Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Look Good, Feel Good

Interview with Katie Farchione, a stay at home mother of six and a fashionista.
By: Hannah Farchione 
Q: How would you sum up your fashion?
A: “Contemporary forward.”
Q: What are you favorite clothing stores and why?
A: “Kanuhs because they have stylish clothes at a great price point and different selections that you will find in the mainstream stores and Nordstrom.”
Q: What is your motto of how women should dress?
A: “Age appropriate with a little flair and look good feel good.”
Q: Why do you feel that looking nice is important?
A: “Because I think it affects your mental health. And make good impressions and put your best foot forward and you feel better about yourself and perform better.”
Q: What do you have to say to the women who don’t look nice?
A: “You don’t have to be thin or pretty or have a lot of money to look nice. You don’t need very many clothes just a few great basics with some accessories to put yourself together and you can look nice everyday even on a budget and also have you looked in the mirror? Why would you walk around looking bad when you can walk around looking good? And you should care about how you look.”
Q: Have you ever been made fun of or looked at poorly for how you dress?
A: “Yes. When I was in law school I was wearing the preppy look and people made fun of me. Even though it was in style at the time.”
Q: Have you felt any pressure to look a certain way?
A: “No not really. I just feel pressure to look nice when I go out with your Dad, but not to look a certain way. “
Q: What drives you to look nice?
A: “Because it makes me feel better about myself and I always want to put my best foot forward. Why not look nice? I always do my hair, I always have on makeup, I always want to look my best even in the backyard.”
Q: What are your limitations on looking nice?
A: “Budget, figure, and age. There are things you just can’t wear because of your age.”
Q: How does the way you dress affect your mothering?
A: “Well I would have to say dressing nicely makes me a better mother. Feeling good about myself helps me to take care of my children better.”
Q: Your friend Diana Hyland, who had cancer, what was her outlook on her fashion during her time before she passed away from cancer?
A: “She always just got up and got dressed. She never went anywhere without her make up on, not even the gym. Because her motto was look good feel good.”
Q: Do you think looking good and feeling good helped her deal with the cancer and helped her be a better mother?
A: “Yes I know it did. We talked about it.”
“Looking good and feeling good,” an idea that not many women address. What it breaks down into is that when you dress nicely, the emotional and psychological affect it has on you is great. Just putting makeup on and wearing nice clothing can change your whole outlook on life. Thus, making you a better mother. This is supported by a study done by Sharma, U. and Black, P. What they found is that there is a correlation between looking good and the emotions you feel. Thus, to be the best mother you can be, you must be in a great emotional state, due to the fact that when in the healthy emotional state, you can be a fully devoted mother. For if not in a place where you can you’re your best, your work as a mother will suffer.
Connors in her article states, “I cannot be a mother without being myself; I will not be myself if I sacrifice myself entirely on the altar of motherhood. I must, in other words, consider my own interests alongside those of my children in any decision that bears upon my motherhood if I am to be the kind of mother that I want to be – the happy mother, the fulfilled mother – if I am to be the only kind of mother that I can be.” So if taking care of your own interests means dressing nicely, then one should do so. Children do come first, but sometimes you cannot take care of them if you have not taken care of yourself.
However, there are limitations to looking good. A lot of mothers claim they don’t have the money or the time to look nice. But, as stated by Katie Farchione, it is all about the basics. You don’t need to have money to look good, only “a few basics”. So, the excuse that one does not have the money to do so seems void. All you need are some simple items that you can put together to look nice. Nothing expensive. Just basic. Also, dressing your figure and age are also crucial. One does not want to dress non-age appropriate or against one’s figure. You don’t want to be 45 years old and wear a mini skirt and a cropped top. That would just look bad.
In the interview I ask about Diana Hyland, a devoted mother and Katie Farchione’s friend, who died from cancer always looked nice. This is because she is the epitome of a strong fashion forward mother. In the face of something as terrible as cancer, she managed to keep her outlook optimistic just by the shear act of putting on makeup. In doing so, even with her cancer, the fact that she was optimistic and always happy helped her work as a mother. She was a strong woman and looking good helped her do so. Even though she was about to die from cancer. She even discussed with Mrs. Farchione about how she believed that looking good helped her deal with her battle better.
 A scholarly article on cancer patients, written by Karen Kendrick, supports this idea. She argues that cancer patients will have an easier time coping with their issues if they look nice. What her conclusions were that looking nice does actually affect the way that women with cancer deal with it. So if you look nice and can deal with your cancer, then your work as a mother will benefit.
So what does this all boil down to? It boils down to the idea that if you look nice, you will feel better, and by feeling better you can be a better mother. I mean, even a terminally ill cancer patient still looked amazing, which in turn made her a better mother than most. So what is the moral of the story? Well, it’s what we have been talking about. There truly is a truth behind looking good helping you feel good. So mothers out there, take a few moments for yourself and get some clothes. You don’t need anything expensive, just a few basics. Remember to dress your age and your figure. And most of all just work it and look good.

Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, Labor of Love
Kendrick, Karen. “Normalizing Female Cancer Patients: Look Good, Feel Better And Other Image Programs.” Disability & Society. 23.3 /92008) Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection.
Sharma, U., & Black, P. “Look Good, Feel Better: Beauty Therapy as Emotional Labor”. Sociology 35(4).

One Never Leaves High School

Hannah Farchione
Mothers are ditching their everyday relaxed, dressed down clothing for something else. More and more you will see soccer moms picking up their children in heels and dresses. In response, there has been some negative backlash. Mothers who have started to take initiative on how they look are being shunned and snickered about. The effects on how just a pair of boots can make on one’s view of a peer can be surprising. It is known that girls are very critical of each other and clearly it does not stop at adolescence. Grown women with children are childishly talking about and making fun of women based on how the dress.
How does this affect the mothers who dress up psychologically? In an article written by Cynthia Renynolds, a working mother, Arlene Worsley, was interviewed on how she dressed. “‘They didn't want to talk to me at all. I quickly learned that what I wore made a difference,’…’So I went to Old Navy and bought khaki cargo pants, a hoodie and some flip-flops.’… Eventually she gave up. ‘The schoolyard is definitely a battleground,’ she declares.” She claimed to have started dressing nicely, but when out-casted by the teachers and the other moms, she went to a local store for a sweatshirt and flip-flops.
Another mother in Renyold’s article was quoted to say that she too felt uncomfortable dressing up in front of the other mothers. “”I just didn't want people staring at me because of my shoes.’ Wearing flats, however, is as far as she'll go. ‘I don't like fashion--I love it. And I think if you give up what you love, then you're incomplete.’”
What did this mean? It means that the abuse inflicted upon this woman for the sole fact that she wore nice clothing was enough to get her to change back. What makes it worse is that these mother’s love fashion. It is a part of who they are. As quoted they feel “incomplete”. So in essence these mothers are giving up something apart of them due to the sole fact that some mothers are so petty and immature that they cannot stand being around someone with different ways of dressing.
What does this say about the other mothers though? Is it their self-esteem that is the problem? Do they feel threatened by a mother who looks nicely and takes the time to put herself together? Do they feel jealousy because they don’t look as nice? Either way the psychological motives all has the same result: negative actions and less respect towards the mothers who look put together. As a result these mothers who look nice are changing back to fit in more like the other moms. Blending in wearing sweats and t-shirts all for the sake of not being made fun of.
According to a psychologist quoted in Renynolds’ article, the way a teacher feels about a parent will affect the parent-student relationship. The idea is that hip clothing will create a negative image of the parent and thus affect the relationship between the student and teacher. A woman in Renynolds’ article felt as if when she was in more causal clothes the teacher was warmer and more welcoming to her. However, when she put on her heels, she felt that the teacher was colder to her.
According to the article, some teachers also wonder if the parent cares more about their looks over their child. “A Toronto teacher, who wants to remain anonymous to avoid hurt feelings, says, ‘You try not to judge. Still you can't help wonder if they care more for their looks than their child.’” This perception is present across social class as well. In their article “Labor of Love,” Edin and Kefalas discuss how poor mothers feel about spending money on oneself. Poor mothers cannot afford to spend money on themselves, and they look down upon women who can.
In response to the idea that mothers should not think of themselves and should always put their children first, Catherine Connors has another idea. She is quoted as saying in her article “In Defense of a Selfish Parent”, …That this makes me, in my own opinion, a better parent is convenient for me, but it is not the primary consideration. The primary consideration is my own happiness. Full-borne selflessness would make me unhappy, and I don’t want to be unhappy. Full stop. Which is not to say that I would pursue my own happiness if its pursuit were in any way harmful or detrimental to my children; the pursuit of my own happiness… does not and will not come at the cost of my children’s reasonable happiness.” Thus, just because a mother thinks of herself first sometimes, does not make her a bad mother. In fact, a mother thinking about herself and taking care of herself in turn makes her a better mother.
So basically, there is truth that mothers should indeed take care of themselves. For whom could reach their full potential as a mother when they have not taken care of themselves first on occasion?
So, where does this put the mothers? In sweats with the teachers approval? Or in heels with snickering occurring behind their backs? The choices are clear, but the answer is not. And whether or not we realize it, nobody ever leaves high school… 

