Friday, August 1, 2014

The pressures of motherhood - is media to blame?

(A typical cover! Img via)

As a woman, I am constantly assaulted by images in ads, TV, and magazines about the idealistic nature of how women should "look" and "behave". This is nothing new. But becoming a mother, I have noticed an added pressure from not only the media, but society as well - regarding the unrealistic expectations of how I should live my life. And the worst part is - I unknowingly have let it pressurize me.

Everywhere you look, you see articles on "The Post Baby Bod" and "Body After Baby", and if you don't manage to lose the weight in like, literally 2 seconds, you've "let yourself go". Remember when Aishwarya Rai got absolutely massacred by the Indian media because she took years to "lose" the baby weight? The media was relentless and criticized her for even showing her face in public until she was toned and fit because "it is her duty", said one commenter. Completely forget about respecting the pregnancy process, new motherhood, or bonding with your baby - it's ALL about how you can get rid of the flab. It's ALL about appearances!

(Img via)

Every family-based magazine you see, whether it be "Fit Pregnancy" or "Parents", or even pictures of celeb mothers in the gossip weeklies - shows a glowing, skinny, fully made up, orgasmic, perfectly put together mother. It is utterly unrealistic and I'm calling bullshit on these fictional standards!!! It's like on top of the already-there pressure of being a woman and having to look perfect, you also have to do ALL THAT while tending to a small child and being sleep deprived. Plus, thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, the new ideal is that you also have to be a CEO and "lean in" the the workforce. It's like nothing has changed from the 1950's except the fact that we also expected to work now too! Talk about an 8-armed goddess! Women are so sensitive of the precarious "work/life" balance - but do men even ask themselves that question? Why is the "can you have it all" debate limited to women?

(This model does not even look pregnant! And don't forget the "post baby workout" headline - Img via)

Society tells us that the ideal woman should be: skinny and gorgeous like Angelina Jolie, Martha Stewart in the kitchen, Sheryl Sandberg at work, a MILF like Kim Kardashian....and now on top of that, I am reading that "you should be mindful". Yes - let us add that to the 100 other things that are on my to-do list!


I can count on two hands the number of close friends and family who have commented on my appearance, saying that I "used to look so exotic" back in the day, when I did 3 hour-a-day makeup. I literally have to remind them that no, I'm just an average mother now. And I have a LOT of other priorities rather than doing 3 hour-a-day makeup - I mean, where is the time? Of course no mention of how well-adjusted my child is, or how well I am doing as a mother (AND as a person!) - everyone is just basically being assaulted by my "no make up" face. Well, shit....get over it! Everyone is also constantly commenting on how I am losing the baby weight, completely devoid of the fact that I already did! I already lost the 40lbs that I gained during pregnancy - and guess what - my tummy is still flabby. So sue me!

What ever happened to being perfectly imperfect? Does that ideal even exist for women?

(Img via)

The problem with these ideals that the media shoves down our throats is that it creates a sense of normalcy that it utterly unrealistic. We are only human, after all - but isn't it true that women are not even seen as human - rather a decorative object. And if we don't look like one of these heavily made-up, PHOTOSHOPPED mothers on the magazines, we are looked at differently, which in turn makes us feel bad about ourselves. There simply aren't enough hours in the day to live up to society's unrealistic standards, to the point where we as women and we as mothers constantly feel like we are lacking in some area.

The average person would say, "Hey, at least we are lucky to have all these choices nowadays - to be stay-at-home or working". Which is true - but it is a cleverly crafted ploy. Society's norms trick us into thinking that we do have a choice - when in reality - we DON'T. To an outsider, it may seem like we have the option of A, B, C, and D. But in reality, we are expected to do ALL of the above - ALL at once. And if we don't, we face judgements (I swear mothers are the most judged people on Earth) - from society, from parents and non-parents alike. You can be a CEO of a company and still get harassed about the extra baby weight. You can be a thin and fit stay-at-home mother, and still get harassed about the lack of career. People just love to point out any "perceived" shortcoming - especially in women. And as mothers, we are blamed for every problem - small and large - while fathers get off scot-free!

(Img via)

What about just being satisfied with "good enough"?

