There was a time when being a mom was about raising your kids. But somewhere between Demi Moore's naked baby bump and Kate Winslet's new, unreal Vogue cover, motherhood has been reduced to glam.
Hot mom or go home. This is the message we've allowed the fashion mags and media hags to push. We will buy the November Vogue and think, wow, Kate Winslet looks gorgeous. Never mind the fact that her full face has been thinned out, wrinkles removed, belly bump minimized. Never mind that they Photoshopped her into a hot, well-dressed robot.
We want to look like that. But Kate Winslet doesn't even look like that. The star spoke out back when GQ slimmed down her thighs, but she has yet to say anything about Vogue. It seems in the world of fashion and entertainment, even the prettiest people can stand to be a little prettier.
It's our superficial obsession, our hang-up with this unattainable beauty that made us lash out against Maria Kang, a California mom with the Facebook picture that's been around the virtual world to the tune of 16 million views and counting.
In her sports bra and itty bitty shorts, the 32-year-old blogger shows off her ripped abs and her three sons, who at the time were 3, 2 and 8 months old. Her provocative caption: What's your excuse?
Some women say it's Kang's genetics that give her that hot bod. Others feel attacked, wondering why Kang expects them to look like her. She's been called a fat-shamer, among other names. It's the brouhaha over who is bullying whom.
But here's the truth: Kang is a fitness enthusiast. It's her passion. She works out 30 to 60 minutes a day, six times a week. It's common for fit bloggers to use pictures of themselves to motivate others. The problem with her picture and that loaded caption is how we feel about ourselves. We have bought into one, very specific, ideal of beauty and forgot what being a mom means.
Impossible to please
We've happily digested the idea that Jessica Simpson and Kim Kardashian cannot be pregnant and gain weight and wear comfortable clothes without being called fat, frumpy or a fashion don't. We keep count on the months it takes for celebrities to shed the baby weight and show off those post-baby bods.
"In a lot of ways, women can't win for losing," says Erin Best Margolin, co-director of Listen to Your Mother Kansas City, a series of live readings celebrating motherhood. "Creating and carrying a life inside of you is a miracle and something to be celebrated. Instead, it's about how much weight you gain and how much weight you lose. Celebrities are being held up at both ends of the spectrum, and it's unfortunate. Motherhood has nothing to do with how you look."
If Kate Winslet can't be pregnant without being airbrushed to perfection and Kim Kardashian can't put on a few pounds, what does it mean for us everyday women? Still, the word "excuse" in Kang's picture struck a nerve.
"The word 'excuse' carries weight, pun unintended," Margolin says. "If she would have just said, 'Look how far I have come' or 'You can do it, too,' it would have changed things.
"The other side of the coin is I respect her. She is allowed to celebrate her body and use that to inspire. The guilt I feel when I see that is my own voice, that's my own stuff, and I can't blame her for my feelings of self-worth and my struggle with body image. Instead of bullying her, why not click away from the picture? Why look for an ax to grind?"
Loren Ochoa Walsh, a 32-year-old mom, points to the new culture of mom-on-mom bashing.
"Moms are not always supportive of one another," Walsh says. "It's a lot of judgment about everything — how fast your body bounces back, vaccinations, breastfeeding. As a mom, you are constantly treading water. It's rewarding but hard. So when someone throws down the gauntlet, it is not well received.
"I think it's kind of sad, honestly. Becoming a mom is a really beautiful thing, even if parts of it aren't. It's not easy to get back into shape. Not everybody has the same body type. I do think it's important to make healthy choices and take time for yourself to teach your kids by example. But I think there is a lot you can't control, and we should focus on embracing it rather than competing with other moms or putting pressure on ourselves."
We have to take motherhood back from the media, the magazines and the blogs. It's about parenting, not sex appeal. We have to push health over washboard abs. Healthy is Mo'Nique and Kate Upton. It's Kerry Washington and Heidi Klum. And yes, it's Maria Kang, too. Health and beauty look different on everyone.
And before we can wake up to any of that, we have to see beauty within. That's part of being fit, too. Self-confidence and love. The minute we start to own our beautiful, there will be no breaking us down.