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.