Cloaked

Offering it up.jpg

Offering it up. 2021

You appear, Mother.jpg

Mother, you appear. 2021

Cloaked.jpg

Cloaked, 2021

In The Mother Knot (1976) Jane Lazarre reflects upon the appearance of parents with young children:

 

…it did not represent a lack of interest in sexuality or even in aesthetics, but a willingness to don the most practical uniform for the work at hand. And we would see beyond the soiled clothing and rumpled hair to the naked, open, still youthful bodies underneath the cloak of parenthood (2001:64)

 

There are complex considerations in understanding the implications of the ‘cloak of parenthood’ on the Mother’s body and identity. The ‘soiled and rumpled’ appearance described by Lazarre, focuses on practicality as a uniform donned for the work of mothering. But mothering is not a job, it is a role, that for most, becomes a permanent part of their core self-actualisation. So, how does motherhood change the way a woman’s identity is perceived and read in terms of her bodily presentation?  A study by Friedman, Weinberg and Pines (1998:78) found that sexuality and motherhood were mutually exclusive in perceptions. In their study, both male and female participants overwhelmingly perceived that the more sexual a woman appears to be, the less likely it is that she is a ‘good mother’. This finding begs the question: What assumptions do we make about someone’s sexual activity and parenting ability based on appearances? There is a myriad of issues about the roles we play as adults in contemporary society and how they are read through our appearances. Perception of women’s bodies is in the Western cannon is still informed by a patriarchal mythology, that for centuries has defined the female body as summed up by Arienne Rich:

 

on the one hand as impure, corrupt, the site of discharges, bleedings, dangerous to masculinity, a source of moral and physical contamination…on the other hand, as mother the woman is beneficent, sacred, pure, asexual, nourishing ; and the physical potential for motherhood (2001:92) 

 

These collage works published in 2021 in a special issue of the Fashion Studies Journal: Fashion and Motherhood explore the aesthetic that sits between these two descriptors of womanhood: mother and sexual being.