Cynthia Reynolds, “Stilettos in the Schoolyard”, Maclean’s 0024962, Vol. 124, Issue 36.
Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, “Labor of Love”

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Momism, The Feminine Mystique, and Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party"

By Madison Koenig

Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) wrote dozens of short stories during her life, many of which feature women as primary characters.  Although her short stories were published in England at the beginning of the twentieth century, mid-century American ideas about women are still incredibly relevant in understanding her complex characters.  Applying the work of Betty Friedan and other writers may also provide insight into early feminist stirrings present in literature during this period. 
The story I will examine here is called “The Garden Party.”  Katherine Mansfield wrote this story in 1921 and published it the following year.  I wrote about this story for an English class a few quarters ago; however, the knowledge I gained in Women’s and Gender Studies 200 will allow me to return to it with a feminist lens.

Here is a short summary: Told in third person from the view of Laura, a young girl in upper-middle-class New Zealand, “The Garden Party” is about what happens when Laura’s family, the Sheridans, throw a party for the neighborhood.  On the day of the party, while the entire household is running around trying to set everything up, as tragedy occurs: a man who lives in the poor neighborhood down the lane is killed.  Laura immediately wants to stop the party preparations, but her family tells her to stop acting “so extravagant” (Mansfield 292).  After the party is over, Laura takes a basket of leftover treats to the family of the deceased man.  It is here that she experiences the stirrings of something greater, although she cannot name her desire.  “The Garden Party” is a story of middle class values, of class conflict, of internal struggles.  It is also, primarily, a story about women, and this is where our interests lie.

For me, one of the most fascinating parts of “The Garden Party” was the character of Mrs. Sheridan and the complicated relationships she has with her children.  It is this character that I will focus on in my analysis.

One aspect of mid-century America that I will apply to “The Garden Party” is the fears about mothers.  In her book A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Woman at the Dawn of the 1960s, Stephanie Coontz discusses the “hostility directed at stay-at-home wives and mothers.”  “Historian Rebecca Jo Plant notes that many “modern” thinkers in the 1920s and 1930s had criticized the nineteenth-century cult of domestic motherhood not because it limited women’s rights but because it gave women too much moral authority within the home” (48).  These criticisms could easily be applied to Mrs. Sheridan.  She is a woman with few concerns; even the garden party, the focal point of her family’s day, is something she prefers to orchestrate from the sidelines, telling her daughters “I’m determined to leave everything to you children this year” (Mansfield 286-287).  However, she soon contradicts herself by issuing commands to both her household (291) and the party’s guests (289).  Looking at “The Garden Party” from an anthropological stance, William Atkinson argues that Mrs. Sheridan is cleverly devising a status-elevation ritual for Laura, using every action and event “to move her daughter from a mildly rebellious adolescence to a young-womanhood that does not question the status quo” (Atkinson 54).  In his view, Mrs. Sheridan is a grand puppet-master, tugging on everyone’s strings to get them to do what she wants.  If she is successful, then Laura and her siblings will simply become younger versions of their mother.  Philip Wylie, author of Generation of Vipers, would have found this development concerning, particularly when it came to the case of Laurie, Mrs. Sheridan’s only son.  In her article “‘Blown to Bits!’: Katherine Mansfield’s ‘The Garden-Party’ and the Great War,” Christine Darrohn describes Laurie as “merely the extension of [his] mother, who is the forceful agent of a middle-class mentality.”  This concept is reinforced by the similarity of Laurie and Mrs. Sheridan’s manners and values.  Wylie might have viewed Mrs. Sheridan as a perfect example of “momism,” and the close relationship between Mrs. Sheridan and Laurie as one of the devastating results of this societal epidemic—after all, Laurie might turn out to be a “sissy” (Cootnz 48).  Both Atkinson and Wylie might argue for Mrs. Sheridan’s agency; however, I believe that her character is also shaped deeply by forces outside her control—namely, the feminine mystique.

Although Mrs. Sheridan certainly has dominance in the home, I believe that she is more than just a controlling, overbearing mother.  Darrohn describes Mrs. Sheridan as someone “who represents the consciousness of the privileged middle class.”  In fact, Mrs. Sheridan could easily be described as being trapped in Betty Friedan’s feminine mystique.  In The Feminine Mystique, Friedan speaks of “women who adjust to the feminine mystique, who expect to live through their husbands and children, who want only to be loved and secure, to be accepted by others, who never make a commitment of their own to society or to the future, who never realize their human potential” (43).  Mrs. Sheridan is one of these women.  She is married to a well-earning, if absent, man, and has a large home filled with children and servants.  She only interacts with the outside world through her children or when it enters her home.  Mrs. Sheridan even belittles her own intelligence.  When Laura notes a contradiction in Mrs. Sheridan’s requests, her mother says “My darling child, you wouldn’t like a logical mother, would you?” (Mansfield 290).  Mrs. Sheridan strives to live up to the ideal of the housewife, and her life is defined by what Friedan called “dailyness:” she does “not have a personal purpose stretching into the future” (Friedan 433).  Planning the garden party is her most forward-thinking accomplishment. 

