The Death of Sex... It's in Your Pants
Saturday Night Live did not invent the term "mom jeans," but they sure popularized it. While I knew they'd run a "mom jeans" mockummercial, I was initially afraid to watch it—too scarred by their "Cougar Den" pieces, I guess. It's hard to trust writers who will happily express a sort of scandalized nausea at the concept of ancient withered hags in their early 50s expressing anything sexual, or, indeed, merely daring to age at all. It's likewise hard not to visualize the current crop of SNL writers as a bunch of 12-year-olds retching and gagging theatrically at the idea that their parents ever had or (eeeeew!) continue to have sex. So surely they could not be trusted to handle the much-maligned "mom jean" and, by implication, the woman inside them, with anything approaching mercy.
Not that bad, right? I think they did a fairly decent job of making fun both of the look and the temptation—even appeal, at a certain point—of choosing comfortable, low maintenance, safely age-appropriate garments that happen to render you invisible to men who dig chicks. It's almost... sweet, lacking the revulsion and derision showered upon the cougars. There's plenty of that to be had most places the poor sad pants are sighted. Urban Dictionary, for instance, goes on for ages about the poochy belly and the flattened, widened buttocks and the camel toe supposedly spotted on jeans-wearing moms who fail to rate "MILF" or "Yummy Mommy" status. I'm going to go on assuming that the scorn and revulsion that comes oozing through the screen from descriptions like these is not so much aimed at the pants.
The mom jean is apparently not only desexifying, it's also, lately, ubiquitous. Teensy, snarky, and unaccountably likable TV style guru Stacy London, for instance, appears regularly on Oprah exhorting women to eschew the MJs. She has even made a quixotic attempt to rehabilitate and reclaim the term, on the model of "queer" and "cripple" and so on before it. "Moms are superheroes," enthused London in one such appearance, " 'Mom jeans' should be a super cool . . . pair of jeans that are ultra-flattering and can transition from running errands to carpool duty to dinner and a movie on date night." Which is great, except, well, we're not superheroes. I'm a big fan of supermom Elastigirl, myself, but I'm afraid I'm just not that... flexible. We do get tired, and we do get overstretched, and it's not always that easy to snap back.
Does a pair of ugly pants really signal that the woman wearing them has given up not only sexiness and probably sex but also womanhood itself? Unflattering clothes are often bought in haste following the only period in our lives when we get to borrow some of Elastigirl's superpowers—the part, alas, where she enbiggens hugely, not necessarily the ensuing snappy return to original parameters. The new shape does not fit into the old pants. It would likely look fine in different new pants, but these are the ones that were on sale, and they zip, so whatever. Harried moms buy what's convenient, or they buy nothing at all, hoping that next time they will fit into something smaller, more stylish, and sexier.
I don't actually see that many women with young kids wearing the poofy-bellied, high-waisted, tapered-leg classic mom jean. I think those are mostly seen on, well, you know, your mom. The mothers giving out that "Don't even look at me, I gave up" vibe at the playground are usually doing their giving up in a ponytail and yoga pants. OK, then, you say, patiently, do yoga pants (not worn to yoga) also signify an end to womanliness and the death of sex?
I'd be pretty careful about assuming any such thing.
There is, we hear, a strong current of competitive martyrdom flowing through our playgrounds and PTA meetings, at least if those articles in Harper's and The New York Times lifestyle sections are to be believed. "I don't have time to shop!" brags Soccer Mom to Ballet Mom, "I can barely do laundry!" "Forget laundry, " boasts Ballet Mom to Gymnastics Mom, "I can barely get a shower..." But I’m tempted to see all of it as hyperbole, drama, and even an attempt at humor, and those women don't look so ill-groomed to me. Certainly it is easy, even tempting, to "let go" early on, when the baby is shrieking and the toddler is clinging and you can barely remember sex, let alone want any. But not only is it possible to pull yourself together and get a shower after that point, I actually have a great deal of faith in the ability of most mothers to do so.
My own friends, when asked, seemed neither convinced nor concerned that dressing mommishly (the jeans, the yoga pants, or the sporty suburban uniform of t-shirt, capris, running shoes, and shorter, wash-and-wear hair) expressed or promoted a loss of libido. They worry more that dressing that way signals a loss of individuality, and that I can see—there is a dreadful sameness—but I'm still not sure that even a garment as stultifying as a khaki capri has the power to sap us of uniqueness or spark.
While there is unquestionably an Xtreme Mom look out there (perfectly captured by the SNL commercial's headbands and appliquéd vests), which, in its simultaneous girlishness and matronliness, seems to be actively waving away sexual interest of any sort, not all clothing is serving a semiotic function. Once we're past feeling compelled to advertise our taste in music, our politics, or our kinkier hobbies with every outfit (I can remember, with some shame but more wonder, outfits of mine which flagged all three), much of what we wear is merely clothes.