This perverse little morality tale—MILF and cougar as the new madonna and whore—has played out most notably in the tabloids. When Britney Spears was photographed in a MILF IN TRAINING wife-beater a few years back, pre-kids, a debate erupted online as to whether a bad mom could be a MILF. (The consensus: no. Sorry, Kate Moss.) Demi Moore, on the other hand, has worked tirelessly to earn the MILF honorific: Think of those happy family photo ops with Ashton grinning like a lucky manny. Moore seems to understand that the appeal of the MILF lies in appearing simultaneously maternal and doable—like Madonna, who paid her MILF dues with a kiddie book on top of all that yoga. In the court of popular opinion, without the kids in the picture you’re just mutton dressed as lamb.
Dina Lohan clearly missed that memo. In a recent feature in Harper’s Bazaar, the 44-year-old, pictured sipping Champagne in a limo, brags that she’s more like a sister than a mom: She wears Lindsay’s designer hand-me-downs, and they even go clubbing together. For this, she was scorned in the media—Gawker dubbed her a “speckly cougar” (ouch). Apparently being over-tanned, oversexed, and underconcerned about your daughter’s rehab is so not hot.
Which is why the MILF’S MILF, on- and offscreen, is 43-year-old Mary-Louise Parker, who makes MILFiness seem effortless and ethereal. Parker entered the MILF hall of fame with her acceptance speech at the 2004 Golden Globes, when she followed through on a dare—two months after Billy Crudup left her for Claire Danes and less than three weeks after giving birth—to thank her newborn son “for making my boobs look so good in this dress.”
And then onscreen last year in the second season of Weeds, Parker’s character—a widowed suburban mom who deals pot to support her two kids and her upper-middle-class lifestyle—is introduced to Snoop Dogg (as himself) as a MILF. “I’d do you,” he responds charitably, and Parker giggles like a schoolgirl. Then he smokes the stuff, declares it “MILF weed,” and performs a hilarious MILF-weed rap. And therein lies the twisted genius of the MILF movement: Can you imagine another scenario where blatant objectification is passed off as gentlemanly behavior?
All of which leaves us a little conflicted about the movement. We, like many modern women, are trapped between two fears: that having kids will make us unsexy, and that trying to stay sexy will make us ridiculous. Our inner feminist tells us that MILFdom is not a solution but rather a self-destructive form of female-chauvinist piggery, to borrow Ariel Levy’s term: Are today’s mothers really so afraid of seeming past their prime that they accept objectification as a compliment? In this light, the MILF mandate is just another superficial standard for women to try—and fail—to live up to, the final, exhausting step for alpha moms trying to “have it all.” First, there is the pressure to be alluring during pregnancy—to carry it off like Heidi Klum rather than getting puffy-faced like Kate Hudson. (Yeah, turns out it’s now okay to call a pregnant woman fat!) Then there’s the race to get back into shape everywhere (“Kegels! Kegels! Kegels!” order the moms on UrbanBaby). Next, the small matter of resurrecting your libido from the diaper pail. And finally, MILFhood. (Though anyone who saw Dame Helen Mirren at the Oscars might argue that it doesn’t even end there: Hello, GILF!)
But in the end, we’re suckers for the MILF: She may be glossy, she may be goofy, yet we can’t help but cheer for her. There’s something disarming about an archetype that lets the ladies take back the negligee, an image that suggests that motherhood is more than the death of desirability and the birth of bad haircuts. And after all, the MILF might just represent a less uptight version of maternity, in which it’s no longer considered selfish or unreasonable to protect that part of your identity that has nothing to do with scraped knees and runny noses. We’ve got long-term monogamy, one career, and two delicate egos to protect, so when we become moms, we’ll take our chances with the “speckly cougar” affronts. But if you catch us feeling the burn on a stripper pole, please shoot us.