Auntie Fatcat's

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Friday, February 04, 2005

Hot Mamas

The other day I read an article in the Seattle Times about how hip mothers don't want to dress "like moms" anymore. Inspired by TV moms like Teri Hatcher's character on Desperate Housewives, they're apparently changing diapers in stiletto heels and raiding their teen daughters' closets for low-rise jeans and navel-baring tops. The "hottie moms" interviewed for the article asserted that dressing this way made them feel powerful and allowed them to reclaim their sexuality.

Now I'm not a mom, and the one and only time I intentionally displayed my belly button in public was at a pool party in 1984, so maybe I'm not qualified to talk about this. But something smells wrong here.

I have no problem with the idea of mothers as powerful, sexual beings. Breaking down the old madonna/whore stereotypes is a good thing by me. I also eagerly applaud the disappearance of the once-popular "mom uniform" of sweat pants, T-shirt, and hair scrunchie. As those of you who have witnessed my marathon morning routine know, I advocate lavish self-pampering and stylish dressing as a confidence booster. So my discomfort with this article isn't a knee-jerk anti-sex or anti-fashion response.

The image of a woman changing diapers in stilettos disturbs me because they aren't appropriate for the activity. Wearing stilettos to do childcare is just as bad as wearing sneakers for a night on the town. And dressing seductively all the time makes it seem like these moms have not only reclaimed their sexuality, but allowed it to reclaim them. There is and should be a time to be sexy, but there's also a time to run through the sprinklers with your kids--and if you do that in stilettos we'll both be embarrassed, because I'm going to wet myself laughing.

The image of a woman raiding her teen daughter's closet for skin-baring clothes also bothers me. I can get over the part about the teen daughter having such clothes in the first place because I understand the desire to show off what you've got while you've still got it (hence the pool party incident). But styles designed for a teenager generally don't look right on her mother--no matter what Mom has or hasn't still got. British fashionistas Trinny and Susannah from the BBC show What Not to Wear call this phenomenon "mutton dressed as lamb" and decry it as bad style. But I have deeper issues with it as well.

In her book Scheherazade Goes West, Islamic sociology professor Fatima Mernissi explores artistic and literary images of the sexually desirable woman in both Islamic and Western cultures. She concludes that while Islamic culture confines women with veils and harem walls, Western culture confines women by limiting its image of the sexually ideal woman to a teenage girl: young, slim, naive, and submissive. I initially thought this idea, though interesting, was an oversimplified interpretation. Then this article showed me mothers of teenagers--women old enough to know a few things and at least somewhat successful at the mating game--equating dressing like teenage girls with reclaiming their sexual power. That's disturbing.

I'd like to think that Western culture also allows for the sexy older woman, a woman whose hard-earned knowledge, experience, confidence, and leadership serve her as well in love as they do in life. I'd also like to think that this woman wouldn't want to raid her daughter's closet because her own would be well stocked with clothes that attract attention in a more sophisticated way. Even if our romantic peers reject this image to chase young girls--and the ones worth having generally don't--we need to embrace it for ourselves and celebrate it in others. Because if we allow ourselves to be trapped by the idea that only youth is sexy and beautiful, we get stuck playing a game that time won't let us win.

Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson.


Blogger Marge Marshall said...

A "Hip mother" who doesn't want to dress like a mom. I have to agree that Moms in teen-age like clothing could be a ridiculous sight. Stiletto heels and weak ankles might be an interesting combination. Mothers with teenage daughters could be starting to fight the battle of not wanting to age. They see older women fighting the battle of aging, including high blood pressure and other illnesses that restrict your life. Since this is going to happen and has happened to some of us, my hope would be to do it as gracefully as possible with a wardrobe that brings out the best in us as we can possibly manage. This approach, it seems to me, would command the respect to us older folks that we seem to crave. Next time I will be more brief. Mom

4:56 PM  
Blogger Kathy Ice said...

Teenage daughters notwithstanding, I wonder what teenage sons might make of a newly-hip mom. Very few 16-year-old boys are willing to take "Dude, your mom's, like, hot!" as a compliment.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Linda M.R. Yaw said...

I'm counting on you to make sure I don't do too much "mutton dressed as lamb." Thank you to my personal fashion advisor.


9:44 PM  

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