When Did Looking 'Like a Mom' Become an Insult?

PHOTO: A mother and daughter are pictured in this stock image. Erik Isakson/Getty Images
A mother and daughter are pictured in this stock image.

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on Babble.com. It has been reprinted here with permission. Disney is both the parent company of Babble and ABC News.)

During a haircut consultation with a client a few weeks ago, I had a revelation. The young woman wanted a new hair cut with one stipulation: “I want to go shorter,” she said, “just don’t make me look like a mom.” To which I replied, “Oh no, no, no! I won’t.”

Then I thought about that for a minute. I’m a mom, right? After I pointed this out, my client, who is not a mother and in her early ’20s, apologized. “I didn’t intend for you to feel badly,” I explained, “I say it and all of my clients who are mothers say it too.”

Hold up. Let’s examine that.

One mom says, “Please don’t make me look like a mom,” and the other mom responds, “Of course not! I would never.” As ridiculous as that sounds, it happens all the time.

We all know what the phrase suggests. The “like a mom” trope is a long-standing stereotype, and a pretty unflattering one at that. In this particular context, mom is synonymous with outdated, frumpy, trying too hard, and perhaps even well, old. The implication is that a mother is no longer relevant, especially when it comes to beauty or fashion. For a demographic bent on improving self-esteem, that is a pretty awful way to stereotype ourselves.

Short hair seems to be the most criticized of the quintessential “mom” attributes. The truth is that they can be more flattering on older women because hair loses density as we age. Short haircuts can also be more flattering on teenagers who don’t like styling their unruly manes. Short hair isn’t “mom hair,” and mom hair isn’t bad. In fact, some of the most current, most feminine, and edgiest hairstyles happen to be cropped.

It’s also true that moms sometimes wear sweatpants, don’t bother with makeup, and skip the blow dry. You know who else does this? Um, everyone. College students, young professionals on the weekend, women who don’t have children, and of course, men of every age and demographic. It’s not a sign of giving up, whether you are studying for high school midterms or picking your triplets up from daycare. Whether you spend what some would deem “too little” time or what some would deem “too much” time on your appearance, wearing attractive (uncomfortable) clothing, makeup, and styled hair is not a requirement to prove either your beauty OR your effort at life.

While everyone can have casual days, the mothers I know happen to be pretty fabulous. They aren’t that different from the mothers in the media. Michelle Obama, Gwen Stefani, Tina Fey, Beyonce … women with kids are taking care of themselves, staying fit, and rocking their own individual style. When I pick up my son from school, I see a wide array people (including many dads) from different cultures and backgrounds, all unique and beautiful.

The connotation of what it is to look “like a mom” is what is outdated. Sure, many of us are afraid that motherhood has changed us and we don’t want our hair to reflect those fears about ourselves. But don’t say you don’t want to look “like a mom.” No one wants to look frumpy, so let’s drop the cliché and instead articulate how we do want to look. We can ask for hairstyles that are sexy like Gisele’s, professional like Meredith Vieira’s, sassy like Halle Berry’s, chic like Cate Blanchett’s, or edgy like Nicole Richie’s. These mothers and countless others are proving that “like a mom” is not an insult.

So the next time one of my clients with children tells me she doesn’t want to “look like a mom,” I’m going to say, “You are a mom. And you are beautiful.” Maybe it’s just hair. Maybe it’s a new way of seeing ourselves, and each other.

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