Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Mommy Myth

My little magazine rant yesterday reminded me of something my professor brought up in my 1999 "Intro to Women's Studies" course at Colorado College: can you imagine how women might have contributed/could contribute to the world if we weren't so damn busy worrying about how we look? Think about all that mental energy that women use considering ads for beauty products & clothes, shopping for beauty products, accessories & clothes, discussing and yes, even worrying about all of the above! I bet I spend 5-10% of my daily energy thinking about how I look, how I compare to other women around me in terms of looks and what I could be doing to improve both my looks and, by extension, my ranking in the beauty pecking order. Now, hopefully most women aren't this pathetic and narcissistic, but judging by the number of ads and articles in women's magazines related to beauty...they are. What ELSE could we do with that 5-10% of our mental and emotional selves? I would use it to A) finish my damn novel, B) hike/play outside, and C) volunteer for all those causes I care about, but never have time to actually help.

In her 2002 book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, Naomi Klein suggests the deletion of mental space and energy due to our concerns about our looks/weight are the least of our worries; many women (as many as a "fifth on college campuses") are actually suffering eating disorders that make them "hungry, weak and sick" (208). No wonder the women of today aren't changing the world at the pace that our fore-mothers envisioned! I know that during the times when I've struggled with my weight and body-image issues, I rarely have time or energy for external projects; instead, I've used those extra kilowatts at the gym, counting calories, or worrying about why I'm NOT at the gym or counting calories.

As an extension of this idea, the celebrity motherhood media blitz that I was thinking about yesterday strikes me as akin to our obsession with idealized female beauty on many levels. First off, all the mothers in the magazines look gorgeous, well-rested and elated at the joys of parenting--they're never shown the way most of the mothers I know look much of the time: pretty put-together (clean, but a tad disheveled), pretty alert (but due for a well-earned nap), and pretty happy (but a little anxious and/or frazzled). These magazine images of motherhood are another face of idealized female beauty--and the new "MILF" fad puts an intriguing spin on the virgin-whore dichotomy...but that's a topic for another post.

Back to my point: seeing all these idealized images of motherhood reinforces the notion that motherhood is the "it" thing to do--it's glamorous, it's sexy, it's a way to prove one's worth in a man's world. Now I'm not saying that becoming a mother is NOT all those things; however when women start to obsess about getting pregnant (...ahem...), doesn't it just start to consume our mental space the way beauty does? "It's glamorous, it's sexy, it's a way to prove one's worth in a man's world"...

What could I be doing with the 10-15% of my brain and heart that are now so focused on making my body the perfect nest for a baby? All the information and research I've done and appointments I've had and the money I've already spent on pre-conception stuff (thermometer, books, sticks to pee on, cute nightgowns, etc.)--what do they amount to but another distraction? Maybe I should use that mental energy to do something good for my neighborhood, to create, to make the world a more livable place for this baby I so desire.

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