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Mara Martin NellyRodi
Eléonore Terzian 12.15.20

Mothers of Ambitions


The social dimension of maternity is evolving. Well-known models, actresses, influencers and women CEOs are changing the conversation about what it means to be a mother.

A much-cited 2018 OnePoll study, commissioned by the Welch’s Foods and bearing on 2,000 mothers of 5 to 12-year-olds, found that the average mother works 98 hours a week, the equivalent of 2.5 jobs.

A year after the #Metoo movement broke out, the fight to obtain basic rights (e.g. equal pay, maternity leave, support for breastfeeding mothers, and access to good child care services) is still ongoing, but attitudes about mothers having careers are evolving.

Embracing ambition in the workplace

The conversation about professionally ambitious working mothers is headed in a promising direction. Recent examples indicate a shift away from a reductive view (working mothers are passive career-wise) to a positive one (motherhood is compatible with high-level corporate responsibilities).

One prominent voice is Sarah Lacy, founder and CEO of the tech news website Pando and author of “A Uterus is Not a Bug, It’s a Feature”. In the spring of 2018, she introduced Chairman Mom, a subscription-based community platform for working mothers to help them solve the problems they face.

Also in the United States, Create & Cultivate has taken a similar stance, seeking to change the mood about working moms. This network has launched a thought process on the relationship between mothers and their career, operating on the principle that motherhood is no longer a career hindrance, but a testing experience that develops qualities considered desirable in corporate life, such as endurance, productivity, decision-making and empathy.

All of these initiatives are driven by ambition… because this word, previously associated with men, has broken out of its shackles! A case in point is fashion designer Tory Burch‘s “Embrace Ambition Series” campaign (#EmbraceAmbition), intended to fight unconscious bias, empower women and celebrate female role models.

Campagne #EmbraceAmbition ©Tory Burch

In parallel, this mind-set has reached the sports arena. The Olympic runner Alysia Montano called Nike out for making sponsorship pay cuts during her pregnancy in 2016.  Three years after the ensuring backlash, the brand has changed its policy in favor of maintaining pay during pregnancy, a decision that has inspired other equipment suppliers (e.g. Burton and Brooks) to follow suit.

Fashion models-turned-moms rock the boat

Motherhood is the new obsession on fashion runways, proof positive that this is a mainstream trend. Several models have recently attracted attention to their personal role as mother. One example is 21-year-old American model Slick Woods did a catwalk in New York City for the lingerie brand Fenty only hours before giving birth.

Another is Lily Aldridge, who did a show for Brandon Maxwell when she was five months pregnant and has been an ardent advocate of the movement via many posts in the social media.

Slick Woods x Elle & Lily Alridge x Vogue (2018)

On the breastfeeding front, there seems to be a general consensus among these new mothers. In a dramatic break with lingerie show conventions (e.g. requirements like those set by Victoria’s Secret), Mara Martin walked the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Show in July 2018 while breastfeeding her daughter Aria. She made her point forcefully on Instagram: “I think women should be able to feed their babies how they want, when they want and where they want. End of discussion!” In other words, the ways in which these women want to balance their work and private life reflects a shift in social mores.

At London Fashion Week last September, Valeria Garcia took up the torch by sporting two breast pumps at the Marta Jakubowski runway.  Great publicity for the pump manufacturer, Elvie!

Mara Martin au défilé Sports Illustrated (2018) & Valeria Garcia à la fashion week de Londres (2018)

Also at London Fashion Week, the Chinese fashion designer Xander Zhou presented his men’s collection using models wearing baby bumps, taking inspiration from this hot topic to  continue his exploration of gender-related issues.  While his futuristic “New World Baby” slogan unleashed criticism of his cross-gender approach, this move nevertheless represented a milestone in the evolution of maternity-related design codes, including among men.

Entertainment gets into the act

Netflix is on board with the new attitudes. “Workin’ Moms”, a series about new mothers juggling work, love and family, has been very popular for nearly two years now. In addition, the material used by actress and stand-up comedian Ali Wong in her stand-up special – “Hard Knock Wife” (filmed when she was seven months pregnant) –  deals with motherhood and feminism. She raises topics like the unfair parental burden placed on women, breast-feeding as well as the entrenched sexist attitudes that prompted her to quip that “when you’re a new mom on maternity leave it’s like The Walking Dead, you’ve just gotta hook up with a crew to survive” and  denounce the absurdity of not having paid maternity leave at the federal level in the United States.

Workin’ Moms © Netflix

Also rating high on the visibility scale, rapper Cardi B included shots of herself breastfeeding in her latest music video “Money” (2018) and has discussed balancing work and motherhood in a widely-aired video interview.

This “HyperReal” dynamic is resonating widely in the social media. With influencers like fashion models Chrissy Teigen and Tina Kunakey or author Angela Garbes leading the way, women are realizing that they can shape their own experience of motherhood. Some voices are even calling for a more matriarchal society…

Cover credits © Mara Martin for Happy Mom Conference

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