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Making Peace with ‘MILF’

”You look hot!” a woman said as she passed me on the hiking trail at Chittenango Falls. She eyed my tight tank top and even tighter shorts as I sat on a park bench taking a breather. I nodded gamely.

I’d been hearing that a lot from strangers. Walking across the parking lot after an appointment with my OB/GYN, pushing my cart at the grocery store. Everywhere I went women, men, even teenagers would tell me I looked hot. Then their brows would crease and they’d add, “Are you all right? Can I help you? Maybe get you something?”

Of course I looked hot. It was early June with temperatures in the low 90s and I was dripping with sweat. I was 16 days past my due date, 60 pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight, and my ankles had gone missing weeks ago. My too-tight clothing was as snug as a straightjacket and I was so big Goodyear wanted me to fly over next year’s Super Bowl.

I looked so hot I was a walking public service announcement for the warning signs of heat stroke. But motherhood isn’t a beauty contest, right?

“No photos!” I barked as I held my newborn for the first time, arrogant as any Hollywood A-lister swarmed by paparazzi. But who was I kidding? Hair hanging in greasy strings, eyes bloodshot from pushing during labor—I was far from red carpet material and it was only my husband trying to take our first mother-child photo. But motherhood isn’t a beauty contest, right?

Inside the fitting room I tried on my first skirted bathing suit. It was late August and my post-pregnancy baby flab hadn’t gotten the message that it was supposed to be long gone. My extended family was planning a Labor Day picnic at Verona Beach State Park, and I still couldn’t fit into my pre-pregnancy clothing. Seeing myself in the mirror, I felt the urge to moo. But motherhood isn’t a beauty contest, right?

For 99.9 percent of human history, it hasn’t been. But all that changed with the rise of the MILF. If you’ve never heard of it, MILF is an acronym for Mother I’d Like to Fornicate with. (That’s not the actual F word, but this is a family magazine.) And people are taking her seriously. Really. Go visit the card section at Target during the month of May. You’ll see there are “Happy MILF Day” cards.

The idea of mothers as sex objects upends everything we’ve been led to believe. Motherhood has always been a sacred institution. For centuries, only saints and angels outshone the lady with the baby. Stroll through any art museum around the globe and you’ll see gilded paintings of prim madonnas and somber babes giving testimony to the sexlessness of mothers. Even when a breast is exposed it reads as religious rather than raunchy.

Motherhood has always offered women an umbrella of protection and acceptance that we gratefully took shelter under. If any of us ever looked a little disheveled, or frazzled, or downright unattractive, motherhood was our excuse, our get-out-of-jail-free pass. At least that’s true for us American moms.

In comparison, European women are held to a higher standard and are expected to keep up appearances, kids or no kids. It’s the difference between Honey Boo Boo’s Mama June and Mad Men’s Marie Calvet (French-Canadian mother of Megan Draper, played by Julia Ormond), who proves that even women “of a certain age” can sizzle.

Today, motherhood is a beauty contest ... and it’s rigged. Those virtuous Miss America attributes of poise, intelligence, style, grace and talent? Pffft. It’s all about the swimsuit competition now, and the winner is the smoking MILF in the string bikini.

You know what’s the biggest irony? She hasn’t been around long enough to be of legal age. The 1999 film American Pie gave birth to the MILF in popular U.S. culture, and the 2003 song “Stacey’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne became her anthem. Yet the MILF has hovered at the edge of public consciousness for decades. Although she predates the term, the mother of all MILFs is Mrs. Robinson, the iconic character played by Anne Bancroft in the 1967 movie The Graduate. (She could arguably do double-duty as a cougar, but that’s another column for another time.)

As much as she might like to be one, a woman isn’t a MILF unless she’s the focus of a young man (or boy’s) fantasy. Surf into any online forum about MILF and the comments will reveal why this image resonates with males.

Some believe the MILF is a figure of female empowerment. After all, she’s re-established the sexual attractiveness of women at that point in the life cycle during which female sexuality has historically been downplayed or ignored. For hundreds of years, when a woman assumed the mantle of motherhood she entered a state of beatific grace. She no longer sought out carnal love because motherly love was enough. In contrast, the MILF is comfortable being both a mother and a sexual object—and she’s proud of both roles.

So in many ways the MILF is a kick in the pants for the rest of us. She reminds us that we shouldn’t see ourselves as old and dried up and physically unappealing once children enter our lives. There’s merit in taking care of ourselves, in not settling for that skirted bathing suit or continuing to “eat for two” when we’re long past nursing.

This is not to say that motherhood should be a beauty contest in which we are pressured to strut our stuff. But neither should it be an excuse to give up on ourselves and stand in the wings for the rest of our lives. Just because we’re mothers doesn’t mean we can’t still turn heads and make hearts flutter. If we can embrace our dual lives as moms and sexual beings, that sort of self-acceptance is very, very hot. Stacey’s mom isn’t the only one who’s still got it going on.

Linda Lowen writes for MSN.com, teaches at the Downtown Writer’s Center and is co-producer and co-host of Take Care, a health and wellness radio show on WRVO. She lives in Syracuse with her husband and two daughters.

Illustration above: © Madartists | Dreamstime.com

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York