Mamas and Beauty: Why Do We Judge So Harshly?

Mamas and Beauty: Why Do We Judge So Harshly?

Do you remember high school homecoming games? I do. Every December, with the crisp smell of late autumn in the air, the past year’s graduating class would reunite at the football stadium, and I would head over to evaluate who among the gals had cut their hair (super cool) and who had gained the dreaded freshman fifteen (not so cool). Today I find, quite frustratingly, that I’m still engaged in the same snarky behavior with women my age, only this time I’m noticing the opposite trends among my peers: extremely skinny mamas with Rapunzel-like hair piled atop their heads. So of course I have to ask: What the heck is going on?

Let’s start with the hair. Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s noticed that so many mamas have gone Jessica Simpson with the long hair. Everywhere I look, I see women with locks hanging down their backs or thrown up in the oh-so-casual ponytail. Whether it’s at the gym, school drop-off, the grocery store, or the farmers market – show me a mama who has toted a diaper bag in the last five years and I can guarantee there’s a hefty ponytail-holder collection in her bathroom vanity. I tried to get on board last year and join the fun, but I soon discovered that it’s impossible to have hair past my shoulders unless I plan to enter – and win – a Raggedy Ann look-alike contest.

Now let’s move onto our bodies. You want to look stunning after having a baby.  We all want to look stunning after having a baby. And since you probably don't want to admit it I will: A big reason I want to look fab is so other women notice. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted perusing other mom's Facebook profiles. After the requisite review of the cute kids, I’m looking for one thing: arms. Show me those arms, ladies. If they’re mushy, like mine, I breathe a huge sigh of relief. If they’re cut and toned, Michelle Obama-style, I silently curse the woman for being so disciplined. Then I tell myself I’m going to lift arm weights every other day for the next six months. That usually lasts for about three days, meaning I do it twice.

Lately, my obsession with looking pretty has gotten worse. In part, I know it’s because I have a photo session scheduled in seven days (gulp). I planned it six weeks ago, thinking I’d starve myself for a month and a half to get down to my target size, a size I know I can't sustain if I want to, oh, eat once in a while. It didn’t happen the first week or the second. I was sure I’d finally summon some self-control once August hit, but that didn’t happen either. Now I’m staring at the big X on the calendar, wondering how I can politely ask the photographer if she has a miracle lens that can make me look like a twig. Because that’s how I want to look, like an emaciated twig.

The other reason I'm more obsessed with my appearance than usual is because I've quickly discovered that writing and video seem to go hand in hand. I've been ridiculously lucky lately and have been asked to join a variety of online chats to talk about a piece I've published or share my opinions about modern parenthood. I'd so love the video thing if I could avoid just one aspect of it: the video. Not only do I see myself on the computer right as I'm talking, but I also know that the video will be posted online forever. Seriously. It's on there forever. So the whole time I'm talking I'm wondering if I sound stupid, if I look fat, and if anyone else is noticing that I sound stupid and look fat. This is at the same time I’m proclaiming to anyone who'll listen that women should not have to conform to a man’s standard of beauty, that we can look like normal women of a healthy size, un-airbrushed, and still feel our best.

I guess, deep down inside, I’m still that judgmental 17-year-old, standing under the harsh stadium lights and analyzing every girl who walks past. I’m looking at her hair and her body and determining what her worth is. Then I’m going home, looking in the mirror, and doing the same thing to myself. When and if this will never end, I'm not sure. I can only hope it does soon, before I pass the ball to my little girl.

~By Wendy Widom, Families in the Loop


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