The most important aspect of Mrs. Sheridan’s life is maintaining a sunny veneer.  She longs for everyone to appear happy, and does her best to bring about this cheerfulness.  However, it comes at a cost: she is unable, and unwilling, to deal with anything less than ideal.  On one end of the spectrum, she endeavors to avoid slight domestic confrontations and is terrified of criticism. When she misplaces a list that the cook requires, she sends Jose, one of Laura’s older sisters, in her place to the kitchen to pacify the cook, confessing that she is “terrified of her [the cook] this morning” (291).  Later on, when Laura enters the kitchen, Laura points out that the cook “did not look at all terrifying” (291).  Mansfield describes the cook as a kind woman, almost a surrogate mother, who seems to be tender towards the Sheridan daughters. 
What is it about the cook that so frightens Mrs. Sheridan?   Perhaps Mrs. Sheridan’s terror has nothing to do with the cook at all.  In her article, Darrohn points out that “anxieties about the working class…are displaced onto the women in the [lower-class] house.”  I believe that the Sheridans displace not only their “anxieties about the working class,” but also their greater concerns about society and themselves.  This is true for all the lower-class women that the Sheridans encounter.  Of course, as Stephanie Coontz points out, the values of the feminine mystique do not apply to these women, and maintaining the feminine mystique is all that Mrs. Sheridan cares about.  As ┼×ebnem Kaya, a literary critic, argues, Mrs. Sheridan is limited by the values of her upper-class Victorian education: “Mrs. Sheridan concentrates exclusively on her own social circle, her first and only priority, expecting Laura to do the same” (Kaya 56).  Mrs. Sheridan has an image of herself as an au fait woman, the ruler of her domestic domain; when the cook notices that she lost the list, this image is threatened.  She has made a mistake, and by doing so, she lets some of her control slip.  Instead of facing this shortcoming, Mrs. Sheridan leaves the task of dealing with the mishap to one of her daughters. 

Another, more serious example of Mrs. Sheridan’s complete inability to deal with unpleasant aspects of life occurs with the death of a neighbor.  Laura is still young and, overall, she is not entrenched in the social mores of her class.  Therefore, she instantly sees that holding a party within the view of a mourning family’s home is irreverent and unkind.  “‘Mother, isn’t it really terribly heartless of us?’ she asked.”  Her mother has a more complex and less concerned response to the news.  When Laura questions her, Mrs. Sheridan’s first response is to draw attention away from the serious issue and toward Laura’s physical appearance.  “Before Laura could stop [Mrs. Sheridan] she had popped it on. ‘My child!’ said her mother, ‘the hat is yours.  It’s made for you.  It’s much too young for me.  I have never seen you look such a picture.  Look at yourself!’ And she held up her hand-mirror.”  Here we can see Mrs. Sheridan’s shallow appreciation of appearance, an important value of the feminine mystique, overriding Laura’s philosophical questioning.  When Laura persists in probing the situation, her mother becomes curt and supplies an answer that even Laura sees as an evasion: “‘You are being very absurd, Laura,’ [Mrs. Sheridan] said coldly. ‘People like that don’t expect sacrifices from us.  And it’s not very sympathetic to spoil everybody’s enjoyment as you’re doing now’” (Mansfield 294).  Abraham Maslow’s discussion of growth proves useful here in understanding Mrs. Sheridan’s desire for oversimplification: “Growth also often means giving up a simpler and easier and less effortful life in exchange for a more demanding, more difficult life” (Friedan).  Because she is so young, Laura is still willing and able to grow; however, Mrs. Sheridan is so trapped in the feminine mystique that she no longer desires to risk her superficial, blissful life, even if it might mean greater intellectual involvement.  Mrs. Sheridan’s life is not perfect or particularly stimulating, but it is all she and other women of the feminine mystique can hope to have.

Katherine Mansfield wrote “The Garden Party” in 1921, long before “momism” or “the problem with no name” were identified.  Yet as we can plainly see, these concepts, established in mid-century America, are still relevant to this story.  The character of Mrs. Sheridan could have been a housewife in the 1950s or 1960s just as easily as today. The problems she and her children face are not limited to a particular time period, but are rather an undeniable part of our culture.

