Shortly after my son was born three and a half years ago, an incredibly beautiful stay-at-home-mother approached me at the gym to encourage me to push myself harder. “People will tell you to take it easy on yourself,” she told me. “Don’t listen!” I was both taken aback and perplexed. No one was telling me to take it easy on myself. Inasmuch as it’s possible to pick up messages from the culture at large, what I had been hearing was that I dare not let myself go, lest I morph from a woman into that pathetic, sexless creature: the mom.
It’s no secret that mom and mommy are synonyms for lame. There are mom jeans (though these are newly chic among girls whose youth is set off by their ability to wear frumpy clothes fashionably). Fifty Shades of Grey is “mommy porn.” Bad wine for frazzled neurotics is “mommy juice.” And now, thanks to the New York Times, I’ve learned that there is “mom hair.”
On Tuesday, the Times ran a piece titled “Mom Hair. It Exists. Now What To Do About It.” This story, by Bee Shapiro, is the textual equivalent of my undermining frenemy from the gym. “In fashion there are ‘mom jeans,’ ” Shapiro warns.
So, too, there is a counterpart in beauty: “mom hair.” You’ve likely seen it at suburban malls: the longer-in-back, slightly–shorter-in-front bob that should read sleek but is inescapably frumpy. And even the city-dwelling mom isn’t immune. Perhaps she has added her own twists like blunt bangs or extra layering, but the ’do still falls short of flattering.
There is a surface similarity between the way mom and dad are deployed as adjectives. Dad also signifies something sort of dorky: “dad jokes,” “dad bod.” The difference is that dad comes with a tinge of affectionate indulgence. The brief flurry of stories about dad bod were all about how it is OK, and even endearing, when fathers let themselves go a bit. Unlike mom, dad is not a demeaning descriptor.
Perhaps I’m taking a trivial trend piece personally because I myself have the offending haircut. (I’ve worn versions of it since my 20s, well before I even thought of having kids.) What irritates me, though, isn’t that Shapiro is defaming my hairstyle. It’s that the New York Times is insulting its female readership and stoking their—our—insecurities. This piece was written with the saccharine belittlement that once marked women’s magazines, a faux-friendly tone that is mocked, day after day, by the brilliant Twitter account Man Who Has It All. (“Wife online? Kids asleep? Time to relax with a glossy magazine to find out why your face, hair & body are totally wrong. ‘Me time.’ ”) The best newspaper in the world should not run articles that might as well be headlined “Ladies, You Might Think You Look OK, But You Don’t.”
There is probably a perfectly valid Styles section service piece to be written about dealing with postpartum hair. Such an article should, at a minimum, not be addressed solely to white women, and it should start from the assumption that new mothers who read the New York Times need ways to worry less about their appearance, rather than more. Many of those women whose haircuts Shapiro sneers at are probably doing their best to keep their shit together in the face of competing and irreconcilable demands. Do they need one more thing to feel bad about? If they do, the Times is on it.