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The Rise of ‘Mama’

Elissa Strauss | Longreads | May 10, 2015 | 4,006 words

“Like most cultural shifts in language, the rise of white, upper-middle class women who call themselves ‘mama’ seemed to happen slowly, and then all at once.” Elissa Strauss explores how the use of “mama” helped rebrand motherhood for the modern mother.

Posted inNonfiction, Story, Unapologetic Women

The Rise of ‘Mama’

“Like most cultural shifts in language, the rise of white, upper-middle class women who call themselves ‘mama’ seemed to happen slowly, and then all at once.” Elissa Strauss explores how the use of “mama” helped rebrand motherhood for the modern mother.
Photo: arileu

Elissa Strauss | Longreads | May 2015 | 15 minutes (4,006 words)

I first noticed “mama” while pregnant with my son in 2012. I was browsing on the internet—familiarizing myself the different types of mothers out there, trying to figure out what kind of mother I might become—when I noticed a number of alternative moms who referred to themselves as “mama.” This was the radical homemaking, attachment parenting, extended breastfeeding bunch, and “mama” was right at home with their folksy, back-to-the-earth approach to motherhood.

This use of mama can be traced back to women like Ariel Gore, who began publishing her alternative parenting magazine “Hip Mama” in 1993. Inspired by her experience as an urban single mom, the magazine became the source of parenting advice for riot grrrl types, tattooed and pierced women who wanted to find a way to embrace parenthood while simultaneously rejecting much of the bourgeois accouterment that comes along with it.

This fringe quality of “mama” stuck, leading to websites like the “Wellness Mama,” the home of a popular alternative lifestyle guru named Katie who is into stuff like, “cloth diapering, natural birthing, GAPS dieting, homeschooling, not eating grains, making my own toothpaste, drinking the fat and more.” For her, being a mama isn’t just about parenting one’s kids, but seeing parenting as a medium through which one can change the world.

“Here’s the thing, I can’t change the health of the world alone, but I’m absolutely convinced that as a group, women and moms can. … Not only are we raising the next generation, feeding them, teaching them, etc but we control the majority of food dollars spent around the world.”

She continues by explaining that being a “Wellness Mama” is a way for women to counter any criticism they might receive for being a stay-at-home mom. “I hope to make being #justamom just a little easier for you.” Mama isn’t just a pet name, it’s a manifesto.

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