A busy working-mom friend recently took the time to send me a link to a new website, her subject line: "Starlit motherhood – way too precious." The site, entitled The Glow, is the creation of two childless New York-based glossy-magazine staffers (one the former photo director of Elle.com, the other senior fashion editor at InStyle) and a photographic paean to the sublime perfection of motherhood. Depending on your point of view, it is either an aspirational trifle or the place where status anxiety meets maternal guilt. In either case, it's making waves among the mommy-blogger set, a tribe not known for under-sharing their thoughts and opinions.
Launched last year, and more recently written up in Daily Candy and InStyle, as well as shared all over Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to the tune of hundreds of thousands of hits, this very simple, but visually stunning photo blog offers a fantastically rarefied vision of parenthood – free of mess, emotional complication and, curiously enough, men. Dads are mentioned affectionately in passing, but never, ever seen – who wants a hairy, bald investment banker in the middle of a domestic Eden, after all? The effect is every bit as appealing as it is appalling – a backlit, soft-focus world of thin, rich, professionally tousled mothers and their eerily serene offspring (Gigi makes her own dolls, and Greyson likes to bake!) horsing around New York apartments usually reserved for the pages of World of Interiors. Subjects so far have included a handful of fashion industry, media and PR types, including the designer Cynthia Rowley, the founder of the online boutique Dwell Studio and Friends actorDavid Schwimmer's foxy British wife.
I'm pretty sure these images aren't intended to appeal to real mothers of real children (for such wise women of experience cannot be fooled). Nay, this is reproductive-lifestyle porn for those of us who don't yet know better – that is to say, first-time pregnant chicks like me. Several times this week I found myself drifting back to The Glow, where I'd click through the images and think dreamily, "Yeah, that'll totally be me with the Marimekko smock, non-toxic-wood pirate-ship crib, flat-ironed hair and the pumpkin-bread recipe. Can't wait." At the same time, I'm not completely naïve. I know a pretty, art-directed lie when I see one. And The Glow's images of motherhood – stylized and idealized right down to the last Bon Ton cashmere sleeper set – look nothing like chaotic reality as described and experienced by my more fully encumbered girlfriends.
But perhaps indulging in airbrushed notions of motherhood in advance of the real thing is just a natural part of the biological imperative. (What else am I going to do – sit around envisioning the joys of cracked nipples all day?) As such, a site like The Glow is to broody women what Brides magazine is for single girls anxious for a proposal: a gorgeous fantasy on which to meditate until the real thing comes along and reality crashes in.
As Leah Rumack, a former fashion journalist and now deputy editor of the recently relaunched mommy mag Today's Parent, said to me in her assessment of The Glow, "Motherhood is just the next level of aspirational imaging. It starts off with the perfect cool single girl and her amazing pad, then it's her perfect wedding, her perfect house, now here she is with her perfect kids. Of course it's not reality, but who wants to see pictures of Cheerios mashed into the vintage shag rug?"
Other friends disagree, particularly the ladies who lashed out recently when I had the nerve to post a link to The Glow on Twitter just to see what would happen. One messaged me directly to complain that looking at the site made her feel crappy – not hard, as she is seven months pregnant with a bad sinus infection. "I'm sure these women all have pedicures and wonderful marriages, with several 'date nights' each week," she grumbled. "These are women no doubt supported by staff, so showcasing them in a cloying blog that focuses on 'moms' is kind of patronizing and for me negates any inspiration or guilty pleasure associated with it, because the message sucks." Another former colleague added drily, "Finally I realize what my foray into parenthood has been missing: Ambient backlighting." Others suggested names for a satirical spinoff featuring pics of screaming chocolate-smeared toddlers, the top contenders being The Grime or The Low.
It's not surprising some mothers take this stuff personally. Women tend to use digital media, be it social-networking sites like Pinterest and Britain's Mumsnet or photo blogs like The Glow, as a way of contrasting and comparing their lives to those of other women. Often these points of female connection offer empathy and humour, while at other times we get the rose-tinted irony-free world of The Glow, a site where we learn that travelling with an infant "is really easy. There's something about the white noise and the movement on the airplane that really pacifies them." Gee, thanks for that, David Schwimmer's foxy British wife. And congrats on the all-natural, pain-free birth experience, too.
I'm not going to put a damper on The Glow since that would be too easy, but nor will that stop me from cursing the site when reality comes crashing in. Until then, I'm content to bathe in the ambient backlighting of reproductive-lifestyle porn. Way too precious? Perhaps. But a precious time all the same.