Art and Architecture, Sweet Nothings

Oh Baby

Gisele Bundchen and son Benjamin Rein, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier for Vogue April 2011

Images of women and infants have permeated human culture since the beginning time – from cave drawings, to the Madonna and Child, to photos of the Material Girl and her very own brood. These images have whispered subliminal messages to me my whole life, but none quite so clear as the recent photos of Gisele Bundchen and her newborn son in Vogue Magazine. These photos basically scream at me (and any other girl who views them for that matter), “Motherhood is sexy, and you are not a real, sensual or whole woman unless your womb bears forth babies.” Perhaps I’m being a tad dramatic and this isn’t exactly the message Vogue was trying to convey, but why would they have renowned fashion photographer, Patrick Demarchelier, capture Gisele bra-less and caressing her own pregnant belly (and post-baby-skinny riding a horse on the beach with a bare midriff) if they weren’t trying to sexify motherhood? Not only does Vogue’s sexification of Gisele and Child stir up an array of emotions and primal urges in me, but it makes my practical side ask this simple question: are airbrushed glimpses of motherhood really what our society needs right now?

This is to say, I shudder imagining what a 16-year-old girl in the Bible Belt thinks when she sees this imagery. After all, I’m someone with far more years and education behind her than this hypothetical girl, and I have a hard enough time as it is resisting the urge to go get myself saddled up with a baby like it’s this season’s hottest handbag. And, to be honest, if I didn’t have as much sex ed and career planning under my belt as I do, I probably would have caved to these urges long ago. It takes a gal with a rare brand of self confidence not to cave, what with news stories about the Octomom, magazine spreads of Brangelina’s idyllic baby bunch, and footage of Playboy Bunnies popping out kiddos left and right. When inundated with these mama reels, I have to remind myself of two things: firstly, I tell myself that motherhood is not about babies-come-handbags, but, rather, it is about a selfless commitment to raising a human being. Secondly, I remind myself that motherhood is often not as conventionally beautiful as magazines depict it to be: sure, it is a beautiful bond and living miracle, but motherhood is also stretch marks, sleepless nights, working two jobs, eating fish sticks and string cheese five nights in a row, and skipping “Grey’s Anatomy” in favor of cartoons your child wails about if they aren’t permanently on the TV screen. That’s right, although I harbor no ill will toward Gisele as a person, I must say that her image above is neither what it looks like to be a mother nor what it looks like to be a woman; it’s merely what it looks like to be a supermodel holding a baby.

As if this idealized imagery of motherhood doesn’t put enough pressure on me and 16-year-old girls everywhere, we must also contend with the fact that our society places women into three categories: women who are mothers, women who desperately want to be mothers, and women who are heartless bitches. These categories make it hard for sensitive, heart-possessing ladies such as myself to even think about discussing our choices not to have children in public. But, here goes; I’ll say it…I am someone who loves children and dearly wants to raise them, but there are other things I want more in my life right now. This means I’ve prioritized and had many deeply personal discussions with my spouse, through which we’ve decided we aren’t having kids any time soon. Much of society would label me a bitch and a baby hater for this kind of prioritization, and these misnomers are exactly why I feel compelled to write this post today; I realize that my voice – of a woman who loves babies, children and mothers, yet loves her career more – is a voice that should be heard. There needs to be a voice somewhere in this world that discusses the honest priorities that go into family planning, without bashing parenthood or glamorizing it, and – if only for the sake of one 16-year-old girl laying eyes on this – today mine is that voice.

I realize this is headier than what I usually write about and it may be a topic some of my readers are not interested in at all. So, to those uninterested folk, I promise that posts like this will be sporadic and unobtrusive in the future. This is simply something I had to get out, and I thank you for understanding. Please don’t hesitate to forward this article to any women or parents you think might enjoy it, and, as always, do let me know your own thoughts on the subject of motherhood and media…Would you like to hear more of what this little gal’s voice has to say about career/family priorities? Are there any specific topics along these lines you wish to discuss in more depth? I look forward to hearing from you and send you sincerest thanks for being such a meaningful part of my day.

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  • Reply Tony April 18, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Don’t apologize for this. This is the good stuff…

    Baby hater.

  • Reply Jennifer R. Coté April 18, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks for the support(?) there, Tony. 😉

  • Reply Cookie April 19, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Wow – good for you Jen! Even now I look at those images of motherhood and sometimes think that’s not what it was like for me and wonder where I might have gone wrong. Thankfully, that’s only sometimes. Much wisdom here and there can never be too much analysis of the media portrayal of women and its impact on all of us. When the porn photographers crossed over to photograph women in advertising the images became increasingly sexual to more violent. The media assault on women continues – motherhood, fashion, relationships (with men), body images, being single and on and on. What are girls and women to do? Write, talk & support real not air-brushed women. Constantly analyze women’s, not just motherhood’s, portrayal in the media. There could never be too much on this topic.

  • Reply Jennifer R. Coté April 19, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing, Cookie! A rush of emotions and new ideas just overcame me reading your words. This feeling and your insight truly lets me know that these ideas are worth discussing as often as the passion for real, honest dialogue should strike us.

  • Reply L. Harter April 20, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Thank you.

  • Reply Jennifer R. Coté April 20, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    Thank YOU for reading, L…And for being you and all the wonderful stuff that entails.

  • Reply Amoney April 25, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    This article is fantastic. I too am someone who chooses having a career and traveling around the world over settling down to pop out a baby immediately. For years I have been criticized for my option to not have babies, and even for being single. People definitely treat you differently, almost like reverse discrimination. There are all these photos, articles, movies, and even holidays celebrating family, kids, parents, etc…. what about the single people of the world? They should be celebrated for the choices they make too, be it career, travel, not having kids, or anything! Very well written!

  • Reply Jennifer R. Coté April 26, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Thank you for sharing, Amoney! I think your idea of celebrating single people is a fabulous one. Individuals should be praised and celebrated for following their hearts and being true to themselves (whether or not this involves bringing children into this world should be irrelevant). What matters is living the life that is authentically us – people who live life this way should have their own holidays.

  • Reply Cognitive Dissonance | coté writes April 16, 2012 at 10:56 am

    […] say two words: silly me. S-to-the-I-to-the-double-L-Y me…Back in April 2011, when I wrote this post, I was under the impression that my anxieties about child rearing would somehow subside once I was […]

  • Reply Children, Choices, and Everything Else | coté writes July 17, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    […] they’re ours and ours alone to make. For more on this topic, you can check out my take on baby madness, my decision not to have kids, and the importance of priorities. Do you have a perspective […]

  • Reply Shenna Fitzgerald December 12, 2013 at 7:34 am

    Amen, sister! Don’t ever apologize for having an opinion. I loved this.

    • Reply Jennifer Coté December 12, 2013 at 9:31 am

      Thank you, Shenna! I’m very excited to mosey over and check out your blog now. 🙂

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