Is It Hip to Be Hot?


One mother wonders whether having kids means handing over the keys to your fashionable—and sometimes sexy—wardrobe.

I tried not to take it personally, but I couldn’t help myself.

“Why can’t moms just dress like moms?” whined a radio talk show host recently, following the publication of a USA Today article (and later a Today Show segment) about mothers in their twenties, thirties, and forties who still desire to be (stop the presses!) attractive.

I felt like they were, in some respects, talking about me.

After listening to callers to the show opine, I came to the conclusion that far too many people must be nostalgic for the days when housecoats were the rage and when moms submitted the keys to their sexuality to their OB-GYN in the delivery room.

But wait. We need the back story:

In a piece provocatively entitled, “Mommy Hottest,” USA Today published an article about mothers who have dared to remain fashionable and, in some cases, sexy.

Here’s a little sample: “Mom has come a long way, baby. Of course, she’s far beyond the ironed and buttoned-up June Cleaver archetype . . . She pays attention to trends, assiduously avoiding anything pleated, tapered or high-waisted (the blueprint for the mom jeans memorably lampooned in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch).”

A color photo of a 28-year-old Virginia mom wearing a lower-cut blouse, form-fitting jeans, and heels while playing with her infant, accompanied the article. Svelte celebrity moms—from the “Desperate Housewives” to thirty-something actress Uma Thurman, mom of two, who is frequently photographed in midriff-bearing attire—were mentioned as new mommy fashion icons.

On the day the article was printed, I listened to callers on a local radio show complain that women who wear not just sexy but simply fashion-conscious clothing are selfish, are trying to “beat the clock,” and are trying to tell the world that they’re “on the market.”

USA Today later ran two letters to the editor from readers responding to the article, including one that lambasted a 36-year-old mom who told the paper that she once dropped her preschool son off in an alley adjacent to his school so she wouldn’t be seen uncoiffed. That mother, the letter writer seethed, “doesn’t deserve to have a child.” “As a 45-year-old mother,” the letter’s author continued, “my son’s well-being and education are my top priorities—not my cleavage or the color of my hair. Of course I care about my appearance, but not at my son’s expense.”


The alley dropping off incident notwithstanding (I would push a baseball cap over my un-coifed hair, never unload my preschooler off in an alley), I started making a mental inventory of my own wardrobe. Though I mostly own cotton and various L.L. Bean/Lands’ End duds, I do own a few form-fitting pieces, including two tops that would be described as in the “halter variety.” My clothing choices migrate back and forth between comfortable and wanting to have a little bit of edge amid the child-induced food stains (like, for example, a small white tee with a cartoon called “Margarita Girl” on it, which completely covers my stretch-marked belly, FYI). It depends on the day. And my mood. And whether I’ve had time to shower before trucking my three kids all over creation.

So if any of the letter writers or callers saw me out in public with my small people on one of my spry days, like on a Margarita Girl T-shirt day, I’m left to wonder if they’re silently making assumptions that I’m self absorbed, that I’m trying to act like a teenager, and that I’m trying to send out signals to others that I’m “available.”

I thought we’d outgrown all of this, all of this judging other women based on how we look and how we dress. I felt, after reading the articles and hearing the talk show callers (mostly female), like I was back in high school and that everything about me—most egregiously, my fitness as a mother—was being assessed based on my wardrobe choices. I never realized that being a mother, in the minds of many, meant giving up my own sense of self, when, of course, I have the energy and time to dress like some semblance of my inner-wannabe-fashionable-self.

A sociologist/author explained the premise of this recent phenomenon quite nicely during an interview with The Chicago Tribune. “Just as you can’t be a working mother and be a ‘good’ mother, you can’t be a sexy mother and be a ‘good mother,’ because in both cases you’re being too narcissistic,” Sharon Hays, author of The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood told the paper.

Well, much to the chagrin of the USA Today letter writer and talk show folks, I waste my time coloring my hair, putting on makeup, and occasionally going shopping for fashionable clothing. These things don’t make me a “hot mommy” or a “bad mommy,” they just make me Me. And they don’t come at the expense of my three kids . . . although perhaps those chemical odors from the hair dye do kill off a few of my own brain cells every six weeks or so when those gray hairs start to reappear, but no more brain cells than one would lose on a true “Margarita Girl” day.


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