Note: Although this is not the version I read and referenced, if you’re interested in reading “The Garden Party,” you can find a version here:


Atkinson, William. "Mrs. Sheridan's Masterstroke: Liminality In Katherine Mansfield's “The Garden-Party”." English Studies 87.1 (2006): 53-61. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Oct. 2011.

Coontz, Stephanie. A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s. New York: Basic, 2011. Print.

Darrohn, Christine. ""Blown to Bits!": Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden-party" and the Great War." Modern Fiction Studies 40.3 (1994): 513-39. Modern Fiction Studies. The Purdue Research Foundation, 1998. Web. 23 Sept. 2011.

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: W.W. Norton, 1963. Print.

Kaya, ┼×ebnem. "Laura's Lessons in Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party"" American             International Journal of Contemporary Research 1.2 (2011): 54-61. American International Journal of Contemporary Research. Centre for Promoting Ideas. Web. 27 Oct. 2011.

Mansfield, Katherine, and Vincent O'Sullivan. Katherine Mansfield's Selected Stories. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2006. Print.

Unknown. "Katherine Mansfield." Katherine Mansfield House. Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Society Inc., 2005. Web. 04 June 2012. <>.

Mom's Weekend: The Method Behind the Madness

By Erin Peters

Picture Source: via Google Images
Early May in Athens brings with it the smell of cut grass, bikini-clad girls sunning themselves outside their dormitories, the stress of upcoming midterms and of course: Mom’s weekend. This weekend-long holiday where mothers from all over the country come to visit their daughters allows them the opportunity to, as the University endorsed Athens County website says, “…discover everything Athens has to offer.” Hiking at Stroud’s Run, touring the Ridges, viewing art exhibits at the Dairy Barn, and taking part in various student organized meal events are all mentioned as excellent ways to spend time bonding with Mom. However, the big attraction that the University fails to mention in its online reading material is the one that almost all students have born witness to. As the sun sets on the little college town of Athens, moms and daughter dress laboriously in all their finery before embarking on a pilgrimage to the many bars of Court Street. Here middle-aged mothers can truly relax by taking shots with their daughters while wearing dresses that are far too tight, hitting on young boys easily half their age, loudly singing teeny-pop songs that entice their objects of prey to “Call Me Maybe”, and reliving the youth they’ve long left behind by behaving just like one of the (sorority) girls.

The highly sexualized atmosphere of Mom’s weekend is the stuff of legend. Male co-eds set out in droves in hopes of bedding horny cougars, most searching for the illusive “mother-daughter threesome” that will catapult them to the rank of alpha dog among their circle of friends. This prevailing notion of expectation, the thought of objectifying gazes lurking around every corner, drives many mother-daughter duos to present themselves as female caricatures. Rather than dressing comfortably for an evening out with family, an activity that shouldn’t involve too much formality even if it does hinge on drinking in a social setting, these bar-hopping pairs instead always appear in provocative clothing and makeup heavy enough to make a drag queen gawk. Scantily clad, the two then compete to see who can garner the most male attention. They flit around town like two shining idols of heteronormative femininity: Barbie and Skipper, so to speak. While it’s easy to argue that this type of display is all in good fun, it is impossible to ignore the ways in which such behavior seems to suggest a strong link between sexuality and mother-daughter bonding. Why and how do we use sex as a lens through which to examine our femininity and our relationship with our mothers?

Perhaps a good place to start is with Ariel Levy’s article "Pigs in Training," in which she examines the ways that young girls are socialized to present themselves as overtly sexual in order to operate socially. While her article focused almost solely on the peer groups of teenagers, it is important to recognize that during Mom’s Weekend, mothers temporarily assume the role of friend instead of care-giver. Whereas the peers mentioned by Levy acted as a strong force perpetuating the idea that sex and sexiness for young girls is in large part a public display, mothers who have had years to cultivate their own sexualities through experience have a unique perspective to offer when mimicking the same kind of performance. Although female parents are not entirely immune to the same pressures that face their children, they may have important techniques to teach younger generations that can help them navigate the hardships of embodying sexuality. Levy says of these unique challenges: “Many of the issues confronting teenage girls are the same ones affecting grown women: the prioritizing of performance over pleasure, a lack of freedom to examine their own varied, internal desires; an obligation to look as lewd as possible” (Levy 168). Participating in the alcohol- and pheromone-soaked activities of Mom’s Weekend may be a way for mothers and daughters to explore these issues together in a social setting where the support of close kin can provide comfort, safety, and insight.

