It's one of the unexpected things about motherhood. Years after graduating from childhood, breaking through adolescence into the (apparently) powerful and independent era of adulthood, you become a parent and, all of a sudden, your world is infantalised. With the exception of 'labour' - a word which lends a realistic and honest sense of the effort required - motherhood is often dressed up in soft words and juvenile language, and pitched as cutesy, cosy and overtly feminine.
From the moment that your "bump" signals you are 'expecting' your 'little bundle of joy' and you are 'blooming', all the way through to 'playdates', 'baby brain', 'sippy cups' and 'dream feeds', the language used about mothers and motherhood seems to be somehow softened and patronising. What's wrong with being pregnant with a new baby, feeling rubbish, and rocking up to a friend's house tired from nighttime feeds with your baby's beaker?
Just because we have babies, it doesn't mean we have to think like a baby, or that from conception onwards we must talk as if our babies can hear and understand everything we say. What is it about being a mother that renders women instantly weaker, or more needy than they were just a few weeks before - so weak and needy that everything needs to rhyme, or sound fun and cuddly?
A shock to the system
I remember being 26 and pregnant with my daughter (now 12 years old), shopping for my first maternity clothes, and being horrified at how everything seemed to age me by about 25 years. It was all floral smocks and sensible materials... If anything about being pregnant made me feel like I was out of my depth, it was that experience. Wearing those frumpy, decidedly unsexy clothes made me feel like I had woken up in somebody else's body. It was a bitter pill to swallow and undoubtedly knocked my sense of identity as well as my confidence.
Soon after that experience came my first brush with the term Yummy Mummy. I can't recall the exact scenario, but I remember the uncomfortable feeling it created in me. The worst thing being that I got the sense I was supposed to feel grateful - proud even - for the moniker.
Just to reiterate, I was 26. Six months before, I had been wearing skimpy, figure-hugging backless tops without needing to wear a bra, while travelling the world and enjoying life one party at a time - living from moment to moment. So, while I was delighted to be having a baby and I was looking forward to the new adventure with naïve gusto, I didn't feel like a Mummy yet. And in my new maternity gear, I definitely didn't feel Yummy.
And yet, there it was. This patronising, icky, sickly sweet phrase that I was supposed to smile coyly at and accept with grace, as if I had been honoured with a flattering compliment. Looking back, I am sure that lovely men and women - friends and family members - who came out with this vapid term of praise were simply trying to be kind and supportive and, more than likely, just trying to hide the fact that they thought me way too young and free-spirited to be procreating.
I don't want to sound ungrateful. I do thank them for their support and kindness. My issue is not with the people who use the term, but with the term itself.
Why must mothers be qualified as being Yummy? It implies that we (society) think that mothers are not normally Yummy. Do we deep down believe that as soon as a woman becomes a mother, she instantly loses her attractiveness? That she becomes second-rate in terms of desirability? So that when a mother makes an effort to look like her normal self, it has to be remarked upon and noticed?
It implies that Yummy Mummies are a rare subset of mothers who are not Yummy. It implies that being Yummy is every Mummy's main goal; as if being Yummy means you have nailed the Mummy thing. It's as if winning at mothering means being able to look as if you aren't actually a mother. Go figure.
"Why must mothers be qualified as being Yummy? The not-so-subtle takeaway is that being a mother is something you need to hide if you want to be desired, or thought of as attractive"
And what if you are not Yummy? Are you then... Un-yummy? And what would that mean? Would it mean you are a mother who is now undesirable, or unattractive - even if pre-motherhood you were attractive and desirable? Are you rendered unpalatable to society now that you are a mother? Should we even care if that were the case? The not-so-subtle takeaway is that being a mother is something you need to hide if you want to be desired, or thought of as attractive.
I am sure there are women reading this who think I am taking it too far, but I am equally sure that there are just as many readers who also have experienced the hairs on the back of their neck standing to attention due to people's efforts to Mum-ify - and Yum-ify - them.
Parenting blogger and writer Thalia Kehoe Rowden featured a marvellous round-up of negative words and phrases used about women in her post 'Everyday Misogyny: 122 Subtly Sexist Terms About Women (And What To Do About Them)' on her blog Sacraparental.com. Her list includes (of course) Yummy Mummy, but also makes note of other ways in which language puts women into boxes.