I read a lot of parenting books - by both men and women. The main thing that sets them apart is that the parenting books by women are tinged with a constant state of desperation, of feeling "lacking" and not good enough. They are constantly searching for ways of how to be a better parent to the child and are borderline hysterical. For example, the last two books I read were "Bringing Up Bebe" and "The Conscious Parent" - both written by women. "Bringing Up Bebe" is about an American who moves to France and spends the entire book pressuring herself to be like a French mother, whom she seems to think "has it all together and looks great doing it". "The Conscious Parent" is a parenting book written by a clinical psychologist which basically tells you to change the manner in which you speak to your child so you don't screw them up. Both of them give off the feeling that we are naturally "lacking" and that we as women are simply not doing enough, and we can "do better". But really - do we even need that added pressure???

The parenting books by men are entirely different - many seem to be perfectly content in the chaos of raising children and the imperfections that come with it. The fathers celebrate their imperfections and even joke about it! Their motto is basically "good enough" and "who gives a shit!" - because clearly, nobody's looking! I have also noticed in these parenting books written by men that there is an absence of the notorious "mom guilt" and it is refreshing, to say the least. Take for example, the aptly titled "Dad Is Fat" by Jim Gaffigan. He says in the book, "I don't know what's more exhausting about parenting: the getting up early, or acting like you know what you're doing." It's almost as if the books written by dads are reflective about what real parenting is like - without the smoke and mirrors. It's like being a mother without the pressure.

I really wonder sometimes - is perfectionism solely limited to women? 

(This is the probably most realistic ad I have seen of motherhood - img via)

I feel that it is time to do away with these fictional ideals of motherhood (which can only damage us) and accept our imperfections as parents and people. And that is good enough - and that is beautiful too. That's the new ideal...and I'm calling bullshit on the rest!

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Dear readers, what roles do you think the media plays in setting the standard for the ideal woman and mother? Do you think these expectations are damaging or unrealistic? 


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18 comments

  1. Throw the judgy parenting books away, burn the magazines and tell people to just get lost already! It's hard enough being a mother without all that ridiculous crap. Those celebrities have no diet secrets, they just have the money to get a good plastic surgeon god dammit!

    Funny I have been working on a draft for a blog post about how our generation is pressurised to be perfect parents raising perfect kids. The pressure the media put on us is ridiculous.

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    1. You are right, behind all those buff bodies ( models, celebrity new moms, all the Bollywood Khans etc ) are super expensive Gyms & Trainers, enough hours of the day to focus solely on body, enough staff to take care of kids+housework, Surgeons to provide nips/tucks and diet 'Supplements'. No one talks about this !

      Middle class folks all over the world don't have these luxuries !

      -Ramesh

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    2. I found the time to write that blog post about the pressure to be perfect parents our generation has : http://cynublog.blogspot.in/2014/08/past-imperfect.html

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    3. I totally agree, it is absolutely ridiculous and SO SO far from reality. Sometimes I look at Kim Kardashian and I'm like wondering that her make-up must take her AT LEAST 1.5 hrs!

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  2. Bravo, Bravo! You have echoed my sentiments about this issue - just way more eloquently than I ever could.

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    1. Thank you, I really wanted to get this off my chest!

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  3. @Alexandra

    I think it is the western culture which puts these unrealistic pressure on people to look good after pregnancy. Yes, we do frown over Aishwariya Rai's figure after pregnancy which is most unfair but she in the film industry, so it kind of gets explained. In India is expected that women would get fat after child birth and nobody bothers. No offence meant, but western culture does put more emphasis on outward appearances be it dating or pregnancy. I don't mean to offend you but that the impression one gets.

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    1. I think it is Western culture also, definitely in this case. When I was reading through the comments during Ash's fat-shaming, everyone was comparing her to Western celebrities! I think Western celebrities have really taken it overboard with all this crap!
      Now even the elders in our family comment on our weight, saying who has lost the baby weight the fastest, as if it is some kind of race. Ugh!

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  4. After this post I feel I want to read a few books. "Dad is Fat" sounds great. And I am curious about "Bringing up Bebe". French mothers are far from perfect and they are OK with that. Maybe it's because the Fench value shrinks such as Fran├žoise Dolto, and are aware of the "good enough mother" concept (coined by Winnicott). Or maybe it's because mothers can find a lot of help through official organisations such as PMI (center for protection of mother and child) where you can get free advice by trained professionals...

