a tyranny. The fact is, today the average adult eats 700 more calories per day than in 1970, only 40 years ago. As a result the majority of us have all become fatter, out of shape and less healthy. So now the media focuses on our traditional better looking, fit ideal -- because we have not given up that ideal, and because we find "our ideal selves" more appealing. But how we feel about it is up to us.

Carlos Tribino
Carlos Tribino

I actually think sexying up hot moms was a good thing. As usual, within certain limits and elegance. In fact, I see it as a step forward, not backwards, in two ways. Perhaps it can help reduce the obesity problem. On top of that, it could serve as an example to men and have them sexy up a bit and not fall into the beer belly, overweight, let-yourself-go-because-you're-hitched syndrome. I think both members of a couple staying "hot" can increase self confidence and elevate mutual interest. Perhaps it may even help reduce the divorce rate, if both partners take care of themselves. I'm not talking about anorexic mommas and Arnold-sculpted papas. I'm talking about the healthy habit of taking care of your bodies and maintaining sex appeal in spite of kids, stress, etc.

Talendria
Talendria

This must be a localized phenomenon because I've seen nothing like it at my son's schools.  Most of the moms go to school with no makeup looking like they've been gardening.  However, I can attest that young girls worry way too much about their appearance and whether or not they're attractive to boys.  I've heard girls in kindergarten talk about being sexy.  That's right:  kindergarten.  It's absurd.

Frank Lipsky
Frank Lipsky

This writer is not a not a medical profession;but facts ARE STUBBORN THINGS!

1 Any normal person past the age of puberty has sexual feelings and knows what a sexual women looks like (pretty and boobs- brains are irrelevant)

2.Any child below the age of puberty and less than ten year uses word like pretty and sexy does not  emotionally understand(and is incapable) of  the meanings of the word in the sense attributed to the thoughts  post puberty children

Proof :How many pre-teen- under ten-  have sex willingly?

Let children enjoy their youthful innocence and bless sexy women-no matter how many pregnancies

This is F...in common sense -we don't need any studies! Garbage articles sell because adults are sexual creature of evolution ;they are easily exploited by profit seekers

Frank Lipsky
Frank Lipsky

This writer is not a not a medical profession;but facts ARE STUBBORN THINGS!

1 Any normal person past the age of puberty has sexual feelings and knows what a sexual women looks like (pretty and boobs- brains are irrelevant)

2.Any child below the age of puberty and less than ten year uses word like pretty and sexy does not  emotionally understand(and is incapable) of  the meanings of the word in the sense attributed to the thoughts  post puberty children

Proof :How many pre-teen- under ten-  have sex willingly?

Let children enjoy their youthful innocence and bless sexy women-no matter how many pregnancies

This is F...in common sense -we don't need any studies! Garbage articles sell because adults are sexual creature of evolution ;they are easily exploited profit seekers

stuckinIL4now
stuckinIL4now

The author mentions "after-baby shots of actresses in bikinis"--hah! The latest trend now for actresses is to pose in bikinis WHILE pregnant (torispelling)--as if the rest of  us really want to see that much of them while they carry their progeny!!

6429921
6429921

In this world looking good or attractive isn't always a plus

I learned that early on

6429921
6429921

In this world

looking good and or attractive isn't always a plus

Sue Duhaime Van Scoy
Sue Duhaime Van Scoy

Teaching your kid to be healthy by setting an example is one thing; making sure you're thin enough to fit in your teenage daughters bikini is something else. This hot mom phenomenon is one of the sickest manifestations of this "I want to be my kids best friend, not their parent thing". You can be attractive and fit and still not look like a high school hooker. Trust me, your teenage daughter does not enjoy having her male peers think you're hot.

stfusa
stfusa

Its not Americans who are obsessed. Its just the 'women' of America who are plagued with the 'sexy mom syndrome'  for quite sometime now fueled by unhealthy and narcissitic reality shows forced down their teles on a daily basis. As a result, they also suffer from other syndromes such as 'cougar syndrome', 'single-mom syndrome', 'i will not act my age syndrome' eventuallly resulting in dysfunctional families ..... 

To sum it up, women of america have steadily lost their minds to become corporate america's useful idiots...

ahaval
ahaval

I'm more upset by the poor grammar in the Jennifer Garner piece on US. Sexy is a state of mind.

Fla4Me
Fla4Me

I see nothing new here.  It comes down to selling product whether its magazines, cars or view of some website page.  Sex sells and calling something "sexy" or "shocking" or whatever gets a percentage of the population to act the way the advertiser wants them to.  I don't think they care what the subject is.  If they had data showing that using rusty dump trucks on your cover got more views we'd be seeing them and stories about them.  

Lastrova
Lastrova

Don't implicate most men in this imagined imbroglio.  Women are doing this to themselves.

drorbenami
drorbenami

this article proves that for women: "size does indeed count".....

Sara Rose
Sara Rose

One week women CAN have it all. The next week we CAN''T. Now it's politically incorrect to look good after giving birth. Oh my, what's a girl to do?!

Fureyous
Fureyous

But you did it.  "And we don't really want to return to Mom jeans."  Why not? Isn't it objectifying to say if  you look like a "mom" you aren't sexy?  Sorry that one little phrase destroyed the credibility of your entire opinion.  Where is  your editor? (An internal one would help you too).

HugoDays
HugoDays

Young American mothers are by far, the fattest, the world over.

It is not acceptable to be so fat, rally against it.  Let's make it shameful to be so heavy...it is killing all of us.  The women, through health issues...the men, by having to sleep with them.

humtake
humtake

Every person in this world is under pressure to do something, be something, etc.  It is only those who are self obsessed that place more importance in the "pressure to be sexy" category than in other categories like "pressure to be a good mom".  The only person who makes anyone feel as if they have to be a sexy mom are the moms themselves.  If you aren't sexy, the "anti-sexy police" aren't going to come to your home and arrest you.  Get over yourself.

