“Why can’t mothers slide comfortably into middle age?…Why is there such wretched pressure on us to look good all the time?… Why does there have to be such a terror of becoming a little dowdy?” Lauren Booth, Sister-in-Law of Tony Blair Prime Minster UK (1997-2007) (and maybe one day E.U President?)
It’s the long school holidays. One should imagine that means I have my feet up as my son and his mates disappear down the park on their bikes. But no. I have just survived a week of dropping my son off at and picking my son up from the Gifted and Talented Summer School at the local grammar. Now I do applaud my son for being accepted onto this prestigious programme, but Jax is rather fed up from another week of exposure to the local Yummy Mummies.
Yup – if anyone thought having a child was all about the child…let me pop that bubble. Having a child means that you are on call all the time to look fantastic. Nothing else will do. And with people having children later than they used to… looking fantastic all the time is not easy.
It used to be generally agreed that once domestic contentment sets in a woman should be less concerned with looking good and more with being good and she should move from centre stage. This tacit agreement with society was in line with the rules of female fertility – so it was considered only right and proper that the ‘goods stop being advertised when the ‘use-by’ date had passed.
I recall when I was young how people marvelled at the actress Goldie Hawn, not so much for her Oscar (for Cactus Flower), but for the fact that she was still alluringly attractive when she was the mother of Oliver and Kate Hudson. It seemed beyond belief that a woman aged 45 could have two secondary school aged kids and be a head-turner. Many thought it inappropriate that Ms Hawn be tossing about a head of long blonde hair, let alone appear in a champagne glass on the cover of Playboy. A controversy raged about the role of women of a ‘certain-age’ for months – it was concluded that Ms Hawn was a freak of nature and not a standard for us lesser mortals to attempt.
Back then the general rule of thumb was that being sexy belongs to the 29 and unders…. after that pull down the shutters and shut the shop. BUT more to the point, when you have had kids… Game Over. Now this wasn’t all bad. Getting time off from the unnecessary competitiveness and boringly complicated business of being female was welcomed as a kind of holiday. As un- PC as it may sound there actually was some truth in the convention that being sexually alluring is a young person’s occupation.
Your twenties are your selfish decade. Free from the shackles of childhood and not yet trapped under a weight of responsibilities there really is little else to do but invest in yourself. For most women, a great deal of that investment is in our physical appearance. And why not… these are the ‘man-trap’ years… always good to coat the bitter pill of commitment with honey. But the deed is usually done by the end of the decade, and once children start coming along, there really are not enough hours in the day. Okay, there are those who are fortunate enough to have an army of helpers and nannies – but for most of us mere mortals, it’s a non stop round of washing things and persons and picking things and persons up. It was jolly nice that no one expected you to look like you just stepped of the catwalk too.
Back then you could always spot a mother. Practicality was a word that dominated her appearance. Her hair was no longer than shoulder length – practical. She wore a suburban uniform of unfussy, uncomplicated clothing and small sensible jewellery (if any) – practical. Her shoes were a regulation 1.5 inch heels in a comfort fit – practical. If she wore make up it would be just a slight dusting of powder, touch of lipslave, brush of mascara – practical. The older the mother the more practical the uniform became – obviously the older you are the harder it is to keep up with the demands of young kids. But gymslip mother or late prima-grada it was always the same. You stop journeying on the fashion train once you use the ovaries… well they weren’t called OVERies for nothing. And society gave you permission to get of the fashion train – after all you’re a mother now. It REALLY wasn’t about YOU anymore.
And then… a cosmic event happened. A thirty something British Actress was photographed walking over Hampstead Heath. She looked dazzlingly beautiful… and she before her was a pushchair with a little girl called Gracie in it. The child was hers…and the paparazzi were astounded. Anna Friel had taken a break from her acting career to become a hands-on parent… and there she was… looked good… actually more than that…she looked better than she did PRE-CHILD. Desperate for a caption to print beneath this world shattering photograph, a Fleet Street sub-editor called her after a breakfast cereal for children, and the phrase Yummy Mummy was born.
From that point on, the luxury of looking exhausted from running around after children all day was banished. Ms Friel was not in the first flush of youth and she looked good. Since then celebrity over 40 Mums from Rachel Hunter, to Brooke Shields, to Halle Berry to Courtney Cox have furthered the cause showing that what ever your age – having a baby means you can look great too. There is no get out clause. To be a mother these days is NOT a holiday from the pressure of looking hot.
I recall going to my first party after the birth of my son. The date was circled on my calendar like D-Day on Churchill’s. I had to look amazing and NOT AT ALL like I had just had a baby three months before. The dress was purchased… an unforgiving mushroom grey silver spangled number (DO NOT HAVE A CHILD BORN THREE MONTHS BEFORE XMAS PARTY SEASON!!!). No room in that for a post baby tummy. And after a summer of pregnancy flats…suddenly I had to learn to totter about on killer heels again.
