Maybe it makes everyone more comfortable to keep mothers in a safe, cozy, maternal box, their sole focus being their children, their homes, and maybe their book club.
I’ve never been a very high-maintenance girl. I let my curly hair air-dry, I rarely wear makeup, and often choose comfort over style. Once my twin boys were born, my whole situation really hit the skids as I adopted the fall-back uniform of so many at-home moms like myself: yoga pants, T-shirts, maybe stretchy jeans if I was feeling fancy. Yes, I let myself go.
Overweight and overtired, I told myself that I had time to bounce back. That I should just worry about taking care of my babies. That I should give myself a break. But once “Mom” became my full-time job, my #1 identity, the rest of me just sort of shrunk away. It was inevitable. Oh sure, I tried to make my way back to my old self (some me-time, a little exercise, a little writing). But even while gaining ground on my slow-crawl back to my “before,” I’d think, “What’s the point?”
Even when I would get dressed up and go out without my kids, I felt like the dowdy stank lingered around me. I remember an attractive man giving me a flirty smile in a parking lot once and, rather than take it as a compliment, I looked around for the white-paneled van he might use to abduct me since, clearly, he must be one of those charming serial killers. You think I’m kidding. The idea that any man, outside of my husband, could find me attractive anymore seemed so out of the realm of possibility.
In the last year though, something shifted in me. Spurred by a driving desire to get healthy, feel better, and have more energy for my kids, I started working out regularly, and paying more attention to my diet. As I began to slim down and get stronger, I started to feel pretty again. Like I was reigniting whatever small spark of sex appeal was still lurking underneath my full-coverage bra and yogurt-smeared logo tee.
Like I said though, I’m low-maintenance. I don’t like to shop, except for my kids, and it’s usually online. Between part-time work and full-time parenting, I just don’t have the time. So, after hearing about this online personal shopping service that basically sends you clothes to choose from, I decided to try it. Basically, you fill out a questionnaire, rank certain fashions by preference, pinpoint your loves and dislikes, and tell them a little something about yourself. Based on all of this, they pull together some clothing pieces and accessories within your price range, and send them to you. Cool, right?
As I bopped along on their site, all “LOVE” to this boho thing and “LOVE” to that edgy thing and “BLECH” to the loafers and “BLECH” to the floral prints, I felt so good. I had this awareness that I finally had reclaimed my body, one I actually felt like dressing. Plus, I’ve spent the last several months upping my work game, regaining some of my career confidence. Finally, I feel like so much more than just a mom and, hell yeah, I want some fashionable threads to show it off.
Except, while filling out all of this style info, I apparently made one crucial mistake. I told them that I was a mom. On that part where it said to tell them about myself? I lead with it. In so many words, I think I said something like: I’m a work-at-home mom and don’t go into an office and I chase after toddlers and I’m always dressed casually and I’m sick of wearing yoga pants. I want to look more stylish, please.
When my box came, I was psyched to see what they had chosen for me. My own virtual stylist, yippee! As I pulled out the handful of items though, I started to feel angry. And as I tried things on, I became even angrier. Everything was body-concealing, boxy, and totally outdated. They had even sent me what was, essentially, stretch pants. Stretch pants! Where was the boho stuff? The edgy stuff? The stuff that was supposed to hug my curves and make me feel young and sexy again?
I wondered if I’d blacked-out and written on that comments section, “…and frumpy, please send frumpy!” I mean, really, if I wanted to dress like my mom, I could have just asked her to pick up a few things for me while at Chico’s.
I was offended. Really offended. Here I was trying to reclaim my sexy, but as soon as I said I was a mom, they shut it down. No, it’s not like I was hoping for hot pants and a studded bustier, but some actual style would have been nice. It’s like they had a “Mommy closet” they were pulling clothes from, assuming, “Well, this lady will just be happy to have anything that’s not yoga pants.” And, “Oh no, don’t send her the tight V-neck, because she probably has, like, mom boobs.” And, “I know she said she wanted trendier stuff, but, like, she goes to and from preschool pickup—like anyone’s looking at her?”
I know, it sounds like an overreaction, but it’s not like I was crumpled on the floor, wailing into the poly-blend top they’d sent. I just felt like after finally building up the confidence to want to dress well, I was being told I shouldn’t bother, which was kind of my fear all along. That, as a mom, this stuff isn’t supposed to matter. As a mom, you need to dress the part. As a mom, you shouldn’t be sexy.
A few days after receiving my box of fashion shame, I saw Kim Kardashian’s Paper spread. My first reaction was something like, “Ew, why? Ick. Is that body oil?” Later though, when critics slammed her with the familiar, “But you’re someone’s mother now,” I suddenly felt defensive for her. Kim K. looks better than ever post-baby, and she wanted to show it off, not in spite of being a mom, but because she is a mom. Obviously, there’s a whole slew of things wrong with that picture, and it’s not like I’m now all Team Kardashian and buying the T-shirt. But I do support a mother who is able to say, “Yeah, I’m a mom, and I feel sexy as hell!”
Maybe it makes everyone more comfortable to keep mothers in a safe, cozy, maternal box, their sole focus being their children, their homes, and maybe their book club. When a mother loses her sexuality though, which many of us do, we feel like we’ve lost a part of ourselves, a part of our womanhood. And in so many ways, we have.
That’s why it feels so damn good—empowering and important—when we are able to reclaim our sexuality. When we can see ourselves as both “somebody’s Mommy” and attractive, desirable women. Because many of us still want to be cute and sexy. We still feel cute and sexy. Some are cuter and sexier than ever. We are absolutely allowed to be the hot mamas we want to be and no one—not the judgmental types or the conservative critics or even a narrowly-focused shopping website—can shut that down.
Jennifer Benjamin is an LA-based freelance writer and editor with over thirteen years of experience writing for national magazines and websites like Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, SELF, Parents Magazine, The Stir and Daily Glow. More important, she’s a Mommy to identical twin boys, as well as an avid cook, a terrible housewife, and a loungewear enthusiast. Find her on Twitter @JennyBenjamin or Facebook.