Yummy-mummy or pramface?

Baby-making has become a high-pressure pursuit, argues Abby O'Reilly. Celebrity 'yummy-mummies' only raise the stakes further and obscure the realities of child-birth and motherhood

Abby O'Reilly, 7 July 2007

The thought of expelling something comparable in size and shape to a hot melon through the most intimate part of my body has never been something that appeals to me. It was a decision I reached at the ripe old age of fifteen, when, during a sleepover, a friend's mother memorably shared her experiences of pregnancy and childbirth with us bright, enthusiastic, impressionable young things. Having had two children, one delivered by caesarean section ("which left me with a saggy stomach that smiles at me"), and the other delivered naturally, allegedly leaving her 'loose' in places I didn't think would be possible, ("don't do it girls, the crotch of your knickers will forever more act as a hammock to hanging bits of flesh from god knows where"), she was understandably cynical about that delicate state of being 'up-the-duff', the main message being, don't do it.

Ah, memories, eh? From then on I vowed (when the time came) to consume enough contraceptives to sterilise a congregation of Irish Catholics, cause flowering plants to wilt in my presence, and make my womb shiver with such fear at the thought of ovulation, that my ovaries would have no option but to do the honourable thing, shrivel up like a pair of dry, crusty old prunes and self-destruct with all the immediacy of a CIA message. Knock me up? Doubtful, not with all the subliminal messages I've been sending to my womb of late.

This is not because of the cosmetic implications of pregnancy, but primarily because of what she had referred to as "the most horrific pain, as if my body was trying to ingest itself through my fanny". Being someone who winces when brushing her hair, spending the best part of two days huffing and puffing on a hospital gurney, legs akimbo, playing host to armies of student doctors boasting impressive clipboards and cold hands, (using the relative expansion of my hairy bits as a means of identifying me), is an exercise in indignity that I could skip, thanks.

Motherhood, from what I understand of it, is not easy, and it's unlikely that the journey will be as smooth as slipping into a pair of Jimmy Choo's kitten heels

Not that I am devaluing the position of the mother in the modern world. It is an indisputable fact that we all emanate from the inner realms of the female body, and so in a purely biological respect everyone has a mother; they are as integral to the functioning and proliferation of our society as Phil and Fern are to the smooth running of morning television and, for this reason, women who decide to procreate (as it is the choice of the individual woman, one we should not feel forced into or obliged to make purely owing to our biological ability to do so) should be praised for their stretch-marks, their eternally weak bladders, their inability to pee straight, their sleep-deprivation, their acclimatisation to a sex life that's (sadly) not what it once was, and let's not forget their impressively-high pain thresholds. Mum, have I told you lately that I love you?

Maybe I am being cynical. But there is such a significant disparity between the realities of pregnancy and the way it is represented by popular culture, that one cannot help but place disproportionate emphasis on the negative in order to try and achieve a more accurate understanding of this delicate 'female condition'. More significantly, this attitude might incite sympathy for those of us who do find it hard. Motherhood, from what I understand of it, is not easy, and it's unlikely that for the vast majority of us the journey will be as smooth as slipping into a pair of Jimmy Choo's kitten heels; I don't care what the tabloids say.

But, regardless of my disinclination to spend a few hours of an evening breathing heavily, sweating until I think my skin may slide off my body like a thick lethargic slug, and passing a bowling ball through my nether regions, it probably wouldn't be right for me to attempt to inflict my sub-standard, home-brand, non-Versace-wearing genetic material onto another anyways, would it? Physical reasons? No. Mental reasons? Nope, sound as a pound up there, me. Why then? I'm not a svelte celebrity-beauty of course. I'm not in a relationship with a footballer, a pop star or anyone else who's more likely to find another gold-encrusted sofa down the back of the sofa, than the pitiful offerings of loose change more commonly discovered by us members of the hoi polloi. I've never been a cover girl, I'm not in possession of a modeling contract, I've never written a trashy novel and claimed it's literature and I have a student debt so substantial that should I write it down you could be forgiven for thinking I had given you my mobile phone number (in Japan).