An article published by the National Council for Family Relations sheds some lights on the nature of sexual competition between mothers and daughters. The demands of parenting adolescent females are said to weigh heavily on middle-aged mothers. The journal states:

For some women, the perceived loss of culturally valued youth with its easy beauty at the very same time that their daughters are sensing and exercising their own youthful attractiveness can be a bitter experience which fosters an unintentional hostility and one-sided competition between a mother and her daughter (Beiser, 1977) (Fox 27).

Through this lens one can interpret the bar-hopping ritual of Mom’s Weekend as a way for mothers to level the playing field with their younger and more virally attractive daughters. Rather than fall victim to subconscious hostilities, the act of dressing and acting like college aged women provides moms with a controlled environment in which it is socially acceptable for them to express youthful sexualities similar to those of their daughters. Going out together is a way to neutralize age-related anxieties about desirability because the natural dynamic of mothers and daughters puts the elder in control regardless of the social setting. Mothers who visit for Mom’s Weekend, perhaps resigned to sexless and utilitarian roles in their daily lives, are presented with a golden opportunity to flaunt their attractiveness. They can simultaneously occupy the positions of mother (imparting years of lessons learned about the most effective displays of femininity to their young pupils) and friend (one who can relate to the concerns of young women: namely boys and drinking). Mothers who participate in the less publicized festivities of Mom’s Weekend can attain fulfillment by enacting youthfulness to escape the drudgery of their everyday lives, all the while imparting the wisdom of age to the young daughters who they have chosen to emulate. Daughters, in turn, are afforded the opportunity to show their mothers exactly what it is to walk one night down Court Street in their shoes: the upsides and pitfalls of being young and sexy.

Although the idea of drinking with Mom certainly doesn’t appeal to all college aged women, those who do participate in the annual observance are exposed to a bonding experience unlike any other. Mothers and daughters, for one weekend, are allowed to drop all pretense regarding preconceived notions about their individual sexualities in favor of exploring these experiences of female embodiment together.


1. Fox, Greer. "The Mother-Adolescent Daughter Relationship as a Sexual Socialization Structure: A Research Review." Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies. 29.1 (1980): 21-28. Web. 4 Jun. 2012. <>.

2. Levy, Ariel. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture. New York City: New York: Free Press, 2005. Web. <>.

The Battle for Inner Beauty

By Erin Peters

Mothers of the modern age are faced with an ever-increasing number of challenges. New and widespread technologies have made the world smaller and more accessible. Cultural biases are always present in print, on movie screens, or chirping from the corner of webpages in the form of imbedded ads. Levels of media consumption are at an all-time high; participation in twenty-first century life requires a competitive streak and loads of dedication to being the first on the block to have the latest and greatest space-age innovations. It’s all about keeping up with the Joneses and always surpassing them when you have the chance. This is especially true when it comes to keeping up appearances. Young girls are now faced with more pressure than ever to dive into the world of make-up and beauty before they even reach their teenage years. The imperative to achieve the standards of female perfection that are shown in magazines and on television only grows stronger as these sources continue to become easier and easier access. The question then, is this: How does a mother living in the twenty-first century go about helping her child achieve an identity outside the superficial? When it comes to beauty, the answer is more than skin deep.

A good and highly visible example of America’s obsession with linking cultural ideas of beauty to children’s self-worth can be seen by watching TLC’s hit documentary Toddler’s and Tiara’s. The aforementioned toddlers on the reality show are filmed during various stages of pageant prep and performance. While they chug giant bottles full of Mountain Dew (with added sugar), slather on self-tanner, and squirm uncomfortably while their gigantic fake-eyelashes are laboriously applied, proud mothers cheer on their daughters in hopes that their particular version artificially constructed beauty will allow them to outshine all the rest. Although pageant girls may be an extreme representation of made-up little girls, the statistics among a more realistic sampling of the population show that cosmetic consumption is on the rise for girls of elementary school age. Research done by Jessica Bennett for her Newsweek article, Generation Diva, presents staggering statistics. In the text she states: “According to market-research firm Experian, 43 percent of 6- to 9-year-olds are already using lipstick or lip gloss; 38 percent use hairstyling products; and 12 percent use other cosmetics. And the level of interest is making the girls of "Toddlers & Tiaras" look ordinary,” (Bennett). These numbers represent a growing trend that affects all age groups, with more and more money being spent by girls under the age of eighteen on cosmetics and beauty treatments each year. When physical beauty is transformed into a kind of social currency, one that must constantly be sought and replenished depending on market trends, the ramifications for developing girls seeking the approval of their peers can be damaging. Bennett cites Susie Orbach’s book Bodies when she says:

…good looks and peak fitness are no longer a biological gift, but a ceaseless pursuit. And obsession at an early age, she says, fosters a belief that these are essential components of who we are—not, as she puts it, "lovely add-ons." "It primes little girls to think they should diet and dream about the cosmetic-surgery options available to them, and it makes body the primary place for self-identity.” (Bennett)

When the focus changes from personal accomplishments to outward displays of accepted standards of femininity, young girls lose many opportunities to view their worth through lenses other than the physical. Instead of being judged by their whole, these children are reduced to their stereotypically feminine presentations and how well these are enacted daily. That type of stress, ingrained in female children from the time they can pick up and read a Cosmo that Mom might have lying about, negatively effects self-esteem and gives girls and incredibly skewed view of what they should become in order to be successful women.

