Imagine you’re a mum trying to leave the house with your kids in the morning. You’ve only managed half a cup of coffee and have already dealt with two dirty nappies, a tantrum over a lost sock, and an entire spilled cereal box. Finally, you trundle a pram through the rush hour crowds of Waterloo Station, vaguely worrying about the sweatiness of your fringe, when you glance up at Europe’s largest billboard, and see this.
A snowy-white image of the most composed, polished and dewy-skinned woman you ever did see, cradling a baby, with the caption “Is there a perfect mum?” beneath it. How would it make you feel?
Well, this image is part of Baby Dove’s latest campaign. It went live yesterday, and has made people feel a lot of things.
@BabyDoveUKI This is terrible advertising - reminding mums they can never be "perfect" won't make them buy your products— Luna Lovegood (@pixieduskk) April 3, 2017
@BabyDoveUKI The photo you have posted and this question itself is enormously pressuring. Please think more responsibly about your advertising.— Kate Lovell (@katejlovell) April 3, 2017
And, as much as it may appear that this is just another backfiring brand experiment, it seems that sparking conversation around unrealistic depictions of motherhood in the media was Baby Dove’s aim all along. The slightly spooky woman in the photo, you see, isn’t a woman at all, but a CGI composite built by an Artificial Intelligence algorithm based on thousands of images of “mothers” in newspapers, magazines and social media.
This morning, Baby Dove revealed that their “Perfect Mum experiment” came about after nationwide research showed that 88 per cent of the 3,000 first-time mothers felt pressurised to be perfect, citing images of motherhood in newspapers and magazines, social media, and celebrity mums as the main culprits. The research also shows that his pressure is increasing some new mothers’ anxiety over their own parenting skills, and leads to them sharing fewer photos on social media, as they feel other mothers are more attractive, and that they themselves may be judged.
Several times a day, I feel like shit about myself. And it’s nice to know I’m not the only one
I think this is a very smart move on Baby Dove’s part. I get it. I’m a mum. I’m on Instagram. And I flick through my feed several times a day only to see a troop of sun-dappled, pastel-perfect women serenely making potato prints on immaculate white floors with their immaculate children, all while my hair looks like a crow’s nest, and I’m chasing my son around my higgledy-piggledy house, trying to extract a voluptuous bogey from his (admittedly adorable) nostril. Which is to say, several times a day, I feel like shit about myself. And it’s nice to know I’m not the only one.
Recently even the doyenne of perfectly poised parenting, the Duchess of Cambridge, revealed that she finds it all an enormous challenge: “Some of this fear is about the pressure to be a perfect parent; pretending we’re all coping perfectly and loving every minute of it. It’s right to talk about motherhood as a wonderful thing, but we also need to talk about it’s stresses and strains.”
This is a bit of a shock, because the Duchess of Cambridge can easily afford to have staff on hand to allow her to be sun-dappled (stylist), while serenely making potato prints on an immaculate floor (cleaner) with her immaculate children (nannies).
I suppose the crux of the matter is what lies behind the squeaky-clean depictions of “perfect mums”. Behind every art-directed image of a mother in advert, and even often on social media, is an assumption. An assumption than this poised, perfect woman has taken seamlessly to motherhood and has all her shit under control. And this is a notion that, I'll wager, barely anyone with kids can identify with. I'm not saying that nappy adverts should suddenly start featuring wild-haired women on the brink of nervous breakdown, but some image between the two would be helpful. Perhaps a woman who looks like she's doing her best to be organic, but sometimes she feeds her kids Wotsits because you can't win every battle. Or an image that suggests that sometimes the TV does the babysitting, or that she finds singing Old MacDonald for the 30th time that day a little tedious, or that sometimes she feels like being something other than a mother.
So I for one am going to take a leaf out of Baby Dove’s book and try to relax about being a perfect mum. I’m going to settle for being an adequate one, and see how far that takes me. A stylist, nanny and cleaner would be lovely, too, of course.