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Body image and the working mom

Categories: Making Time, The Juggle


It’s taken me a while to understand that I’ve been letting myself go.

I was looking in the mirror the other day when something caught my eye. “So, that’s what they mean by ‘fine lines’,” I said to myself. “DAMN it.”

And then, a couple of nights ago, I was flipping through a “Victoria’s Secret” catalog when three things occurred to me at once: “Hey, those underthings are meant to be worn without clothes on top!” “Hmmm… it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve worn anything like that.” And “I can’t imagine feeling good enough about myself to put that on right now.”

And I realized… letting yourself go isn’t just a matter of being out of shape physically. It’s a matter of being out of shape emotionally and mentally, too.

The physical part is probably the easiest to remedy, and that’s hard enough. Emotionally and mentally, it’s been so long since putting myself first was second nature to me that, I have to admit, I’m both envious and a little resentful of the people who seem to do it so effortlessly.

Back to those little lines. I’ve spent years moisturizing my skin faithfully and ignoring commercials for anti-aging solutions and serums because I didn’t think they applied to me yet. I thought that the fact that I was so careful about my skin meant that a.) I wouldn’t end up with wrinkles too soon and b.) I was taking care of myself pretty well. Turns out, I’m not, really. Not at all. I know I need to make time to do it, but honestly, I find myself standing in my bathroom at night, desperate to wash my hair without an audience and yet so equally desperate for sleep that I’m considering forgoing the hairwash so I can go to bed 20 minutes earlier. Make time… how?

I’m not insecure about my looks, per se, though I’m not delusional — I know I’m not getting any younger, and I know that I can’t blame baby weight for the extra 15 pounds I’ve packed on my 5-foot-3 frame, not with a 2-year-old scampering about the house. I don’t buy into the “40 is the new 30!” hype, and I don’t expect to look like Angelina Jolie after popping out a few kids. (Interestingly enough, Angelina Jolie doesn’t expect to look like Angelina Jolie anymore, either. Except, of course, she does.)

As working moms, do we have a worse body image than the average woman because we’re being scrutinized at work as well as at home and by society in general? Or is ours better than average, because we simply don’t have the time to deal with the details?

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6 comments so far...

  • [...] More: Body image and the working mom [...]

    Body image and the working mom  |  November 10th, 2008 at 2:08 am

  • I don’t know if my body image changed much between my SAH times and my working times, but I feel more pressure to maintain my image at work because I am around other women who are and are not mothers. However, the routine I have is nothing like some of my friends and coworkers that have more disposable time in any given day or week. I have simplified my am and pm routine as much as possible, but still make time for waxing and the occasional facial to help the maintenance process along. I don’t however feel horrible about skipping steps or not being faithful to my routine. I feel a lot of it is balance. I ‘d love to spend more time on myself, but diapers need changing, the dog and children always seem to be hungry and then there are the dust bunnies that have taken over the bedrooms. Somehow facials or a 30 minute bath seem much too selfish to justify.

    I’ve recently booked bath time for myself on the family calendar. It was well worth it.

    KLG  |  November 10th, 2008 at 9:45 pm

  • Yes. I’ve totally let myself go, and I don’t feel good about it. I dress nice and wear makeup because I have to go to an office vs. staying home, but I’ve still let myself go. Finding time for manicures that render your hands useless for at least 30 minutes is almost impossible. If I manage to do my nails, it doesn’t last b/c of household chores. My skin care routine has gone from Clinique to Walmart’s Equate b/c when there are other priorities, I can’t justify spending so much on cosmetics and facial products. I’ve gotten to the point where my hair needs dyeing now, but I haven’t found the time to do that either. And finally, exercise and nutrition. I used to be a fitness buff, but now I don’t have time and when I do, I’m too exhausted. Nutrition, well…I can’t seem to sit down and enjoy a meal so my meals are on the go and often not the most nutritious. As a result of these things, my body reflects the neglect.

    I often envy the women, who stay home. They complain alot, but when it comes down to it, they have time for themselves when the kids are at school or napping. They have hobbies and lunch dates. Me, I just run around like a chicken with her head cut off from sun up to sun down.

    If I could, I would stay home.

    D  |  November 11th, 2008 at 10:02 am

  • I don’t really think there is much of a difference between the body image issues of working moms and SAH moms. Media and (some) men have the same unrealistic standards for all women, regardless of occupation.

    I do sometimes, think, however, that I (as a working mom) maybe put more effort and thought into my appearance than some of my SAHM friends. They talk about staying in their sweatpants all day and showering twice a week, and I shudder. I can’t imagine. I really enjoy being “put together” for work every day. I like putting on nice clothes, putting on makeup, and doing my hair. It makes me feel human and feminine. I *hope* that if I was a SAHM I would still get dressed and look decent, even if I were only going to the park and the grocery store.

    I really, honestly don’t buy the whole idea that it’s impossible to shower and get ready with having kids to take care of. Even when my daughter was a baby, she would sit in her bouncy seat for 10 minutes so I could shower and put on mascara. If we are talking about *choosing* not to make the effort because of fatigue or simply not caring, that’s something else. But to say that the simple fact of being a mother is an excuse? Sounds like a cop out to me.

    Robyn  |  November 11th, 2008 at 11:11 am

  • KLG: I really relate to the “too selfish to justify” idea — I feel the same way. But I also think that I’ve become too willing to let things slide, in terms of how I take care of myself, now that I’m juggling work and family because I just don’t feel I’m as much of a priority as everyone and everything else I have to take care of.

    D: Thank you for your comment! I hear you… a lot of us work because we have to, not because we want to. I think the additional stress we face makes an impact on how we view ourselves, and on our willingness and ability to take care of ourselves.

    Robyn: As a member of the media, I have to say that I don’t think it’s the media will these unrealistic expectations as much as it is society! Unless gossip and fashion sites count as media (I don’t count them… I’m a media elite snob, I guess). I think your point about choice is a good one. I also think that it’s not impossible to shower and get ready with kids in tow, but it does make it harder (then again, I have 5 of them — even though the big 3 are older and self sufficient, there are many, many times when I wish I could go to the bathroom without having to choose between having and audience or listening to wails of “Maaamaaaaa!” or opening the door to find that my toddler has decided to get the markers out and color on the TV screen in the 90 seconds I’ve been unavailable!)

    Lylah  |  November 11th, 2008 at 11:25 am

  • Well, fashion and gossip media are the main ones that use models and report to women on how they *should* look, so those are the ones to which I was referring. One doesn’t often find the NYT running articles such as “How to Lose 10 lbs in 10 Days” in the main sections.

    How does “society” impose appearance standards on women? And to whom does “society” refer? It seems to me that “society” expresses its values through… media. So I’m a bit confused about the distinction.

    Robyn  |  November 11th, 2008 at 5:11 pm