I got a blow dry before the birth of both my babies. I knew there’d be no time afterwards yet there would be photos. Lots of photos. The first iconic shots of me and my newborns – a roaming maternity ward photographer scheduled for the very next day – so it was imperative I looked my best.
A blow dry is nothing. I have friends who’ve hobbled into the birthing suite with spray tans, freshly minted pedicures, eyelash tints. I met a woman who booked a postnatal make-up artist.
I get it. At a time when you’re photographed more than ever (childbirth about as momentous as occasions get) you look your absolute worst. With my first baby, I was in labour for two full days and then some, only to be whisked into an operating theatre for an emergency caesarean. I’d had no sleep and had been hard at it trying to get my baby to budge – to no avail – then anaesthetised.
There was no way I was going to front up to a photo shoot in that state documenting this pivotal moment of my and my baby’s life.
The second labour caught me so unawares that, blessedly, my make-up and blowdry were still intact. These photos were not for public consumption, just to sit on my bookshelf. But I didn’t want to look at them and forever be reminded of how ghastly I actually felt. Happy, yes, but utterly depleted and monumentally shell-shocked all the same. At the very least I wanted good hair.
In the very unglamorous and gritty existence of new motherhood, the postpartum photo shoot (as de rigueur these days as birthing classes) is our one reprieve from reality. It’s a rare excuse to doll up at a time when the transition from being the centre of our own world to not is cataclysmic.
In pregnancy we look after ourselves, tread carefully. We are treasured, goddess like, fussed over and told to eat well and rest up. But the minute we give birth, our needs are instantaneously usurped to become all about the baby, and somewhere in there we disappear in a cycle of sleep deprivation and breastfeeding, selflessness and surrender. We joke (only it’s the truth) about not getting out of our PJs and never washing our hair. So often we lose ourselves, slaves to the rhythm. In anything apart from our role as mother, it’s as if we no longer matter.
Which is why we like to look at mothers who look nothing like that.
We pore over glam-mum websites like The Grace Tales, created by former fashion magazine editor, Australian Georgie Abay, and New York-based Romy and The Bunnies, which boast tens of thousands of followers, unashamedly targeted at “style conscious mothers”‘, trading on their slant towards the unattainable.
They star impossibly glamorous women with tousled tendrils and “natural” make-up frolicking nonchalantly in fields in white lace frocks with perfect laughing children and babies who don’t cry. Or reclining effortlessly on chic velvet settees not a toy or upended melamine bowl in sight. You too can have this life, is the inference. Only we can’t. Because these woman are models, actors, designers, whose outfits cost a small fortune and they’ve been styled and snapped by artists who do this for a living. It couldn’t be further from our own lives. Yet we lap it up. Their very appeal lies in the fact that their exquisite high-end photo shoots bear no resemblance to reality. We’re all in on the ruse. The welcome escapism. It’s not like we’re kidding ourselves that this is how it is for other people.
Yet Beyonce tries it on and all hell breaks loose.
When the pop diva nestled in beneath an elaborate floral garland by the ocean with perfect beach hair and deflated belly one month after delivering twins, propped in her arms like they were placed there, accessories to her glamour shoot, mums the world over rolled their eyes. And that’s being kind.
So incensed were some that they swiftly posted revenge reality, flooding the net with hilarious memes, their own versions of what the newborn twins gig is really like. Like Irish mum of four (including four-month-old twins), Sharon Kellaway, photographed by her six-year-old (“no qualifications”) in their backyard, swathed in an owl blanket and tired wedding veil.
Blogger Constance Hall shared a throwback photo of herself looking spent, hair unkempt, a baby twin on each breast.
For her efforts (and it would have been quite the effort), Beyonce was labelled an attention-seeking narcissist who’s lost the plot. “She’s gone too far this time”, was typical of the internet outrage in response to the “offending” image.
It was time to give Queen B a reality check. But maybe she doesn’t want a reality check, any more than we do.
We’re all too aware of what new motherhood is really like: the constant juggle, the mess, the unpredictability. Certainly no call for make-up or a fancy frock. We live it every day and don’t need to see it reflected back.
What we do need is to occasionally dive into a parallel universe where mothers are centre stage, celebrated for their individuality and accomplishments. Where raising children is not the sum of her. Where her sense of identity is not some frivolous detail. Even if she’s wearing a maxi dress we could never for the life of us afford.
Jacinta Tynan is a Sky News presenter, Sunday Life columnist and author of Mother Zen @jacintatynan