I recently went to a launch breakfast for a new site for moms. Elizabeth Street:Where Stylish Moms Meet is a very posh parenting site. There, the aforementioned stylish moms show off their gorgeous taste and direct you to the loveliest places and items (which sometimes have very high price tags). I admit I first reacted to the concept with some anxiety. I have, after all, devoted a good portion of my adult life—both personal and professional—to railing against the tyranny of “aspirational” media. But after I came down from the coffee and the trauma of sitting flawed and frizzy haired in a greenhouse full of highly perfected fashion professionals, I came to a realization.
Aspirational media isn’t really so tyrannical anymore. In this age of blurting and blogging and tweeting and spurting, the carefully crafted whiff of a lady you almost definitely are not seems a lot less oppressive than it used to. It feels almost quaint… like the fairy tale it has always purported to be.
Until recently, we were all desperate for media that showed life the way it really was. Identification came in slivers, fictional or autobiographical nuggets stuck between the stuff people were trying to sell. Now, women can find a handful of daily likeminded true confessionals in as many clicks. Whether or not we choose to avail ourselves of this new we-ist world, just knowing it’s out there changes the way we think about old-school media. With so many voices, aesthetics and opinions, there is no almighty authority. Anyone with an internet connection can see themselves reflected in the reflections of others. We are not alone. But do we want to be not alone with just our miserable selves?
The pitch for Fashion is this: Real life is boring. Women want escape. They want fantasy. They want fairy tales. I always thought this was bullshit. Women don’t need more reasons to think their lives are inadequate. I maintain that there are some very bad things about the selling of a fantasy. But I get it now.
Motherhood is grimy and gross on a day to day basis. For the decade I’ve been in the thick of it, I’ve made it my business to tell it like it truly is—often veering into complaint territory. Though I’d be lying if I said I had any control over this, I do believe it serves an important purpose here. The hard parts of motherhood DO feel easier when you know other people are hating them too. At least they did for me.
But I have also seen how motherhood can create a longing for a world that isn’t so very real. There are many possible doorways: Celebrity gossip. Vampire romance. Obsessive collection of photos of fishtail braids or decorative cupcakes. And then there’s the old school answer to middle aged female ennui: fashion magazines…and their new world counterparts, which were tailor made to fill the void before women even knew they had one.
At the breakfast I was seated with some young women without kids. They loved Elizabeth Street, they said, because it gave them hope for maintaining their style—and lifestyle—after they took the plunge. As the lone parent at the table, I thought about bringing a dose of reality into the conversation. Clearly the site shows a well-edited slice of someone’s life, not the whole of it; looking great in a professionally styled video doesn’t mean you won’t have days of trudging to the playground in dirty pants with triple bags under your eyes, etc. But I stopped myself. They’ll find out eventually. And maybe the fairy tale serves a purpose too: giving people hope that they can become mothers without sacrificing themselves.