I am 23-years-old, young, and more than likely in possession of a fully functioning and uber-efficient reproductive system, nervously twitching at the thought of squeezing out a couple of young 'uns, but nevertheless a burgeoning celebrity magazine culture would argue that my getting knocked-up would not be right. Pregnancy is no longer just about bringing forth the young, but rather a female state of being exclusively in vogue for the rich and the beautiful. So what? I don't want children right now, and may never want them, but it would be nice to know that should I decide to litter the world with mini-mes, that my lifestyle, my appearance and my financial situation wouldn't suddenly be catapulted into the public forum, subject to bitter dissection and become nothing more that cheap gossip fodder for those who self-righteously object to it, which alas, is what would happen.

The head crowning is, for the celebrity 'yummy mummy', nothing more than a green light to begin those lunges and squat thrusts

We each reluctantly slide onto this mortal coil in a wave of blood and amniotic fluid regardless of whether or not our mother-to-be has a "good rack", completely fills maternity bras handcrafted by Dolce & Gabbana, or has a wardrobe filled with the latest in exclusive haute couture maternity wear glamorous enough to make Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie eager to jump onto the nearest ejaculating cock. However, with increasing emphasis placed on the attainment of the perfect physique, motherhood has become a state only rightly pursued by the affluent and the aesthetically pleasing. For anyone without a mansion, a grotesquely rich partner and three Jaguars in the driveway, to even consider getting in the 'family way' is seen as a big social faux pas. But why is this so? And, more importantly, is the emphasis placed on physical perfection in addition to the attainment of more and more stuff discouraging young couples from riding bareback and breeding faster than viagra-fuelled rutting rhinos? Is this partly why the average age for a woman to drop her first sprog has reached 30+? And is this something that we should apologise for? Or should we be left alone to exercise our freedom of choice, regardless of the opinions of a wider culture, which for one reason or another always places the life of a single, childless female over a certain age under the social microscope to try and determine 'what's wrong with her' for not having yet achieved that 2.4 children 'dream?' It's something to think about.

Let's look at the facts. When a celebrity gives birth, the condition of her post-partum figure is immediately the centre of attention. That's not a reference to her health, of course, but rather her weight. Is she still a beauty, or has she let herself go? Is she now more likely to be seen modelling a belly-apron (housewives' favourite, apparently), with a pair of bingo wings dangling from her upper arms, than the latest line of sexy scanties and lacy bras littering the shelves at Agent Provocateur? The paparazzi and newspapers alike are quick to criticise women displaying the slightest hint of a 'post-baby bulge' to such an extent that the rapidity and effectiveness with which a celebrity can shed the pounds overshadows any news of the new arrival. Recent newspaper and magazine reports claim that both mothers-to-be Emma Bunton and Charlotte Church have already started to follow strict dieting regimes owing to fears that their post-pregnancy weight may be significantly higher than that of their celebrity counterparts following the "big drop". Take care of yourself, yes, eat healthily, of course, but surely this sort of food fascism does nothing but demonstrate how one's vanity is being prioritised above the health of a developing fetus? And to what end? To ensure they'll still look enviable in that swimsuit? The head crowning is, for the celebrity 'yummy mummy', nothing more than a green light to begin those lunges and squat thrusts.

Those of us who earn less than Colleen McLoughlin's monthly handbag allowance are deterred from squeezing one out as we can't emulate the lifestyles of the stars

Very often the newborn becomes nothing more than a side product of a problem that has to be overcome, a negligible nothing that has provided its mother with the opportunity to publicly display her self-restraint and high level of masterly control over her body. For this reason, pregnancy and birth is rapidly becoming a must for the successful celebrity female, considered as being demonstrative of her status as a twenty-first century 'Renaissance woman' (or superwoman), who is not only able to effortlessly fulfil her traditional role as 'breeder,' but who can also juggle a career, a high-profile relationship, whilst at the same time still managing to look fabulous and scheduling that essential manicure. It seems that in order to fulfil the obligations of womanhood we not only have to work hard, play hard and fuck hard, but we have to bring forth young. But careful to conceal those tell-tale signs of post-pregnancy and motherhood following the birth. Or at least that's what the likes of Heat! Magazine would have us believe.