    However, my husband, is quite shocked by some of the French ways. We had this argument about where should the baby sleep as he thought a bed was barbaric and a hanging sari or a hammock would be better (it's forbidden for safety reasons over here). And he thinks a baby should never cry, which is a bit of a problem for me as I loosely follow Aletha Solter's advice.

    I am amazed that so many people on the street give me advice as what I should do with my baby, but it's OK because many people also tell me she looks funny and healthy. I guess it's because so many people love babies, they just can't help making small talk and giving advice.

    About the after baby body... I do think this is were you can see the misogyny of some people who just seem to hate any sign of motherhood on a woman (apart from the large boobs which don't last). When I go back to work, I know I will have to be very careful about the way I look.

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    1. I think you would get a big laugh from "Bringing up Bebe" since you are French :) It seems to be the classic American saying "the grass seems greener on the other side", she idolizes French mothers! Some of the observations about discipline were really interesting, but overall I think all mothers are in the same boat (except celebrities of course, living on their separate planet!)
      I can't stand random people on the street giving me advice, Indians do that all the time and I have literally had to teach myself how to not take it personally. It bugs me!
      I totally agree about that people hate any sign of motherhood - whether it is the stretch marks or boobs leaking, etc. Like we are doing this full time job but are supposed to look like we aren't doing it. It is absolute misogyny at it's core...

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  5. These standards are indeed bullshit. Somehow women seem to be more prone to perfectionism.

    I think nobody can be perfect or have it all at the same time. We should just take it easy and being 80% good is great. I cannot tolerate it when people harp on about being perfect (that includes bosses as well).

    Not cooking everything from scratch including cookies and cakes does not make one a bad mother. Nor does not playing with the baby all the time.

    We need to take it easy and stop being judgmental of other people as well.

    I feel it is not only the media but all of us buying into it and perpetuating it as well.

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    1. I think perfectionism has been ingrained into women as a means for men to control us and fit all women into this tiny little box.
      Other mothers are the worst also at being judgemental! One of my mom friends was bullied by a group of mothers at a park and she left in tears. It is unbelievable!

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  6. How many people post on FB that they had the shittiest pregnancy ever or that their child drove them crazy and they wished they could get a holiday? None in my feed. All we see are perfect happy families and vacations with expensive Birkin bags

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    1. EXACTLY!!!! Once we start talking about reality, it is like people think we are either complaining or having a hard time!

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  7. Hi Alexandra,

    I agree with you on this matter. The media, since its creation has always been pushy about gender, roles and ethnicity. Sadly, it seems that the women have been having all the time the pressure about fullfilling the ideal of the gender, based on man's and worse, other women perspective (we tend to tear each other apart :/).

    Being a mother, as portrayed by the modern society involves, as you said have all the options available, otherwise you will be defined as a comformist, narrowed minded or bad parent.
    The mothers have it very difficult and I admire them, because they have to be perfect looking and healthy humans, good supportive wives but with own ambitious, have a decent career but also have the time to raise future nobel prize winners but also kind kids. There is too much pressure...

    About the books, I would say not to pay too much attention to them. Half of my in-laws are french citizens and their way of raising their kids has booth good and questionable points as way culture... The problem is when you tend to idealize and convert into models some habits or rasing methods, and this is where the pressure continues.

    My opinion is not to give too much importance to the industry of motherhood. You have a very loving and supporting husband so rely on him. Do as you feel happy and start putting an end to those unnecessary mean comments from people. Is their opinion and their life. As long as your daughter is happy and healthy is what matters. Life and experience will be your best guidance :)

    Take care,

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    1. That is so true. Sometimes I think these books are out there just to further mind-warp us!!! "Dad is fat" was a really great one, I think I will read more books like that ;)
      Motherhood is certainly an industry....it is crazy how it has become.

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  8. i feel everyday all my life i have to lose weight to be in his family his mother went india and come back first thing u putt on weight …can she not ask me how am i??? what to do even my husband now since she came back tells me I'm fat..when i very well not….mayb I'm a voluptuous woman or full figured but come on /.….

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    1. How rude...I am so sorry, I know how you feel! You should tell her she is fat too...LOL.
      Say to her -- ``Too much ghee in the food, Aunty? Had a few too many Kaju rolls, did ya?`` ;)

      Delete

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