Let’s start with a question: Have you seen Kim Kardashian’s ass lately? And if the answer is no, under what rock do you live? Last week, Paper Magazine released their Winter cover, featuring the extra-glossy derriere of America’s favorite celeb to talk smack about, and although it didn’t actually break the internet, it did immediately ignite the controversy Paper Magazine no doubt intended. There are a lot of questions surrounding the Great Nude Cover of November 2014, but there’s one in particular that sets my brow to furrowing. Can a mother be sexy?
A great deal of concern and denigration has been heaped on Kim for being an “inappropriate role model” for her toddler-aged daughter, North, and for taking part in such a highly sexualized photo shoot when she has a child at home. Now that from her womb has come a tiny human, she is supposed to be better than all this. She’s supposed to be above posing for a magazine cover that, if we’re being honest, features a wide smile and hairstyle that makes her look a little like the most fun gal in Whoville. Mothers just don’t do those sorts of things, and shame on her.
This criticism, of course, is not saved just for Kim. Any mother who dares express their sexuality or enjoy a night out, whether a celebrity or not, can become the target of modesty policing. We hurl all sorts of slander at women who don’t conform to a very narrow definition of what a “good mother” should look and behave like, often couched in language that calls into question their ability to even parent.
Which is, to be frank, ridiculous. Society has always cast shade on female sexuality, so widespread discomfort with a woman baring her bodacious body on the cover a magazine doesn’t come as a surprise. But society’s obsession with mothers, and the puritanical vision of what makes a “perfect mother,” is nonetheless frustrating and sad.
Good Moms are supposed to be thinking of their children at all times. How can you possibly be going about the delicate work of raising precious children if you still, from time to time, engage in super-sexy-fun-times with a partner of your choice? The act of carrying a child and going through labor is, apparently, supposed to be a purifying and clarifying experience. Gone are the days of being a human, for now you are a Mother, the ultimate caregiver and selfless woman. Never mind that sex is what made you a mother in the first place, or that under the layers of spit-stained clothes you still have a body that sometimes calls out for some heavy petting. Those base desires are below you now, Mother.
Why are we so wigged out at hot moms, and at moms who aren’t ashamed of their bodies? Why are we more comfortable thinking of mothers as frazzled, buried under clothes they were too exhausted to wash the baby vomit out of, fretting about that last few pounds of baby weight and the dark circles under their eyes? We prefer our mothers weary and weak, consumed in the act of raising children, and cannot conceive of them as complete people.
Culture both loves and hates the sexualized mother. We have made her taboo, and therefore we are repelled and drawn to her in equal measure. MILFs are seen as sexually aggressive women who, despite having children, are still out to get theirs, like Stiffler’s Mom in the “American Pie” series. These caricatures of female sexuality—wrapped in animal print and prowling for young men—are a trope that can be laughed at, not really a threat in anything but frat boy comedies and bad porn. Teens use the sexuality of mothers to insult peers: “Your mom is hot” or “Your mom and I had sex” are both among the worst things two kids can say to each other. We are more comfortable with sexual moms as jokes and punchlines than as reality.
A lot of people have chosen to tear down the Paper cover with three words, “You’re a mom.” As if, perhaps, Kim had forgotten as some point between leaving the house and baring her ass that day. And as if that says it all. That simply pointing at someone and saying, “Mom,” is enough to erase any semblance of sexuality from her identity. You aren’t supposed to want or be human or be sexy. You’re supposed to be a mom.
We all need to grow up. Yes, your mom is hot. Yes, every now and then she’s gotta get her some. And no, that has no bearing whatsoever on her ability to be a great, supportive parent to her children. What will North think of her mom’s magazine cover? Absolutely nothing, because North is an infant. And if someday North does come in contact with these images, or any other that displays Kim’s body, it’s up to the Kardashian-Wests to decide how to address female sexuality with their daughter. So put away the sharp tongues and side-eyes.
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