Although images of knocked-up celebrities displaying perfect baby bumps are a firm favourite with tabloids and women's weeklies, those of us who are unable to enlist a team of stylists as our waistlines expand like hot air balloons, cannot help but feel inadequate and ill-prepared for motherhood. Motherhood has become firmly established as another state of being during which we must adhere to the rules of self-perfectibility, which means that regardless of how comfortable they may feel, those grey jogging bottoms are a big no-no. But, the implications are detrimental, with the exposure given to celebrity pregnancies, and the emphasis placed on the need for high-maintenance grooming and pampering, as well as the need for designer clothes from the moment we start to 'bloom' right up until the birth, meaning that those of us on a salary considerably less than Colleen McLoughlin's monthly handbag allowance are deterred from squeezing one out due to our inability to emulate the lifestyles of the stars. And it's probably worth noting that if, following the birth, you are unable to ping back into your size 0 jeans at a speed so fast that you need to spend a few days recuperating in A&E with severe whiplash, popular opinion would suggest that maybe motherhood is not for you.

The cult of the yummy mummy, that beautiful, fashionable, flawless baby-making machine with a stomach so flat within minutes of delivery that you could iron your shirt on it, has conditioned young women to believe that if they are unable to maintain the same high-standard of self-styling following an all-nighter cleaning sick-soaked bedding, changing shitty nappies and nursing their cracked, raw nipples, then they are a failure.

Yes, it is important to ensure your healthy well-being, both physically and mentally, especially during the lead up to the birth and afterwards, as for many women the gestation period not only precedes their transition from childless woman to mother, but it also denotes the first time they lack complete control over their body, something that we are supposed to conceal. Yes, do those nude photo shoots displaying perfect baby bumps, dangling on a swing, or sprawled across satin sheets in a bedroom of some stately home, but under no circumstances mention morning sickness. That's too nauseatingly realistic to be attractive, darling.

Yummy mummies demonstrate that a woman can still be free to pursue her own dreams, even with a little one in tow and a pair of milky baps

It certainly is important for a woman, on giving birth, to retain a sense of her individual identity. Despite the title of 'mother' being thrust upon her, she can still look good, feel good, and have autonomy over her own actions. The arrival of this new addition, despite popular belief, does not denote the complete end of life as she knows it. Of course, her lifestyle will need to be amended to accommodate the needs of the young pup, but there's no reason why she cannot maintain her individual sense of self.

In this respect celebrity yummy mummies, although almost extreme caricatures of this concept, do demonstrate that a woman can still be free to pursue her own dreams, even with a little one in tow and a pair of milky baps attached to her chest, which is reassuring. The celebrity yummy mummy however, with her chauffeur, stylists, personal trainer, private chef and army of nannies working around the clock to ensure those baby ass cheeks do not go un-powdered, does not provide the average new mother with a public figure with whom she can realistically identify. The average mother very often lacks the resources needed to pursue her ambitions at the same time as raising a family, whereas the celebrity yummy mummy has to make no such sacrifice. Although this is wonderful news for the yummy mummy, this should in no way place those who are denied the same opportunities in a position where we not only cast aspersions on her ability to raise her children, but also question her legitimacy as a modern-day woman. Is there an explanation for the proliferation of this attitude? Possibly.

