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The Hot Mom: The New "New Woman"

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Move over, Lindsay, Miley, and all you other Hollywood princesses whose faces, bodies, and personal lives have been dominating our TV screens and magazine covers. Mom has arrived. She looks good, she has something to say, and she doesn't plan on going anywhere.

Today, many women want to be mothers, but they want to remain beauty symbols, too. Simply put, they don't want to look like "moms," clad in bad jeans, oversized t-shirts, and white sneakers, looking like softer, heavier, more tired versions of their younger selves. And so women not only raise their kids, continue their careers, maintain their marriages (and, fingers crossed, their sex lives). Being a mother now means looking less like yourself and more like your daughter--or the ladies of Sex and the City. Is this the new model for the modern woman? Let's find out.

According to pop culture, Moms have made it and everyone's obsessed. US Weekly is constantly on the lookout for the latest baby bump; recently it featured a spread called "Who's Next to Pop," with photos of Gwen Stefani, Angelina Jolie, and Nicole Kidman looking fabulous in their chic pregnancy duds. Actresses like Kate Hudson, Reese Witherspoon, and Jennifer Garner lead the pack of a new generation of young, hip moms who look great while doing it all. (The fate of Jamie Lynn Spears, a recent newcomer, is debatable.) Two other celebrity moms, Denise Richards and Dina Lohan, now have their own reality TV shows. Both received mediocre reviews (I was personally bored out of my mind), but there they are, adult women attempting to prove to the entire world that they are good mothers, talented entertainers, and hot, too.

Even the modeling world, typically inhabited by waif-like young things, has expanded. America's Next Top Model boasts a handful of contestants who just so happen to have killer bodies, gorgeous faces, and children back at home. And this summer, 42-year-old model, Internet star, and mother Cindy Margolis will make her second appearance in the pages of Playboy. The latest addition in this category is TV Land's She's Got the Look, a modeling competition for women over the age of thirty-five. Yes, these contestants redefine the stereotype that women of a certain age can't be beautiful and sexy, but they also perpetuate the expectation that women are meant to be decorative. It's a different sword, but there's still a double-edge.

All of these women follow an historical phenomenon. In the 1910s, a new kind of woman emerged to reject the gendered stereotypes of Victorian culture. Educated, independent, single, and sexual, she was the New Woman, and embodied the optimism and expectations of a young generation for the twentieth century. But Mad Men reminds us that women in the 1950s were still stuck in their traditional gendered roles as wives and mothers. By the 1960s and 1970s, women reclaimed their independence and gave new meaning to the concept of sexual freedom and sexual equality. Now, a century after the New Woman asserted her sexuality before marriage, Dina, Denise, and their mommy counterparts suggest a new archetype.

Moms should have it all and look ten years younger. And with mommy makeovers, what's stopping them? Only a bank account--and possibly a sense of self: Do kids really want their mothers to look better than they do? But single young women in their twenties and thirties are not realistic models for mothers. Nor are married women in Hollywood who hire chefs and trainers; whose job it is to lose baby weight immediately. Why? Precisely because they are not traditional mothers. Single women are just that, single, and as for actresses, looking young and slim is part of the job.

A 47-year-old friend can't stop watching The Real Housewives of New York City. She has two teenagers, lives in the Boston suburbs, and is truly beautiful (in the organic way, not the Botox way). She laughs at the show, but says she knows many mothers who want to keep up with the characters they see on television. Sure, some may envy Dina Lohan, but her parenting skills are questionable at best (case in point: Lindsay). As my friend says, "these women [on TV] have no self-esteem and will do anything for attention. You can obviously see what it's done to Dina's daughters."

For a long time, girls have been immortalized as the pinnacle of physical perfection, a confluence of body, beauty, sexuality, and brains--at least for those with the right body, the right looks, enough (but not too much) sexual experience, and half a brain. At the same time, an entire generation of girls have been raised to believe that they can achieve whatever they dream. They can run companies and become editors-in-chief, get married and have children. The total package may be challenging to maintain, but balance is no longer just an ideal.

Suddenly, however, the package has shifted. Is the MILFy career mom the woman of the future? A new social type, like crunchy granola and WASP? Or is she simply a reaction to the latest pop culture moment? She's all of these things. She is the new New Woman, otherwise known as the hot mom, and she is here to stay. At least for now. Because as my 47-year-old friend says, "these shows are like accidents. I can't NOT look."

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Abigail Jones is coauthor of the New York Times and Boston Globe bestseller Restless Virgins: Love, Sex, and Survival at a New England Prep School (William Morrow, 2007). Her work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, USA Today, the Huffington Post, and Misstropolis.com. She lives in Boston, MA, where she is working on her second book.

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