The psychological findings brought forth by Bennett echo points brought up by Peggy Ornstein in her article, "What’s Wrong with Cinderella?". Although Ornstein found nothing quantifiable wrong with a youthful preoccupation with princesses, her research did find something shocking. She states in the text:

…there is evidence that young women who hold the most conventionally feminine beliefs — who avoid conflict and think they should be perpetually nice and pretty — are more likely to be depressed than others and less likely to use contraception. What’s more, the 23 percent decline in girls’ participation in sports and other vigorous activity between middle and high school has been linked to their sense that athletics is unfeminine (Ornstein 4).

While sports might wash off a young girl’s make-up, the life lessons they might teach her are invaluable, and the self-promotion of reproductive health is far more important than any beauty routine ever implemented in hopes of looking like the perfect girl. These are the important points often overlooked by tweens and teens on their quest to achieve the ultimate standard of beauty.

The best tool that moms have to counteract the negative consequences of social pressures to embody heteronormative beauty standards is their own self-esteem. Daughters learn from their mothers, more than any media source, what is considered acceptable and feminine. Although a good upbringing can’t protect girls from all of the world’s unachievable standards, if a young woman has a mother to look up to that emphasizes her embodiment as not purely physical, then maybe she’ll see that beauty can be more than just what lies on the surface.


1. Bennett, Jessica. "Generation Diva: How Our Obsession with Beauty is Changing Our Kids." Newsweek. 30 03 2009: n. page. Web. 4 Jun. 2012.

2. Ornstein, Peggy. "What's Wrong with Cinderella?" New York Times 26 12 2006, n. pag. Web. 4 Jun. 2012. <>

"Mommy Wars" and the Working Woman

By Emily Kaiser 

It’s been featured on Fox and Friends, Dr. Phil, Good Morning America and countless other talk shows. The so-called “Mommy Wars” pits mother against mother in a showdown for who is the best (or worst) mom. What it really all boils down to though is mother-blame, or the idea that mothers are the source of all kinds of psychological trauma in children, and that if you don’t raise your kids in the socially constructed “right way” they will end up emotionally detached criminals. This focus has mainly been around working mothers, and whether or not having a career will emotionally scar your kids for life. While generally evidence points to “no”, there’s still plenty of media hype around the concept, which therefore begs the question, “How prevalent is mother blame against working women in today’s society?”

Historically speaking, mothers have been blamed for all sorts of physical and psychological troubles in children, from homosexuality to insanity (Coontz 70). Instilling the fear that children would turn out abnormal unless all traditional female roles were fulfilled was a way of using social control to quietly convince women to adhere to traditional family values and to stay in the home. Freudian psychologists claimed that the family would disintegrate if the complete femininity was not achieved, and women’s magazines would address the problems of neuroses in the family stemming from working mothers (Coontz 69). However, we no longer live in the 1960s, and working mothers are more accepted now in society than ever, or so we’d like to tell ourselves. However, there are still plenty of people ready to point the finger and play the blame game when it comes to working moms. Celebrity therapist Dr. Laura Schlessinger wrote that working mother’s deprive their children of necessary maternal affection and put them on a path to criminality in 2005 (Zimmerman 207). This is no longer the outdated Generation of Vipers from the 1950s, but a modern, current edition of the same attack on women.

While the media’s portrayal of working mothers is problematic in itself, is it really all just sensationalism? Do real people actually think this way or is it all media hype? I was able to sit down and talk to my mom, who had a unique experience raising children. She had the different experiences of working full time vs. part time and raising them in two very different locations. However, a general theme seemed to keep popping up. When living in a working class neighborhood near Minneapolis and working part time with two children, she explains “some of the older ladies I worked with were somewhat approving of that, saying things like ‘Oh, it’s nice when you are able to spend the time with the kids and still get out of the house.’” However, once my family moved to an upper middle class suburb near Cleveland, the attitudes shifted significantly. With the new socioeconomic environment, she says “It seemed that many school and community events were based on the idea that a mom would be available during the day to attend the functions and to drive the kids around. I did get some attitude from some of the other moms at these events, or just surprise that anyone would expect it to be different.” While this is just one specific family, research does seem to support this general finding. According to Toni Schindler Zimmerman, “…mother blame has focused specifically on white, middle class working mothers…” (209). When away from that environment, my mom was praised for working. However, when thrust into the world of upper-middle class, stay at home moms, she immediately felt a completely different strain on the expectations of motherhood.