Anarchy69
Anarchy69

Looking good and being healthy is great. Regarding the girls who chose the sexy doll - I am guessing their moms look just fine but are super insecure with themselves. You know the ones who always HAVE to wear makeup to the gym or a run through Starbucks. Those women are passing this into their daughters. Look great but have some self confidence as well. It goes a long way.

Fureyous
Fureyous

I had a friend who wore full make up to her own mastectomy surgery.  I found it sort of pathetic. 

IdaBlankenship
IdaBlankenship

I live not far from a grammar school.

It slays me when I see what kind of horrific shape the young mothers are in.:(

They've got one child or more attending the school and the mothers are already fairly overweight, and sporting lots of fat around their middle.

Remember: that fat is metabolically active.

And many of their kids are as young as 6 and already have a considerable weight problem, also.

Anarchy69
Anarchy69

I think wanting to look nice and take care of yourself is great. Regarding the girls who picked the sexy doll - my guess is that their mom's look fine but are super insecure. Those women who worry too much about their looks are rubbing off negatively onto their daughters. Look good, be healthy and have some self confidence!

Bookldy209
Bookldy209

I think a few of you missed the point that Garner was shown as an example of someone NOT trying to achieve the impossible but enjoying the moment.

unboundried
unboundried

Having been single for most of my 40s and dating these "sexy moms' I can tell you that many are internalizing the social role and self image it implies. They are narcissistic, self indulgent, selfish, and they objectify the people in their lives. Female friends have to be sexy or hot and young, male friends have to the same, and they seek relationships with a set of sexy criteria rather than men they have chemistry with.

Conversations are dominated with criticism of someone's flabby thighs, saggy breasts, wrinkles, or any other "flaw." They become stalkers if you fit their criteria but don't want a relationship with them because it means they weren't sexy enough and they can't accept that. I married a chubby woman because I got tired of being an extension of somebody else's self esteem.

Johnthegrandpa
Johnthegrandpa

Oh pooh.  Words words words and only one little far-away snapshot.

Phil Davies
Phil Davies

Too bad women have become liberated. Before, it was perfectly normal to take 2 years to lose the extra 20 or 30 lbs. gained during a pregnancy. Now women are expected to be trim and sexy again in 2 moths or so. Question: 'sexy' for who? Or what? Garner and other Hollywood sex objects do it because their careers would end if they didn't - literally doing it for the money.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Social expectancy places extraordinary and often conflicting and even impossible demands on women these days.

Equal rights is one thing but true equality is harder to figure out.

Men have it easier, we got there first and really don't feel obligated to prove it to anybody. 

We've even got genetic self assured bravado working for us.

Bottom line is that it's generally a lot harder for women than it is for men.

IdaBlankenship
IdaBlankenship

SURE Ms. Garner looks terriffic: she's probably got a personal trainer and a nanny or a few -- she's got lots of leisure time to get herself in shape!

Try doing that if you are a regular normal mother that's not famous and hasn't got the leisure time and/or the bucks to devote to getting in top notch shape. Fat chance, to coin an expression.

CEOofMyLife
CEOofMyLife

 Completely disagree.  I have 3 children and am very fit.  I am not rich, did not hire a trainer and do not have a gym membership.  I chose to get fit. Some may choose not to but saying that it requires money and a trainer just to do so is just an excuse. 

happpymommy
happpymommy

Interesting article. I think that looking good is great and staying in shape is fun. Many moms I see at my kids schools look beautiful and stylish without trying to look sexy (think Kate Middelton, not Kim Kardashian).  I have noticed too many cases of mom friends who make an elaborate effort to look sexy with strapless tank tops etc.  (not just pretty or fashionable) and it usually signals trouble in the marriage because they end up with their husbands cheating on them or addicted to porn. Sad, but true- I've had several 'sexy' friends cry on my shoulders over that.

Astrogal
Astrogal

I think the pressure is always "on" for women to look hot and sexy, and not just after baby but all the time. It frankly is tiring. I am a 33 year old mom, and I try to look nice (not "hot" or sexy because I'm uncomfortable being stared at and the center of attention, I've always been that way, I just choose to dress classy and modestly). I think it's just terrible pressure to look good all the time, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to be fit and healthy, but either extreme is bad - the woman who completely lets herself go and balloon out and wear horrid clothes everywhere and also the woman who wants to look like she's 20 again wearing short shorts with cellulite hanging out, or low cut jeans with a gut hanging out, etc. Ladies, please, you don't have to let yourself go, just set a good example for your kids by eating healthy and exercising but also don't make an obsession out of it lest your daughters especially believe that looking good is the most important thing in life and lead them to eating disorders. Already my 6 year old says she looks "fat" and I'm not a gym nut at all. It's just so sad. I always have hope for the new generation but it too seems to be falling into the trap of usual human nature and it's disappointing.

iwlnilla
iwlnilla

At least those expectations are attainable.  Try being a vampire, werewolf, or non-creepy sadist.  It's simply not possible :)

Comput0r_h4x0r
Comput0r_h4x0r

I'm sure I speak for ALL married men when I say that no one wants to see flab, flat rears or saggy breasts on a woman. If women take care of themselves, maybe men won't be looking' at their interns or secretaries more than their wives.

frankiego
frankiego

I am sure you took time off from modeling to write this clever and helpful comment.Thank you!!!

IdaBlankenship
IdaBlankenship

And us women don't want to see beer bellies, big fat arses,  love handles or scrawny legs. Nor do we want to see middle age spread or see fat that's thick around a guy's middle when a guy is much much too young to be sporting an abnormally thick middle.