The fear making mothers invisible
Life’s about film stars and less about mothers. It’s all about fast cars and cussing each other. But it doesn’t matter cause I’m packing plastic, and that’s what makes my life so f***ing fantastic.
And I am a weapon of massive consumption and it’s not my fault, it’s how I’m programmed to function. I’ll look at the sun and I’ll look in the mirror I’m on the right track, yeah I’m on to a winner. - Lily Allen.
The body image issues that plague so many women in our society are very real and are, in their essence, rooted in fear.
Let’s be clear – this is an insidious problem that saps the confidence, creativity and energy of so many women in our society – no matter what age, but alarmingly at an earlier and earlier stage.
Lily Allen’s hugely successful hit song “The Fear” is a seminal look at how success is determined in modern society, the aspirations of many young people - and the confusion, isolation and fear these modern challenges bring.
It contains lines such as “I want to be rich and I want lots of money, I don’t care about clever, I don’t care about funny”, and “I’ll take my clothes off and it will be shameless, cos everyone knows that is how you get famous”. And the killer “Now I’m not a saint and I’m not a sinner, but everything’s cool as long as I’m getting thinner”.
I don’t know whether Ms Allen meant the song as a parody – she is a young woman who herself has had some highly publicised problems with drinking and behaviour – but all good satire is anchored in truth.
The chorus of “The Fear” is perhaps the most telling of all: “I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore. I don’t know what I’m meant to feel anymore. When do you think it will all become clear? Cos I’m being taken over by the fear.”
It’s a song that was hugely popular and many women – including lots of teens and tweens - would know the words by heart. I wonder how many personally relate to them?
The pressure on women to be beautiful, to be consumers, to be thin, and even to be “famous” – which the popular phenomenon of reality TV has now put in the grasp of just about anybody – is enormous and seemingly growing by the minute.
In examining the reasons for this, I think again Ms Allen provides a clue: the first line in the excerpt at the head of this article is quite telling “Life’s about film stars and less about mothers”.
The de-valuing of motherhood has contributed significantly to a loss of matriarchal power in our society. The cult of beauty and youth has become so significant that many older women feel virtually “invisible” in the modern world.
Motherhood is, by it’s very biological nature, an important bridge for many females from youth to adulthood. It’s a tangible “rite of passage” on the road to maturity.
While the world of celebrity has been inundated with babies in recent times, the concepts of motherhood we get from most magazines and the celebrities featured in them are often centred, sadly, around headlines like “How I got my body back”… which only re-enforces the idea that having children is a debilitating process from which you have to be re-claimed.
Or perhaps even more destructively, the stories of the celebrity “super Mum” who not only got her body back, but starred in a movie, visited starving children in Africa, jetted around the world for media interviews and still found time to look gorgeous for the photoshoot in her spotless Bahamas home.
Who could not feel inadequate comparing themselves to that? Of course, there’s a lot in that list that relates to being a “celebrity”, rather than a “mum”. Motherhood is always an addendum to celebrity, an ‘added extra’ as it were.
Sure, we like to talk about celebrity Mums, but there is still precious little in the mainstream media about the real joys and challenges of parenthood. (sans nanny, cook and housemaid) You can find a lot more information on “how to drop a dress size in 2 weeks”, “the latest fashion must-haves”, or “hot tips to make you better in bed”.
(All designed, as feminists would argue, to enhance our appeal to men) The thing is, while we all love our Mums, motherhood is not valued as a personal attribute nor a contribution to society in itself.
Women are not valued for this role - certainly nowhere near as highly as they are for their beauty or celebrity. This I believe has seriously eroded the role of older women in our society.
Instead of being valued for their enormous contribution to society in nurturing and raising the next generation, their wisdom and their generosity, or their achievements in the workplace, older women in our society are often judged on “how good they look for their age”.
I have deep concerns about the sexualisation of young girls and the body image issues with which many teenagers struggle. But the fact is, a lot of older women struggle with these issues too – and they do so in the context of feeling like they are literally ‘persona non gratia’ because they’ve passed a certain age.
There is no silver bullet on this issue.
One thing we do need to do is put motherhood (and parenthood for that matter) on the pedestal that is currently reserved for beauty and youth. We have to send the message to young women that their achievements (both personal and career) are more important and significant than how they rate on the beauty scale. Or the actual scale for that matter.
We have to start talking more about what really matters in this life – and start defining success and happiness by factors other than image and celebrity. Certainly, educational and career achievements are important. But so too is the achievement of mothering.
Many women who have had profound success in the workplace (and even those famous celebrities) acknowledge that the most important job they will ever do is to raise happy children. It’s also the most fulfilling.
But our young women are definitely getting the opposite message: “Life’s about film stars and less about mothers”.
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