THE IMAGE OF MOTHER Who's hot now? MOMMY
From minivans to miniskirts, today's momsare hotter than ever.
By LISA ANDERSON
SO LONG, SOCCER MOMS IN MINIvans. Hello, hot moms in miniskirts. Americans may still feel the same way about apple pie, but the image of Mom in the sentimental land of June Cleaver and Harriet Nelson is undergoing what some might call an extreme makeover.
From the voluptuous, fictional, 40-something "Desperate Housewives" of Wisteria Lane to such svelte real-life pushers of prams as actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Roberts, mothers in popular culture rarely have been portrayed as so stylish, so seductive and so, yes, sexy. So hot, in fact, writers pen songs about them, retailers stock stores for them, and publishers make cover girls out of them.
Hot moms, in fact, have graced the covers of three non-mom-oriented magazines this month, underscoring the spreading popularity of a concept that is as complex as it is controversial.
If "there are no ugly mothers on Wisteria Lane," as Kathy Newman, an English professor and specialist in media studies at Carnegie Mellon University, pointed out, neither is there a simple definition of what makes a mom hot. Teri Hatcher, who plays the divorced, work-at-home mother of a teenage daughter on ABC's soapy suburban series "Desperate Housewives," appeared on the February covers of two quite different magazines -- the upscale fashion book Harper's Bazaar and the down-and-slightly-dirty so-called "lad mag" FHM.
Each had a decidedly different take on the new hot mom.
Billed by Bazaar as "America's New Domestic Goddess," Hatcher, 40 and the mother of a young daughter, looked like a tanned, toned and tasteful socialite in a slinky, backless, coral chiffon evening gown designed by Roberto Cavalli and priced at $10,480.
On the cover of FHM (For Him Magazine), where the racy cover lines included "One Night Stands," it was mom as minx. Hatcher, sitting legs apart, wore a Mona Lisa smile, a provocative stare and little else in a low-cut black lace peignoir, split open in the front to reveal a pierced navel and polka-dot panties.
And Elle featured actress Uma Thurman, the 34-year-old mother of a young boy and girl, wearing a Fendi leather jacket and an embroidered shirt that bared a taut bit of belly over a pair of low-slung Diesel jeans -- a look that would be equally appropriate on a woman half her age.
Why not, said Dev Patnaik, a professor of design consulting at Stanford University and co-founder of Jump Associates, a marketing strategy firm that advises manufacturers and retailers, such as Target.
"We're looking at a whole generation of Baby Boomers who are not acting their age. Generation X picks up on that," he said.
"We have been noticing these changes in moms over the past five or seven years," he said, noting that "Desperate Housewives" may best encapsulate the trend toward fitter, more fashionable mothers, whether working outside the home or not.
"True wit is nature to advantage dress'd, What oft was thought, but ne'er so well expressed," said Patnaik about the top-rated television show, quoting the poet Alexander Pope.
"If you look at Target, for example, the average customer is 34 to 36 with two children. We're not selling her aprons, we're selling her Isaac Mizrahi," he said of a hip fashion designer. "Sexy does not have to mean trashy at that age."
Lines have blurred
But combining sexiness and motherhood can be a tricky equation in a decency-obsessed society with strong feelings regarding what constitutes a good mother, said Sharon Hays, a sociologist at the University of Virginia and author of "The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood."
"Of course, these hot moms have this sexy and alluring side and with that comes a darker side, which is cunning, manipulative, catty and even deadly," said Hays, noting we have been here many times before.
Think Mrs. Robinson in the 1967 film "The Graduate." Think 1978's "Harper Valley PTA." Think 2000's "Erin Brockovich." Think 2002's "White Oleander." All depict sensual women who drew well outside the traditional G-rated maternal lines of dress and behavior.
While ABC rejected a pilot for "Hot Mom," a series about a wedding planner whose social life eclipses that of her daughter, the WB Television Network plans an April debut for "Living with Fran." It stars Fran Drescher of "The Nanny" as a miniskirted, middle-age divorcee and mother of two, who has a live-in boyfriend half her age and only slightly older than her medical student son.
And last week ABC announced "Soccer Moms," the pilot for a new series starring Kristin Davis, undeniably "hot" as Charlotte in "Sex and the City," as one of a pair of suburban housewives-turned-private-investigators.
The best she can be
The concept of the hot mom comes with a "built-in contradiction," Hays said. "Just as you can't be a working mother and be a 'good' mother, you can't be a sexy mother and be a 'good mother,' because in both cases you're being too narcissistic."
"The 'good' mother puts her children at the center of the universe and thinks nothing of herself," she said, noting that she believes this ideal of selfless, "intensive" mothering emerged simultaneously with the increased participation of middle-class women in the workforce as a result of the women's movement.
"That is probably the most deeply rooted image that all mothers deal with in this culture," said Joanne Brundage, founder and executive director of Mothers & amp; More, 17-year-old national support and advocacy group for mothers, based in Elmhurst, Ill.
"We're all enculturated to believe that mothers are selfless individuals and that being invested in your family precludes you from having a life of your own and having any level of self-centeredness. I see women going through this inner turmoil daily," she said. "It's not an intellectual exercise. It is still an emotional thing."