I had to get everything toned and FAST. (Don’t kid yourself it is only your mid-rift that gets pregnant… it ALL swells… every inch of you!) Breastfeeding (once done for the benefit of passing nutrients to the child) becomes essential as you can almost hear your muscles contract and watch with joy as your post birth deflated boobs pump back up. Of course all that feeding on demand gives you a healthy (if not slightly heavy) child, but this is no bad thing. My baby thought he had the best mother as every day he was raised and lowered 30-50 times by his playful mother… but really I was using him as weights.
All that just to walk into a party to hear my colleagues squeal with delight how I’d ‘snapped back’. And walk in was about all I could do. Having a baby is exhausting enough without operation size 10 for Xmas. All that exhausting work to be pre-baby fit… and I arrived at eight and I went home to bed before midnight. But it is not just big events…you have to look good ALL the time least people say you are ‘letting yourself go’.
Time was that she behind the pram was invisible, and the focus of attention was the pram’s content. A mother would spend more time getting the baby ready for his debut out on the local streets. She could be in a dressing-gown and slippers for all the attention she’d get… it was all about the baby. She’d be down the park laughing comradely with other mums all in their unbrushed, ungroomed glory. Being a Mum back then was very chatty, very friendly and warm.
These days a simple thing like popping out to get a loaf of bread means full face of make-up, gleaming washed hair, skinny jeans and a cashmere sweater. Don’t forget this season’s accessories least people only give you 6 points for trying. And… if you plan to walk behind a pram in an urban area… get the killer heels out. There is no room for practicality in yummy mummy-dom… deviate from the rules and everyone thinks you simply have gone to pot.
It doesn’t get any easier at the child gets to school. The school gates are mean places. No. I’m not talking about the kids…. It’s the other mums. WHERE do they get the time? They step out of their cars looking like they are just about to go to Royal Ascot! When I worked part-time when my son was little, I finished work an hour early so I could rush home and change before getting to the school gates. I’ve witnessed working Mum’s changing outfits on the train just so that they look good for the school gates… like dressing for work isn’t enough stress when you have kids!! Even the stay at home mums knew your child is heading for social ostrichisation if you turn up in hurriedly pulled on jeans and a top covered in jammy finger prints. You tell yourself you are doing this for your kid and you fall in.
For me it did get easier when I returned to full time work and left the grandparents to it. But still, school events demanded my attendance and be it sports day, parents evening or the school play – I filled with fear of failing to reach even the bottom rung of the required standard of Yummy Mummyness. The general rule is that you must look as if motherhood is something you take in your stride. It does not affect your physical appearance AT ALL. You and your offspring must look perfect at all times.
When you have a baby – you snap back – there is no post baby bulge. Your nails will be painted, your lippy will be on and you will be in this seasons outfit. Your heels will be high. Your hair will be long and groomed and your earrings will be dangly. Your baby will instinctively know not to grab at either. Your baby will be dressed like a mini grown up (baby leather jackets were all the rage when my son was tiny). These rules linger till pre-school.
Then you must enter the arena of the birthday party and have original themes and extravagant ‘thanks for coming gifts’. (I remember when thanks for coming was a slice of cake to take home!). You must also hold back any signs that you are any older than when you gave birth three years ago. You should by now be able to run after a hyperactive toddler in 3 inch heels. Said child must at all times be clean and ready at anytime to shoot the cover of Toddler Today.
These rules increase as the child heads steadily through primary education. By the time the child is 11 you must now look younger than you did when you had him. You may well be middle aged but you must pass as the slightly older sister of a twenty something. Botox is not shameful and dressing in anything that Liz Hurly would wear is mandatory.
Child is now at secondary school. You must now be able to pass as a sixth former…or at least be MILF standard (by which Yummy Mummy rules say Rachel Hunter is now your role model). You must also always be prepared to show the other mum’s how hard you work at it by having an expensive gym bag visible. (This whilst wearing killer heels… you must NEVER be seen in sports wear!) You always must be seen as having to just dash as you have somewhere else to be… your life is one big juggling trick. Basically, as your child ages, you become younger. You are the busiest and most fabulous Mum on the planet and… incidentally, your stomach is always be ready to be used as an ironing board should the need arise.
I am so intimidated by these Yummy Mummies. It all seems so much work! Half the mothers in my son’s secondary school never eat or are unable to move their eyebrows due to botox. Where as I hoover up food like it’s going out of fashion and find a conversation with someone who remains expressionless scary! But I’m not brave enough to strike out against them. I was not brave enough to turn up at the Gifted and Talented Summer School in sweatpants and a tee-shirt. I am sad to say that not much has changed over the years… the slap went on, the magic-pants were rolled on, the whole Rachel Hunter ensemble went on… and I teetered to the gates in killer heels! Now this was good for my son. Kids like order, they don’t mind rebelling but the last thing they need is a rebel parent bringing down the status quo. So, out he ran towards me at the end of the session, pleased to see me as always. And I supposed I looked exactly the same as the other mums…. Except for one important detail… I at least could raise an eyebrow!
by Jax – Author of the JaxWorld Blog