Like a good many New York Post trend pieces, the recent one about “hot moms [who] love to strut their stuff at school drop-off” has a whiff of manufactured controversy about it. The thesis of the story—that more and more moms these days are “too hot for school, donning high heels, sexy frocks and conspicuous labels just to unload and pick up the kids”—is supported by a handful of personal anecdotes, including the founder of a blog called “Divalysscious Moms” and an Upper East Side plastic surgeon. Whether or not this is representative of an actual movement is debatable—and not the point. When it comes to generating clicks and outrage, there are few combinations as potent as “hot” and “moms.” Everybody wants a look, as well as the ephemeral pleasure found in rolling one’s eyes at a group of privileged fools.
But get past the priggish impulse to cast judgement against women who refuse to rid themselves of all evidence of their sexuality after having children—along with the more justifiable resistance to the rising emphasis on female hotness during the Kardashian and Instagram age—and you can see how these moms are not so different from their less hot counterparts after all. Like all moms, they are fielding a set of conflicting and confusing messages about women’s worth after having kids. And like all moms, they are finding ways to cope.
According to the interviews with the Post’s sources for this story, many of these women decide to dress-up in order to be seen as someone who does more than just care for their children. These women attempt to compensate for the lack of respect given to caretakers by trying to appear like a somebody, albeit a somebody more inspired by Kim Kardashian than Sheryl Sandberg.
“I used to work, and I like to dress,” one says.
“They think I’m going to work after — that I have a meeting I’m dressing up for,” adds another.
For all of the women, hotness is a vehicle to get attention, or feel noticed.
The decision to leave the paid workforce after having children remains a fraught one for many women. There are a number of external factors behind this choice, including family unfriendly government and workplace policies, and sexist ideas about who should watch the kids and who should work for money. And there are also a number of internal ones: For a lot of women who have the means to do so, being around their children all day is more appealing than other forms of work.
The importance of care work has long been overlooked by pretty much everyone, including feminists who spent much of the last half-century working on getting women out of home and into the workforce. Today, the feminist project has expanded to include both increasing the number of women in paid work and positions of power and giving adequate respect to caretaking—enough, ideally, to inspire men to do it in equal measure. Unfortunately, we have yet to achieve this state, and as such, many primary caretaking moms feel compelled to boost their status through other measures. For some, it’s dressing hot.
Hotness is an imperfect tool for self-esteem building. It privileges the young, is expensive, time-consuming, and can easily backfire. (Draw too much attention to your looks and at some point you run the risk of only getting attention for your looks.) But simply rejecting hotness isn’t much of an option, either. Moms are routinely criticized for frumpiness, or resorting to low-maintenance, unflattering haircuts and clothing after having kids. Mom hair, mom jeans, mom shoes—not one of these phrases carries within it a frisson of aspiration or sophistication.
There’s sure to be a range of acceptability when it comes to mom hotness, an ideal level of hotness that will not have you accused of being too sexy or too frumpy, but it’s difficult to figure out. Right now it seems like ideal hotness lies somewhere in between pairing high heels and skinny jeans for drop-off (too hot), and donning a mom bob (not hot enough). But unfortunately these perimeters are bound to shift, and soon.
Ultimately, the most offensive thing about women and hotness is the non-stop conversation on hotness. The less prescriptions there are about how women should dress, the more women will feel free to wear what they want to wear, unburdened by outside ideas about what’s appropriate. Until this happens, let’s leave the hot moms alone.