There is growing disparity between the traditional, archetypal female and the emergence of the modern-day woman. Historically, women have always been the homemakers and the primary child carers, considered more suited to a lifetime in the laundry room scrubbing dirty gussets than doing anything that even slightly resembles what in masculine terms would be considered a respectable profession. This attitude still, to an extent, permeates the national consciousness despite the popularity of the power suit of the 1980s and the appropriation of predominantly masculine occupations by young career women.

Women who choose not to get on the career ladder but to become stay-at-home mums are the subject of much criticism, are made to feel they've let the side down, since this role has become increasingly stigmatised. It is this fight that has made the desire for a family something about which we now feel ashamed. For this reason, when a woman does decide to have a baby, she is considered to be displaying a weakness, a fault that allegedly emanates from her preference for daytime TV over that directorship, confirming misogynistic beliefs that the world of commerce would be considerably more lucrative without the inconvenience of hormonal women ovulating all over the office.

It is unfair that we are criticised for squeezing 'em out, that our role in the perpetuation of society is used against us as a weakness, losing us that promotion, and inhibiting our professional prospects, since employers are still reluctant to adhere to stringent maternity laws. Expectant and nursing mums are denied the opportunity to enjoy their newfound maternity leave if they wish to be a success, and have no other option than to get out of those stirrups and roll right on back into the office for the afternoon shift, thus demonstrating that her baby has had nothing reminiscent of a disruptive influence on her daily machinations. Surely, she has to be much stronger than that, doesn't she? But why can't we just be left to enjoy it, even if only for a short time? Even if we do have black bags resembling bin liners proliferating below our eyes? We have waited nine-months after all.

The 'pramface' is the unwashed, badly accessorised, greasy-haired, tracksuit wearing, benefit-claiming, milk-token using, single mother, the absolute antithesis to the 'yummy mummy'

But what is the alternative to perfection? If you have delicate sensibilities it may be difficult for you to stomach, so look away now. If a woman isn't able to maintain a carefully coiffured barnet and flawless make-up along with a figure that would make Gisele Bundchen blush, does this denote a rejection of her womanhood? No, of course not, but women who are unable to maintain perfection 24/7 are unfortunately forced to question their femininity, since the prospect of being deemed a 'pramface' is, for many, too upsetting to contemplate. Yes, that's right a pramface - a slanderous neologism first hurled into the public vocabulary by Popbitch, a weekly, British-based online newsletter which promises the latest in hot gossip, crass quips and snide remarks guaranteed to leave the celeb world reverberating with its supposedly satirical comments. The term was first coined to describe female popstars like Atomic Kitten, those who are apparently in possession of physical characteristics comparable to a gym-slip mum swigging from flagons of White Lightening on a Friday night in the local park, with a fag in hand and baby in tow, although it is now understood as the correct nomenclature for all young mums who live on housing estates.

The pramface is the unwashed, badly accessorised, greasy-haired, tracksuit wearing, benefit-claiming, milk-token using, single mother, the absolute antithesis to the yummy mummy and exactly what we are told not to emulate. To be a pramface, one usually has to be a teenage mum, or at least a young woman living below the poverty line in an area of severe socio-economic depravation, making it difficult for one to even consider the prospect of eating purely organic produce, or an afternoon indulging in a deep-tissue massage at an exclusive spa. Firstly, is it not unfair that popular culture takes the liberty of categorising such women as reprobates purely because they lack the financial security one supposedly needs these days to be attractive? The whole concept has the distinct aroma of cultural snobbery about it, and totally dismisses the role the yummy mummy has played in the proliferation of young mothers residing in impoverished areas.

That Popbitch, a publication quite clearly designed to act as cheap titillation for the higher echelons of the entertainment industry and for those with enough disposable income that they can regularly indulge in discussions about the celebrity world (having little else to concern themselves with), can cast aspersions on a young mother owing to her working class origins, is symptomatic of the sense of exclusion precipitated by the predominantly Capitalist ethos of British society. OK, you're not rich, so this is what we'll do, let's create a derogatory term to highlight the fact that you have less than a lot of other people, and why not call you an ugly bitch to boot? It's not enough that you have nothing, let's put you down to make us feel better about our relative wealth and add more shit to your shovel, yeah? You obviously don't have enough problems.

