Tuesday 12 December 2017

The mummy rebrand

A new raft of TV shows, books and apps are leading a revolt against the perfect mum-blogger stereotype

Some mothers do have 'em: Sharon Horgan, seen here starring in the hit TV series Catastrophe, has won plaudits for her all-too-real portrayal of messy motherhood
Some mothers do have 'em: Sharon Horgan, seen here starring in the hit TV series Catastrophe, has won plaudits for her all-too-real portrayal of messy motherhood
Midlife angst: Shailene Woodley, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman in Big Little Lies
Peanut app
Blogger Amber Fillerup with her daughter

Orla Neligan

It's 11pm on a Monday night and I'm watching Sharon Horgan's character in the hit TV show Catastrophe attempt to use a breast pump while drunk. It is both unflinchingly funny and toe-curlingly real. As Horgan puts it to her character's husband: "If normal courtship is a dance, then ours is like a heart attack or seizure."

The Meath woman's depiction of a modern relationship and motherhood has an all-too-real messiness about it, tempered with cheerful matter-of-factness that resonates with audiences - we like the fact others share our insecurities and we enjoy laughing in gleeful horror at the frailties of modern life, as opposed to the picture-perfect world someone like Instamom Amber Fillerup portrays online.

It is one of the reasons shows like Catastrophe and Divorce, also written by Horgan and starring Sarah Jessica Parker, are hitting home - they extend the tragi-comic 'truth' which, quite frankly, is refreshing.

Last night saw the premiere of Big Little Lies, starring Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon as mothers of first graders whose seemingly perfect lives unravel to the point of murder. It may be a bleaker, twisted version, but the series still unspools the 'real' dramas of domesticity and midlife angst.

Real women can relate to these characters who are not aspirational in the way that television usually prefers.

The angst is what forms the foundation for much of today's midlife media landscape and its 'reality rebrand'. The likes of Lena Dunham, Tina Fey and Michelle Obama have all rightly been lauded for the way they nail modern womanhood and the media is fast filling up with an endless resource of books, apps, Instagram accounts and podcasts geared for the contemporary midlife mom (who even has a trendy nickname: the 'midster').

There was a time when the term 'mom' elicited a certain kind of eye roll, used to describe someone's ill-fitting 'mom jeans' or suitably middle-aged 'mom haircut'. Nowadays, motherhood has gained a certain hip cachet, no longer viewed as simply a relationship with your children, your one-pot chicken casserole dish and your peg basket. It has been catapulted to the realm of a lifestyle, an all-encompassing identity. Women these days are age-agnostic - everything is relevant to them.

Emilie McMeekan, co-founder of the Midult website - a sort of lad bible for the modern middle-aged woman - notes that the content on their site tackles the conversations we're all having with humour. "Midults exist at the intersection of potential and anxiety. The bedrock of Midult is the forum where women can share their voices, nothing is taboo."

Brand consultant Orlagh O'Reilly runs the Instagram account TheMiniPost, and believes the new images of motherhood are more about reflection than rebranding. "It's a reflection of confidence, to make decisions around being a mother.

"I love what I do and Instagram allows me to connect and build relationships with like-minded mothers - it's empowering. Motherhood brings pressure, but it also brings incredible opportunities. There's definitely a sense of female camaraderie in the world right now. We support one another."

As a working mom with three children, a lot of my time is spent refereeing my toddler terrorists while simultaneously fielding work calls and emails, and trying not to feel guilty or anxious.

I've hit midulthood and while I'm pretty happy in my own skin, I'll admit to buying high-top trainers and toyed with the idea of a fringe.

My 20s were about having fun, my 30s were about forging my career and having a family, and my 40s are still about those things, but there's a little more slack to my mental waistband, allowing more time for self-reflection and a chance to ask myself what I want.

According to lifestyle guru Gwyneth Paltrow, we apparently get a massive 'software upgrade' at 40, fuelling the cliché that we are instantly more comfortable in our skin. That may be so in Goopy world, but for many women juggling the demands of motherhood and modern life, it can bring a whole set of anxieties.

Instagram feeds of yummy mummies like Amber Fillerup both inspire and depress us. Where is the chocolate-smeared furniture? Where is the dirty nappy? Conveniently swept under the couch, that's where.

"People are seeing through the façade of social media and learning to switch off," says psychotherapist Siobhan Murray (Dublincounsellors.com). "The pressure on moms to be all things to all people has increased in recent years. When working with clients, one of the first things I do is start by setting their intentions for the following day, encouraging them to be the best version of themselves with the tools and resources they have."

Thankfully, for every Amber Fillerup, there's a glut of 'real' relatable women on social media. Irish blogger, mum and Instagram star Eimear Varian Barry has 70k+ followers, but insists she doesn't try too hard to make that happen - sincerity and reality is key.

"I want to show the rough and ready of it. Sometimes the most magical moments are the hardest and they're worth showing, people appreciate the reality," she says.

Kate Moss once said "never explain and never complain". Perhaps the opposite is true: show us the chaos, celebrate the real and when Sharon Horgan is flinging dirty cot sheets out the window because she's too tired to clean them, we'll be sitting in the audience, covered in Hobnob crumbs, knowingly nodding our heads.

You know you are a ‘midster’ when...

1. The subject of sleep, or lack of it, surfaces in conversation at least once, if not five times, every day.

2. Sneezing, bouncing or any form of jumping involves unpleasant surprises.

3. Your childminder cancelling is up there with earth-shatteringly ‘catastrophic’ events.

4. Facial hair is suddenly very real and not reserved for the male of the species.

5. You’ve developed a breathless passion for candles.

6. You keep a ‘handy pack of tissues’ in your pocket at all times.

7. You spend as much on ‘good lighting’ as you used to on shoes.

8. When your husband nudges you at 3am, it’s not for a nocturnal liaison — it’s your turn to attend to a screaming/crying/woken child.

9. The contents of your handbag include baby wipes, a pair of socks, Vaseline, a half-eaten apple, a pack of raisins and a work diary filled mostly with stick drawings.

10. ‘Why did I come into this room?’ is a question you ask yourself at least once a day.

The mummy must-haves

What to read: 

The Power by Naomi Alderman — Alderman’s unique novel has one question at its core: what if the power were in women’s hands?; n How Not To Hate Your Husband After Having Kids by Jancee Dunn — a candid account of how to bring a post-baby marriage back from the brink.

What to watch:


Big Little Lies — Mondays at 9pm on Sky Atlantic; n Catastrophe — Mondays at 10.30pm on Channel 4; n Divorce (above) — Sky boxset.

What to listen to:

Scummy Mummies — a podcast presented by two ‘modern mums’ for less-than-perfect parents.

What to download:

Peanut app

Peanut (above) — a Tinder-like app for making new mum friends, aimed at the Insta-loving mum.

Who to follow:

@theminipost, @eimearvarianbarry, @motherofdaughters, @dresslikeamum, @mothersmeetings.

Irish Independent

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