So is mother-blame and the ostracism of working mothers still prevalent in today’s society? It looks like it depends on where you live and who you listen to. While the media tries to stir up differences in the “right” way to parent, there may be less of a difference than many think. Furthermore, the media’s focus on blaming mothers for society’s ills is nothing new, but still just as detrimental to women. When women are made to choose the best way to parent, social and economic factors play a huge part, and there is nothing wrong with this in itself. However, when the media pits these women against each other it creates unnecessary tension, when in reality, many of the differences are insignificant.
Stephanie Coontz: A Strange Stirring
Toni Schindler Zimmerman, Jennifer T. Aberle, Jennifer L. Krafchick, Ashley M. Harvey: Deconstructing the “Mommy Wars”: The Battle Over the Best Mom

"Now You Can Be Even More Amazing!"

By Emily Kaiser

We've come a long way since The Feminine Mystique and illusions of the “perfect” housewife, but don’t tell Electrolux that. Their new series of commercials featuring Kelly Ripa show a startling contrast between their advanced technology and the backwardness of their ideas of motherhood. The reason that Electrolux’s state-of-the-art technology is so great? Because now YOU can do even more work for your family! Have to feed and clean up after two different parties in one evening and put the kids to bed with no husband in sight? It’s no problem with your new best friends, Electrolux’s oven, dishwasher, and refrigerator. Have a job? It’s no problem, after your shift (and the trip to the grocery store on the way back) you can still complete all the tasks assigned to you at home. And all of this, of course, without a wrinkle or hair out of place. Sound like the dream Betty Friedan had in mind?

Obviously this idealized, feminine woman in the commercial is hardly attainable, but is a bigger problem the fact that it’s idealized in the first place? Is this the ideal image of woman that we are supposed to aspire to be? On one hand, women are supposed to be seen as equals in the workforce, but on the other, gender stereotypes still reinforce that a woman’s value needs to revolve around being a caregiver and impressing others (D’Enbeau 31). The idea behind The Feminine Mystique was that “A woman cannot find her identity through others--her husband, her children.” (Friedan 461). This idea has succeeded in that the views of motherhood have shifted to allow women to work to achieve one identity, but they have also remained steadfast in their expectations to keep the original housewife identity as well. You can have a career, but make sure you have time to come home and cook your kids homemade macaroni and cheese; heaven forbid another mom finds out you ordered pizza for the slumber party or had the kids’ juice at the wrong temperature.

The model household portrayed in this commercial is hardly different from “homogenized national culture”(Coontz 65) that Friedan complained about when she wrote The Feminine Mystique in the early 1960s. What Friedan was speaking of were advertisements in magazines such as Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping that depicted all women as happy housewives, or, as she put it, “without…a commitment to any work…other than ‘Occupation: housewife.’” (Coontz 65) While Kelly Ripa does have a job (and a demanding one at that), it is not the career that is important in this commercial. It’s shown briefly in the first five seconds, and then forgotten about completely, switching the focus to being a good hostess, mother, and wife. She may not be the stereotypically housewife of the 1950s and 1960s, but she’s actually portrayed as something worse: a working woman with endless amounts of energy whose entire life revolves around others. On top of that, she seems happy to do all the work while the children sit back and watch television and the husband is mysteriously absent. This commercial plays up the 1950s theme, music and all, but its outdated generalizations seem less like a satire and more like blatant gender stereotypes disguised as wit.

So what’s wrong with a mom that does it all? Nothing, until it becomes an expectation. This ad isn’t sexist because it depicts a woman doing household chores and taking care of her family after work. It’s sexist because it portrays a woman whose only real satisfaction in life comes from these things, without even a moment to herself. She isn’t amazing because she is a powerful woman and television personality, she’s amazing because she can do all the household chores as efficiently as possible after her shift. So ladies, remember, you can be even more amazing, but only if your definition of amazing is how much time you can dedicate to making a roast and hosting a dinner party.


Stephanie Coontz: A Strange Stirring

Betty Friedan: The Forfeited Self

Suzy D’Enbeau and Patrice M. Buzzanell: Caregiving and Female Embodiment: Scrutinizing (Professional) Female Bodies in Media, Academe, and the Neighborhood Bar