As with any antithetical pairing, one is defined by it's opposite, and it is only owing to the extremes of over-indulgence and expensive grooming displayed by the yummy mummy that the relative poverty and lacklustre appearance of the pramface is considered an issue worthy of public discussion. The yummy mummy has, after all, made the prospect of motherhood seem fashionable. It's not surprising that the exposure given to stars such as Katie Price, Gwen Stefani and Britney Spears during their pregnancies has done nothing but encourage young, impressionable teenage girls and women to consciously plan a baby, believing that they too will appear just as glamorous and flawless right up until the cord's cut. But what exactly has the pramface done that is so bad? OK, she became pregnant under circumstances that many would consider not to be ideal, but other than that she has taken responsibility, raising her child, or children, under difficult circumstance.

There have been few reports commenting on the relative age of men when they first decide to sire a child

The media, then, has drawn up two caricatures. In the blue corner, we have gaggles of supposedly badly made-up young girls readily willing to incubate a foetus for nine-months irrespective of their social demographic, all in the name of fashion and 'free love' (her odds are low, but she may have an outside chance). And in the red corner we have a school of mature women, the leader of which is reluctant to take out her coil, flush those birth-control pills and offer her womb up to the nearest gynaecologist carrying a rather flash-looking thermometer, all because she wants that promotion, that Louis Vuitton bag, and to foster her penchant for rather expensive white wine (she has the support of a lot of the crowd, but it's a hard one to call).

With women remaining single for longer, we now have more disposable income than ever before. We are now able to buy what we want when we want it, a luxury running parallel to our integration into the work force, and something we are not prepared to sacrifice. Have a baby. Go on, you know you want to. It's a message that all of us will no doubt be sent by our ovaries at some point during our lives, whether it's a hankering lasting for ten years or ten seconds, but why should we so willingly relinquish control? Why should we sacrifice what we have worked hard for? Is it so wrong that having spent generations tied to the cot, with nothing but a bottle of Calpol and a rusk to help drown our sorrows that we now feel confident enough to say, actually, we are happy on our own, thanks? No, it's not, because apparently this is not natural, we should want to nest and nurture, whether we like it or not.

It's been the focus of much media attention, this shift in age. By comparison, there have been few reports commenting on the relative age of men when they first decide to sire a child, although this is because it doesn't matter, does it? Men can father children almost up until the point rigor mortis sets in, whereas women are perceived as nothing more than slaves to our much maligned biological clocks, with the sound of our ovaries bashing against each other like a klaxon, apparently getting louder and louder with each year we refuse to give them what they want. We live in an age where methods of birth control are the most refined in the history of humanity, with developments made in the fertility industry so sophisticated that it would probably be possible to cultivate an army of sons and heirs from a few flakes of dandruff, some bum-fluff and some crusty nose residue sneezed into a petri dish. Science has progressed to such a stage that physically we are empowered to have children at a later age, although not surprisingly there is a stigma attached to this, with skeptics reminding us from around about the age of 25 not to even think about getting such treatment on the NHS. It's somehow considered fair for our fertility to be placed under the media spotlight, constantly placing us in a position where we have to justify or defend our actions, when many of us just want to have good sex, buy good stuff and worry about the population of our womb later. We're either too young, too old or too ugly and, considering that unless we collectively agree to nurture the seed of man during a very small window between the ages of 24 and 26, timing conception so as to precipitate a summer birth (or something just as convoluted), it seems that we'll all be subject to criticism anyway, so why not just do what we want? It will probably be a hell of a lot more fun.

About the author

Abby O'Reilly

Abby O'Reilly is hoping that following her heroic death she will return to this world as a doughnut. Sugar ring. No icing. Perfect

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