She says, "'Feisty' is one. 'Bossy' gets a lot of press. And don't get me started on 'working mother'. How many men have you heard described as 'working fathers', let alone 'dadpreneurs'?" Later she adds, "Blonde - how many men are said to have 'blonde moments'?... Have you ever heard a man called a gossip? I've certainly heard men engage in the activity, but not be criticised for it very often. And as I read somewhere recently, if you think men don't start 'drama', you need to pick up a history book."
Similarly, writer, editor and yogi Sasha Brown Worsham wrote a list of '5 Ridiculous Sex Terms That Are Offensive, Not Sexy', with her own hilarious definitions. The list includes Cougar, Yummy Mummy, MILF and Puma. She says, "For some women (maybe), MILF is a compliment, but, here's the thing: The term 'MILF' implies that there is this whole world of women out there who you are no longer competing with. Now you are hot... for a mum."
According to Sasha's definitions, a Yummy Mummy is "a MILF, only younger." She explains, "Some women like this term. I don't... A woman is a woman is a woman - regardless of whether she is married or has children. If you find her attractive, fine. But there is no need for a cutesy name to prove it."
A source of pressure
As well as the fact that these terms are demeaning, they can also be very damaging to a mother's confidence, self-acceptance and self-esteem. Hearing another mother being called a Yummy Mummy can deal a heavy and damaging blow to a mother who is already feeling uncomfortable in her new body. Many new mums feel weighed down with excess weight and breasts that have evolved into feeding stations - not to mention the labour scars, the physical recovery and the tiredness that feels like it is etched into your face.
Not only are mothers confronted with images of celeb mothers "bouncing back into shape" minutes after giving birth, looking even more glamorous than they did before they had their baby, but we also have the expectation of the people around us - the expectation that it's possible to be Yummy when you are a Mummy.
Researchers at James Cook University, Australia, looked into this pressure in a recent study and reported that, "Ideologies such as 'yummy mummies' are potentially putting unnecessary and unrealistic pressure on new and expectant mothers." They noted that postnatal and prenatal depression have a 10 to 30 per cent prevalence in Western countries, suggesting that pressure to stay fit, slim and Yummy, is perhaps one of the factors leading to these high depression rates.
Meanwhile on the other side of the planet, in Wales, a study of 10,000 women found that the Yummy Mummy title weighs heavily on mums' minds, with 70 per cent of mothers feeling pressure to manage family life and a career, while always looking perfectly groomed; 10 per cent said they felt pressure to look sexy for their partner. The report found that celebrity role models were partly to blame, with study participants naming Victoria Beckham, Angelina Jolie and Madonna as being the celebrities who made them feel the most inadequate.
Even Pippa Middleton has come under fire for putting pressure on mums to look like they aren't actually mums. Before giving birth to her first child, she commented in her regular weekly column for Waitrose Weekend magazine that she was upping her exercise efforts in her third trimester in order not to succumb to the (entirely natural and normal) effects of pregnancy, such as walking "like a penguin" and not being able to bend down.
Thankfully, columnist Barbara Ellen at The Guardian had something to say about this. "Where does such 'still got it!' gestation paranoias come from?", she asks. "Perhaps it's scary for her to see her body change," she empathises. "However, while pregnancy doesn't have to be about 'eating for two', nor is it about 'still being hot', or 'returning to maximum hotness asap'. Certainly, it doesn't seem right for any woman to be striving quite so feverishly to stay in shape during pregnancy - to the point where a child in utero becomes almost reframed as unwanted weight gain."
Read more: Why mums need to be more selfish
Cast off the labels
The term Yummy Mummy has become so ingrained in our lexicon that there are now spin-off terms, such as Slummy Mummy. The Slummy Mummy, as expected, is the mother who rejects the Yummy Mummy pressure and puts her appearance (and implicitly her mothering role) way down on her priority list.
Ironically, in a bid to point fingers of ridicule at the Yummies, the Slummies actually deepen the stereotype. Why must we choose whether we want to be Yummy, or Slummy? Neither are words that I associate with myself. Neither are flags that I want to fly.
Why can't I just be a woman with many different facets to her personality and life - one of which involves raising two children? Why must I aspire to be a Yummy, or a MILF? And if I don't wish to be seen as being as attractive and desirable as a non-mother, why must I then be so derogatory of myself as to classify myself as lack-lustre in my parenting? Why do mothers need to be pigeon holed? There has got to be more to parenting than being Yummy, or MILF-y, or Slummy, or any other type of mother.
My kids still call me Mummy. That's enough for me.
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