In “How to Look Hot in a Minivan,” former editor in chief of Us Weekly Janice Min draws from her own experiences, as well as expert opinions, to dispel common celebrity mom myths and give advice for staying healthy and happy, even when parenting gets stressful.
the birth of a trend
It was the summer of 2003. I had just taken over the top job at Us Weekly magazine, and my staff and I were noticing the beginnings of a seismic cultural shift: Not only were an unprecedented number of top actresses suddenly pregnant (Courteney Cox, Brooke Shields, Gwyneth Paltrow, Debra Messing, and Denise Richards, to name a few), but they were — for the first time in history — well, flaunting it. Whereas less than a decade earlier it had been de rigueur for even the most famous faces to shun the spotlight while expecting (anyone remember how even Madonna, while pregnant with first baby Lourdes, kept herself out of sight?), now practically half of Hollywood was trotting out with a growing tummy and a resplendent pair of golden globes. Seemingly overnight, being “with child” had changed from something synonymous with modesty — even slight embarrassment — to an exciting style statement. Bugaboos became status symbols. Designer cribs went north of $3,000. (We even published photos of a celeb mom favorite, a Lucite crib embedded with actual leaves and flowers.) And Pilates and Bikram yoga became pre- and postnatal staples.
The once frumpy bump industry was suddenly big business.
That trend quickly trickled down . . .to all 82.5 million moms in the country. At school drop-offs, PTA meetings, and suburban Starbucks from coast to coast, American mothers were undergoing a sort of subliminal group makeover. “Mom jeans” were replaced with low-rise, skinny leg denim; trendy “it” handbags dangled off manicured hands; and one Beverly Hills plastic surgeon even started offering the “Rodeo Drive Mommy Makeover” (a combination tummy tuck and breast augmentation). The idea of a youthful, sexual mother was no longer met with tsk-tsks and disapproval, and — love them or hate them — words like cougar, yummy mummy, and MILF entered the lexicon. The fashionable mom was in fashion. The age of the “momshell” was born.
Something else, it turns out, was brewing in that fateful, sweltering summer. Just eight weeks after becoming the Us Weekly editor-in-chief, I learned that I, too, was pregnant. I was thrilled, of course. I’d put off having children a little longer than the average woman (I was thirty-four) and had no idea what might happen when my husband and I tried to conceive. Those first few months, however, just weren’t pretty. I stuffed my formerly fit self into my regular (rapidly shrinking) clothes until finally revealing the news at sixteen weeks. I developed the pimply, problem skin of a sullen adolescent. And to top it all off, I was mortified when the New York Times ran a profile of me to document the big promotion. The article, actually, was highly flattering — the picture, however, was not. Pregnant face? I had it. And it wasn’t just in my head: A “friend” called to point out just how fat I really looked. (It was a good hazing into the world of maternal insecurities to follow — the worst photo ever taken of me had just run in the most important newspaper in the world. Ugh.)
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I started ogling, with morbid fascination, the photographs that flooded my office — red carpet and paparazzi shots of celebrities in bikinis and bandage dresses mere weeks after giving birth. How did these women do it? I wondered. I’d stare at my own ever-expanding body. Then I’d stare at Heidi Klum (who gave birth to a beautiful baby girl one month before my due date and managed to bounce back before I’d even hit the delivery room). I think I was in a state of denial; the more I looked at pictures of new celebrity mommies, the more I thought that this was just how nature worked. One day you’d look as though you swallowed a basketball. The next day it would be gone. Ta-da!
I don’t know about you, but nobody ever told me how difficult it can be to bounce back after baby — not my own mother, not any magazine article, not even that last chapter in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Even as an educated woman with access to top style experts and fitness gurus through my line of work, I hadn’t fully processed the fact that the female body, after carrying a child around for nine long months, will just never look the same. Obviously, I knew that I’d be gaining some weight, but I just assumed that I’d squeeze it all out in the delivery room, work out a little, and then be back to strolling around SoHo in skinny jeans. A charming, though idiotic, assumption.
So, okay, I know what you must be thinking. Most moms are too busy, you know, raising children to worry about something so seemingly silly as whether or not their lip gloss is from this season’s new line of shades. We rush out the door sans makeup (sometimes still in slippers), comb our daughter’s hair before we comb our own (if we comb it at all), and spend what little free time we do have (which amounts to roughly thirty seconds every other Tuesday) daydreaming about how to make a muffin top suddenly disappear. We spend the majority of our disposable income on diapers and day care and baby shoes and burp cloths. And we look at those other, more put-together moms on TV and in magazines — or perhaps even in the car-pool lane — with envy and admiration. Being a mom is hard enough, and now you’re telling me that I have to look “cute” while my toddler pelts me with Cheerios from her high chair?
In a word (or two), why not? But the difficulty, I think, isn’t that skinny jeans are so hard to get back into; it’s that more and more harried mothers feel the need to martyr themselves out of guilt, to put the needs of their children, husband, other moms, and even the family dog ahead of their own. We’re so concerned with making sure our kids are content, in fact, that we’ve radically increased the amount of time we spend with them. (A study covered by the New York Times reported that mothers today devote around 21.2 hours to child care each week — nearly double what it was in the years before 1995. This, even as more and more women are joining the workforce. And it still never feels like enough!) When I just need a break on the weekend, for example, and I let the boys play with their Nintendo Wii, I feel guilty. If a vegetable wasn’t cut up to serve with their dinner — even though I grew up on Pringles, bologna, and a diet of partially hydrogenated oils — I feel guilty. If I read them only one book before bed, I feel guilty. And who among us hasn’t felt a pang of guilt while sneaking off to get a manicure when we “should” have been with our kids?
The irony, I think, is that in this age of Tiger Mom and Toddlers & Tiaras, of logging miles on your minivan carting kids from soccer practice to swim lessons, of dropping hundreds of dollars on ACT training and SAT prep — all in an effort to make our children successful — the best thing we can do for our kids might actually be to pay a little more attention to ourselves. Countless studies have concluded that stressed-out, harried moms produce stressed-out, harried kids. Maternal stress has even been linked to weight gain, asthma, and — get this — shyness in children. (Who knew?) And in a landmark study published in 2000, Dr. Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute in New York, asked more than one thousand children about their “one wish” for their parents. Did they ask for more time with mom and dad, as parents perhaps expected (or maybe secretly hoped)? Nope. Instead, “kids were more likely to wish that their parents were less tired and less stressed,” Dr. Galinsky said. Remember the Free-Range Kid’s movement? What if, just once in a while, you turned yourself into a Free-Range Mom?
Reprinted by arrangement with St. Martin's Press, from How to Look Hot in a Minivan by Janice Min. Copyright © 2012 by Janice Min.
© 2012 MSNBC Interactive