The Goddess Myth & You

The fine line between inspiration and aspiration via alexandrasacksmd.com

Through social media, women continue to feel guilty and ashamed when they compare themselves and each other to ideals of perfectly scrubbed goddess-mothers: beautiful, serene, wise, all-natural, intuitive, nurturing, and very unrealistic.

If you missed TIME Magazine’s cover story on “The Goddess Myth: How a Vision of Perfect Motherhood Hurts Moms,” you’re in for a treat. Claire Howorth, assistant managing editor at TIME, wrote a deep-dive about the picture-perfect ideals I explored last year for the New York Times piece “The Birth of a Mother,” and have been expanding in a social media campaign called #motherhoodunfiltered. I had the pleasure of meeting Claire last May when she called me the day after reading my piece to discuss a similar article she was currently brainstorming. I was excited by her unique perspective on the topic, moved by her own motherhood narrative about her personal matrescence journey, and knew that we were both a part of the zeitgeist.

It has been decades since the 90s “Mommy Wars” when Hillary got slammed for saying she wasn’t one of those moms who just “stayed home and baked cookies.” But if you look hard enough (or just open Instagram) you can still see women today comparing themselves to each other (She’s a better mom because she: breast fed for 12 months; still goes out for date nights; figured out a way to keep her high powered job and still gets home for bath time; had a natural birth.) Through social media, women continue to feel guilty and ashamed when they compare themselves and each other to ideals of perfectly scrubbed goddess-mothers: beautiful, serene, wise, all-natural, intuitive, nurturing, and very unrealistic.

Blake Lively said it well in an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers last year: “There’s a lady on Instagram who I used to love. Her name was Old Joy, and she made having a baby look lovely. Everything is white, and she always has a fresh blueberry pie that’s steaming, and she’s reading Old Man And The Sea. Her baby… is just sleeping while knitting… and her toddler is giving her a massage. [I’m thinking] What?!” If a movie star with a support staff the size of a small army feels overwhelmed by that ideal, then everyone does.

Are we ready to get rid of “The Goddess Myth” entirely? Probably not.

But, it seems like we’ve reached a tipping point and women are ready to share more about the messy side of motherhood rather than continue to sweep it under the rug with last week’s Cheerios. Look no further than Christine P.’s newest Netflix comedy special “Mother Inferior.” In it, she gives a flaming description of her episiotomy as the audience groans and giggles — it’s almost as shocking as Andrew Dice Clay describing his private parts in 1988, but it seems like the mainstream is (finally) ready for it. And shout out to Ali Wong’s “Baby Cobra” special too!

Are we ready to get rid of “The Goddess Myth” entirely? Probably not. While it pains me to hear from smart, capable women who continue to feel bad about themselves and their mothering skills, a part of me accepts that the perfect mama is a cultural icon who is here to stay. Many people see a pregnant woman as a sign of hope, as awe-inspiring as the biblical Sarah (who, in the Old Testament, gave birth to Isaac at the ripe age of 90…with no epidural) or The Virgin Mary. “The Goddess Myth” is a divine earth mother who brings a new baby into the world, and becomes a universal symbol for people to feel inspired about the future, or sentimental about the past.

If we need to hold on to “The Goddess Myth,” maybe we can have the courage to look behind the social media curtain and view perfect images more as the stuff of dreams rather than a record of how our daily lives should appear. And that’s starting to happen…

I thought YES. This is the ZEITGEIST, this is what I and writers like Claire have been working toward.

Mommy-blogger Violet Gaynor has 46.4K Insta followers and her account is filled with pictures of her glowing self in a size zero bikini kissing her giggling toddler on the beach. And yet, even she is not immune. In response to the TIME article, she was inspired to share that she, too, feels mixed feelings when looking at other mothers on social media. “I read an interesting article recently about the rise of picture-perfect motherhood on social media, and the whole concept made me think. As the cofounder of a motherhood site filled with dreamy imagery, I’ll be the first to support the idea of portraying parenthood in a beautiful light in the hopes of empowering and inspiring women. But it’s perpetuating the ideal of a perfect lifestyle that gives me pause. Does anyone else ever feel thoroughly exhausted by social media? I do.”

When I saw that this post had been liked over 12,000 times, I thought YES. This is the ZEITGEIST, this is what I and writers like Claire have been working toward. Afterwards, we had a wonderful exchange about the #motherhoodunfiltered campaign.

So — go forth and goddess if it feels like an inspirational outlet to perk up the flatness of motherhood that you may feel when you’re spacing out on Instagram, perhaps while you’re scrolling through your feed in-between feeding a crying baby. But remember, there’s a fine line between inspiration and aspiration. Comparing yourself to idealized images can quickly become a trigger for guilt, self-criticism and shame. When you need a comforting dose of reality, check out the lovely, amazing, chaotic, hilarious and messy mothers who have been brave enough to share their honest pictures and stories on our #motherhoodunfiltered campaign on @MakeMotherhoodUnfiltered. Aspire, inspire, forgo the guilt, smash the shame, and join us.

Remember, there’s a fine line between inspiration and aspiration. Comparing yourself to idealized images can quickly become a trigger for guilt, self-criticism and shame.

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Read my other posts: