Friday, April 6, 2007

Of Moms and Models

Stereotypical notions of modeling and mothers seem quite opposite. Models are often seen as vain, vapid toothpicks, content to chain-smoke and saunter down a runway every once in a while, while the word "mother" connotates a warm and nurturing woman, one who is perhaps a bit frumpy and sexually neutral in the eyes of the media that create this image.

Therefore, it is easy to understand how the concept of motherhood is met with mixed signals on America's Next Top Model. Almost every season there has been at least one contestant with a child; this season there are at least 3 that have divulged this aspect of their life.

The first reaction these girls receive is what I'd like to call the "MILF" treatment, as they are congratulated and drooled over their sexiness and beauty, traits that are apparently alien to most mothers. Tyra Banks and her judging panel did so with this season's Renee at a judging panel, as they commented on her rock hard abs after having a baby seven months earlier. These subtle comments reinforce the exceptionalism of these women: they are hot moms, able to fit into a size zero or two after giving birth, a concept that seems alien to modern-day schemas of soccer moms in sweatshirts and short hair.

Second, the women on the show who are mothers suffer at the hands of the other, childless women, who often throw barbed comments their way. "Noelle talks constantly about her child, 24/7. Okay. We got it. You have a kid. Next," said Brittany in season 4. Many other contestants follow in the same vein, rolling their eyes and making gagging motions as one of their fellow contestants talks about her child. Many of the women on this show are young, ranging from around 17-25, with the average age of motherhood falling around age 28. It may be that for these young girls, motherhood is still a distant thought, but their judgments regarding the young mothers on the show suggest a deeper and possibly more disturbing animosity, as they often call into question the fitness of the mothers.

"If I had a baby, I'd be home with him, not here," is a common refrain for many of the models, as if mothers had not worked outside the home for years. Granted, a reality TV show is not exactly work, but the aversion to a working mother is very much palpable. As Norma Coates writes in her article "Moms Don't Rock: The Popular Demonization of Courtney Love," "These excerpts also implicitly critique peripatetic mothers, who wander away from a stable home base with or without their children. The most extreme conclusion one may draw from them is that Mother should stay at home all of the time, providing a stable and safe haven for her child, an embodiment of 'conservative' family values" (Coates 9). The models on the show exhibit this viewpoint perfectly as they buy into archetypes of what a "good" mother is, and how she should act. As one of my previous posts points out, the content of this show is not all mindless guilty pleasure silliness. The feelings and viewpoints surrounding motherhood on ANTM are not so far off from what society says as well, requiring a closer scope at what may at first appear to be pure, unadulterated fluff.