Is the Tyranny of the 'Sexy Mom' Really Just the Tyranny of Sexy?

This week, Time's Susanna Schrobsdorff took on an issue that you may not have known existed: Were you aware that all over America, and perhaps globally, people are being tyrannized by "sexy" moms?

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This week, Time's Susanna Schrobsdorff took on an issue that you may not have known existed: Were you aware that all over America, and perhaps globally, people are being tyrannized by "sexy" moms? And all this time we thought we were being tyrannized by Time covers!

But once Schrobsdorff points it out, it becomes clear. As she explains, everyone freaked out when Jennifer Garner (a sexy, celebrity mom) wore a one-piece swimsuit instead of a bikini on a recent beach excursion with the kids. Us Weekly announced that she'd unveiled her "sexy post-baby body," and The Today Show followed up with kudos on how Garner's "normal mom" look was really helping to open up the world of normal moms to acceptance, and maybe even give them some semblance of coolness. But Schrobsdorff says we should take a minute before we celebrate Garner's great strides for momhood, and think about how this whole sexiness thing has changed—and not for better, necessarily. She writes:

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 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.

Thus, the "dawn of the age of the sexy mom" began, and now, says Schrobsdorff, we've moved so far beyond what was once "feminist liberation" that we're in a place of, perhaps, regular old objectification—which leads to a kind of oppression. Not only can moms be sexy, they must be sexy. (In fact, this concern with the "looks" of moms goes further back, if New York magazine's 2004 cover story on the "perfect pregnancy"—aesthetically—is any indication.) There is, in fact, so much pressure to be a sexy mom that Schrobsdorff writes of "how exhausting it all is," and depressing, too: "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," she writes.

But I think she's not talking about the tyranny of sexy moms as much as she's talking about how everything is "sexy" now, from the headlines on down, and hers, and ours, not excluded in this. Sex is everywhere, from the current issue of New York magazine to the latest celeb news to descriptions of, say, an iPhone. Moms may be "sexy" but women in general are "sexy" and Olympic athletes are "sexy" and male strippers are "sexy" and even books are "sexy." Everyone and everything is sexy, or at least, pretty much everyone and everything we're supposed to look at and aspire to be or to want is "sexy." Schrobsdorff is partly right: All this sexiness is exhausting! On the other hand, I think there's more good than bad to a society being able to acknowledge that moms haven't lost their attractiveness or become suddenly sexless beings, and there's also something positive about feeling like you want to stay healthily fit and look good at whatever point of your life you're in, as a woman or a man, so long as you stay grounded about it.

However, I'm not sure that moms were once the rare humans who escaped the "sexy" lens entirely. Yes, there's more sexiness discussed altogether now, but I also think sex appeal for moms (and for all women) simply had a different look to it in, say, the days of Donna Reed or the happy homemaker, or even Mrs. Brady who, I'm pretty sure, was supposed to exude a sexiness of the time. It's not like ladies were completely stripped of their sex appeal upon having babies in the old days, but in the old days, yes, everyone wore more clothes, and we put "sex" in our headlines a little less. It's the rare magazine that's in the business of putting unattractive people on its pages, moms or not. That said, it's not too terribly difficult to escape all this "sexy tyranny," if you choose to do so. Start reading celebrity magazines that don't have pictures, for one.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.