CHICAGO — There’s no apron, no mom jeans or frump of any kind. These days, it’s all about being a “momshell,” the latest term used to describe a new generation of bombshell moms.
You can find these moms just about anywhere — in Hollywood, in the White House, probably in the house next door.
“There’s never been a hotter time to be a mom,” says Jessica Denay. A mother in Los Angeles, she wrote “The Hot Moms Handbook,” one of a number of recent books aimed at women who proudly sport T-shirts, mugs and all kinds of paraphernalia that declare motherhood sexy. Denay also founded the Hot Moms Club, which began as a small group of mom friends eight years ago and has since expanded to an Internet-based social network of more than 110,000.
It’s tough to pin down the exact origins of momshell, which began turning up on blogs, Facebook and Twitter with more frequency last fall. The term and “yummy mummy,” its equivalent in the U.K. and Australia, are meant as compliments, nods to moms who find time to take care of themselves while caring for their kids.
In this country, momshell has become the tasteful alternative to a more salacious nickname for hot moms, made famous in the movie “American Pie.” We’ll stick to the more G-rated versions in this story, but Tina Fey used the naughtier term in her imitation of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who’s sometimes included on the seemingly endless number of “top 10” hot mom lists online. Others include Jessica Alba, Demi Moore, Nicole Richie and, more recently, first lady Michelle Obama.
All of it is supposed to be funny and playful, even empowering.
What makes a woman like Michelle Obama a momshell is not just that she’s “a beautiful person, inside and out,” but that she’s also made the sacrifices of motherhood more visible, says Christine Louise Hohlbaum, a mom and author of “The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World.”
Still, some wonder if the focus on appearance has gone too far, pressuring women to not only have it all, but to try to be it all, too.
Hollywood moms seem to effortlessly drop their baby weight in a matter of weeks, while everyday moms struggle. And moms on the “Real Housewives” reality shows leave us wondering just how much of them is still real.
“Now moms are expected to be gorgeous on top of everything else? It’s too much,” says Elayne Rapping, a professor of American Studies at the University at Buffalo, who specializes in media and pop culture.
A mom herself with grown children, Rapping says she recently discovered that some of her son’s friends were her secret admirers when they were teenagers.Hearing it now, she realizes she’s supposed to be flattered in an age when Mrs. Robinson from the 1967 movie “The Graduate” has been replaced by “Stacy’s Mom,” the object of a teenage boy’s lust in the 2003 song by Fountains of Wayne.
“But honestly,” Rapping says, “there’s something creepy about it.”
Dr. Liesl Smith, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Dallas, Texas, also worries that the momshell trend could set up unrealistic expectations and encourage moms to compare themselves to one another instead of doing what’s right for themselves.
“I have patients and friends say to me often, ‘I don’t know how you do all you do,’” says Smith, who works full-time at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, is pregnant with her third child, exercises regularly and likes to cook dinner for her family most nights.
“But I have lots of help,” she says, including a supportive husband, a nanny and neighbor who often lends a hand. “And in the end, I often feel like I have left something short.”
Adding the need to be hot on top of it all, she says, could just tip over a mother’s load.
But Denay, of the Hot Moms Club, insists that finding balance is an integral part of being a momshell.
“I’m not saying put yourself on top of the ‘to do’ list,” says the working mom, who concedes that she feels more like a “lukewarm mom” some days. “I’m saying put yourself on the list.”
For new moms, she says that might mean simply taking a shower — and working up to doing their hair and putting on a pair of stylish jeans instead of sweats, or taking a yoga class.
The idea is that a mom will gain energy and confidence that she can give back to her kids — “and that,” Denay says, “is hot.”
Abbie Tuller, editor in chief of Pregnancy magazine, thinks most moms will take “momshell” and other labels as a nice bit of praise, and move on.
“It doesn’t mean I want catcalls when I walk down the street,” says Tuller, who’s based in the San Francisco Bay area. “But I’m not dead yet.”
And while there is no common equivalent to “momshell” for dads, they shouldn’t feel left out.
“Hot dads?” she says, chuckling. “We talk about them all the time.”