When Kim Kardashian exposed her oiled-up, naked body for Paper magazine, legions of people shook their heads in disgust—not because they disliked the photo itself or were exhausted by Kim’s nonstop PR machine, but because they were worried about one little thing: her daughter.
“I normally don’t. But…you’re someone’s mother…” That was the note Naya Rivera left on Kim’s Instagram pic of said cover. It wasn’t just Rivera, either. Legions of bloggers and Internet commenters chimed in, trying to shame Kim for posing nude post-motherhood. “But what about her daughter?!” people asked. The implication was that, as a mother, Kim shouldn’t flaunt her sexuality lest it stunt her daughter’s emotional development or just ruin her life forever. But also because she’s a mother! And what about the sanctity of motherhood?!
This raises the question: Are moms supposed to suddenly metamorphose after they have a child? For the record, I am not a fan of the picture simply because I find it tacky and aesthetically hideous. But the fact that she is a mother has nothing to do with my dislike of it. Kim Kardashian has never exactly been the cookie-baking, van-driving, twinset-wearing, soccer-mom type. The only thing that could be more shocking than her nude spread would be if she filmed a speculum going into her vagina for Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
However it’s not just posing nude that’s the problem here. Merely expressing overt sexuality in any form is reason enough for the morality police to wag their fingers. The same accusation was leveled at Beyoncé after she posed semi-clothed in GQ and released her last album, Beyonce, with its depictions of backseat blow jobs, cunnilingus and orgasms (to her credit, Beyoncé preemptively answered her detractors by also releasing “Grown Woman”). Similar criticisms have been lobbied against everyone from Jenny McCarthy when she posed for Playboy to Jennifer Lopez when she released her single “Booty.”
So these women are, at the very least, enjoy expressing themselves sexually, but what does this have to do with their parenting skills? No one has ever questioned the parenting skills of Martin Luther King, Jr., though he had multiple affairs. Or Donald Trump. Or Bill Clinton. In fact, the latter was chosen as “Father of the Year” by the National Father’s Day Council. Obviously, their behavior was sexual in nature, but it went past the realm of self-expression and into the realm of deceit. Shouldn’t that be considered worse?
Though countless articles encourage women to get in touch with their sexuality and bounce back post-baby, the reality is that if a mother openly embraces her sexuality, she is perceived as being someone of loose morals, and even worse, not a good mother. The message? Motherhood and sexuality cannot coexist.
Yet when it comes to fathers, there is little if any criticism when they choose to act in a way that is sexual. Take Robin Thicke and T.I., for example, both fathers, the former to a son and the latter to six children, including two girls. Though there was much said about the “rape-iness” of their song “Blurred Lines” and whether or not it was demeaning to women, no one ever said, “He’s a father! He shouldn’t be dancing around with naked women singing about sex!” Or, “What will his children think when they realize their dad was singing a song about (possibly) non-consensual sex?” Or, “How will the kids feel when they see dad was dancing around with naked women, none of whom are their mother?”
Then there’s Kim’s hubby Kanye. There was no outcry when Kanye rapped about “impregnating [Kim’s] mouth” (as he so eloquently did on Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love” remix), because he has a little girl. On the contrary, he often raps about their sex life. So why does Kim get all the flak for being too sexual?
According to psychotherapist and gender studies expert Kristen Martinez, “It boils down to the old Madonna/whore dichotomy. We haven’t gotten used to the idea that women post-motherhood still possess sexuality. Our culture doesn’t talk about and definitely doesn’t celebrate the multifaceted identities of mothers—as sexual beings, lovers, and independent women.”
Perhaps the worst part of all of this is that the criticism is often (but not always) lobbied by other women. Take this simple Shape cover of Sofia Vergara posted on US Weekly. A quick scroll down to the comments shows a bevy of women who find her cover offensive. “She strikes me as very immature for a 40-year-old woman with a 20-year-old son. Whatever,” and, “I’m a 24-year-old mother of a 2-year-old and I still wouldn’t be showing off my goods the way these ladies do!” Never mind that she’s a) on the cover of a fitness magazine, b) more clothed than one would be on a beach, or c) men (who are fathers) appear shirtless on fitness magazine covers all the time.
On the flip side, the comments for another US Weekly article about David Beckham’s underwear line show people feel quite the opposite: “Yes ma’am!! Put a big smile on my face during break. Lol!!” “Gorgeous man!” and “Oooh child! He is smoking!!!!” were just some of the comments. David Beckham, for those of you don’t know, is a parent. Just like Sofia Vergara. It’s as though there is something about female sexuality, and specifically the sexuality of mothers, that is inherently threatening.
Martinez agrees: “Sexuality is still so tinged with ‘badness’ that we can’t fathom the idea that a mother still possesses a healthy normal sexuality. Mothers should be perfect, clean and devoid of ‘sin.'” A mother who is sexual is therefore sinful and trashy in our collective eyes.
But it’s not just celebrities who face this criticism. Sex blogger Kendra Holliday found this out the hard way. In a modern day version of the Salem witch trials or The Scarlet Letter, Holliday’s daughter was expelled from school when the townsfolk found out about her blog, “The Beautiful Kind.”
“Everyone was wondering what [my daughter’s] friends would think, what would the school think and would she be teased. I was volunteering at my daughter’s school and they kicked me out and said I couldn’t come anymore. My ex-husband even sued me for full custody saying that I was an unfit parent.”
She continues, “It’s funny how in our society everyone coos over babies, but the act of making the babies is something to be ashamed of. And once you’re a mother, everything is supposed to change.”
Holliday brings up a valid point. Though MILFs seemingly proliferate pop culture, our culture’s acceptance of sexy moms only extends so far as the ability of teenage boys to find their friends’ moms attractive. In other words, if a mom just happens to be sexy (remember that video for “Stacy’s Mom”?) that’s totally A-OK. Boys, feel free to enjoy! But should a mom actually want and desire sexuality on her own terms, then she is seen as selfish and uncaring and damaging to her children’s mental health.
Holliday disagrees: “My daughter is 14 now and completely well-adjusted and hasn’t been teased. Becoming a mother doesn’t mean giving up your soul and who you are. I keep my sex life separate from parenting.”
Perhaps instead of regulating women’s bodies and our perceptions of them in every possible way, we should just let them live. Some women are moms. Some aren’t. Some like being sexy. Some don’t. Maybe we should respect women’s sexuality that same way we do men’s.
The truth is that by and large, while we can accept that Dad likes looking at his stash of nudie mags or porn (because boys will be boys, even if they are men), most of us are still extremely uncomfortable with the fact that our mothers can and do have the same needs.
Never mind that motherhood begins with sex (most of the time). Just don’t tell anybody.