The Yummy Mummy's survival guide
Becoming a mum doesn't mean having to look like Nora Batty and staying at home with trashy TV for company. STEVEN RUSSELL finds out how to be a Yummy MummyDARN it.
Becoming a mum doesn't mean having to look like Nora Batty and staying at home with trashy TV for company. STEVEN RUSSELL finds out how to be a Yummy Mummy
DARN it. You can barely open a newspaper or glossy magazine without being confronted by a celebrity mum – a Yummy Mummy, as they've come to be known.
There you are, in laddered tights and with your Tasmanian devil of a toddler in a headlock, and there they are: slim, cool, sophisticated and fragrant. Their own youngsters are always stylishly dressed and impeccably behaved, of course – probably with grade six violin under their belts by the age of three and already speaking four languages.
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But don't reach for the biscuit tin, the duvet and the puddle of self pity just yet. There's a lot of smoke and mirrors and plain hard graft involved in keeping celebs looking good. And, reckons author and former TV presenter Liz Fraser, any woman can earn her YM badge with just a little effort.
By her definition a Yummy Mummy is a woman of any age who doesn't identify with the traditional dowdy image of motherhood. She is a good, loving mother, but tries not to let it compromise her personal style and outside interests.
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Which is all very well, but still doesn't quite slay the green-eyed monster that awakes when we see someone like Jools Oliver looking so radiant – and without two kids soldered to her jeans with stray jam.
“When I feel really down like that, I try to visualise someone like Madonna or another beautiful mother saying 'Just get off my leg! The kettle's boiling!'” laughs Liz, 31 and the mother of three young children.
“If you try to visualise them as normal people, it really helps. It's just that for 20% of their lives it's not normal: they're incredibly beautiful and well turned out and fashionable and rich. But for 80% of their lives they row with their husbands, they forget to empty the dishwasher or whatever. And I think having that mental picture helps.
“Part of their job is to look fantastic. If Elle McPherson, who is a model and has her own lingerie line, were 17 stone and didn't brush her hair, she wouldn't do very well. We, the general public, have got to be smart enough to realise that when we open a magazine and see pictures of Gwyneth Paltrow looking absolutely fantastic – and I do think 'Blimey!' – she's got the money to look that way.”
Repeat after Liz: It doesn't require a Swiss bank account or a live-in nanny to be a YM.
“Look at my mobile,” she exhorts with a grin. It works, but it's seen better days and is supported by a belt of sticky tape. “I like the phone,” she argues. “And it is 'yummy', because I think being yummy is all about being practical and very clever with your money – and that's being clever with your money.”
Liz's philosophy is expounded in her new book The Yummy Mummy's Survival Guide – How to put the Mmmm back into Motherhood. It covers all the things a new mother needs to know – ranging from (deep breath) common concerns of mums-to-be, physical changes, sex during pregnancy, clothes, getting ready for the birth, labour, dummies and breastfeeding to: Who am I? How do I cope? Where's my figure/brain/relationship gone?
It's designed as an antidote to the books Liz read when she was first expecting. We bag the window seats in Caffee Nero, the ones with an inspiring view of King's College in Cambridge, and she explains.
“They hit the wrong tone because they assumed something about women and motherhood: that if you become pregnant you want to do it 100% and you feel able to do it. I think a lot of women feel deeply insecure about it. They feel they don't have a clue about how they're going to be a mother.
“I felt all the books assumed you were going to think 'I'm so happy this is happening to me. It's going to be wonderful 100% of the time,' when in fact 50% of the time you're going 'I'm not sure about this . . . what am I going to do? Is my marriage going to survive? Is the house going to be too small?' All of that stuff. And no-one was getting it. It was as if the moment you became pregnant you were in a perfect pink cloud for your entire life – which isn't realistic for most women.
“Because of this, if you were worried, you felt a failure before you started. I felt that very strongly. If I had any concerns about pregnancy, about having a baby, about not being a good enough mum, no-one was saying 'It's fine to worry about all that.'
“They were all a bit too saccharine. I just wanted someone to explain that 'Today it might be crap, tomorrow it could be fantastic.'”
Liz points out that 21st Century Britain is very different to even late 20th Century Britain. Not that many years ago the conventional wisdom was that mums stayed at home, “'and that's your funky, glam days over.' That's changed so much in the last decade.
“So we're now in an extreme conundrum. Maybe it would actually be lovely to be a mother and look after a baby – and we want to do that – but we don't want to lose the clothes we're used to wearing, the nice house we're living in, and all of that.
“I think at the moment we're trying to find our feet. It's almost like redefining what a woman is now.”
Liz reckons that means trusting your instinct and doing what feels right.
“I felt pressure to be a full-time mum. I felt there was no bracket that I could fit into and feel OK. That's one of the main things I wanted to get across in the book: that whatever you decide to do, it's OK. Some women love being full-time mums. Some love being career women. It's all cool.
“I wanted to address a new social phenomenon: smart women trying to marry all those things together. I want to say you maybe can't have it all, but you can have some good bits of it.
“We're still very torn about whether we feel that Baby should be seen and not heard, or whether Baby should be the entire centre of the universe; and there's very little in between. You know what? Babies should be a part of your life: they shouldn't be your entire life, nor should they be a sideline to your life.”
Liz also writes candidly about her own post-natal depression, which struck about six months after her second daughter, Phoebe, was born.
She also talks about the benefits she gained from taking Prozac to combat PND. Before, she was strongly against anti-depressants, “believing them to be for weak-minded losers who couldn't pull their socks up and get on with it”. After being prescribed Prozac, however, “I suddenly feel able to let things take their course rather than needing to control everything. The children are noticeably happier and are being lovely. It's like being on holiday from everything, and I love it.”
Liz took them for a year and doesn't regret it, though she discusses the pros and cons – and the public attitudes towards anti-depressants – in her book.
Pills can't be a quick-fix temporary solution, she emphasises – and explains how counselling helped her chill out and deal with the clutter that goes hand in hand with having children.
You can't imagine too many showbiz mums committing such concerns to print.
In fact, it's a tad unfortunate that the term “yummy mummy” has become synonymous with celebrities – those who can afford the support systems to smooth over life's wrinkles.
“That's exactly why I wanted to call the book what I have. The phrase Yummy Mummy came in maybe three or four years ago, with articles on the Belgravia set. But what about the rest of us? Does that mean we're all Grim Mums?
“I'm not rich, but I want to feel that I can be a glamorous mummy sometimes: that I can look nice.
“So, really, I wanted to define what a yummy mummy is: because we are all yummy mummies if we can just have a quick glance in the mirror before we go out, and wear some clean clothes. You just feel nice. Becoming a mother doesn't mean you have to sacrifice all that – the way you are.
And you don't have to be Madonna. It's getting away from all that. You should feel good about yourself. Just look after yourself a bit and try to feel nice. You don't have to be a fat blob, sitting at home watching daytime telly.”
* The Yummy Mummy's Survival Guide is published by HarperCollins at £12.99
LIZ Fraser's life has been nothing if not unpredictable.
She met her husband to be on her first day at Clare College, Cambridge, and proposed towards the end of her first year at university. She graduated with a science degree that she promptly lobbed into the bin – metaphorically speaking – got married, and at the age of 23 was speeding towards motherhood.
Liz was born in Oxford to academic parents. Her Cambridge degree in natural sciences saw her specialising in psychology and neurosciences. Harry, “a very tall, very handsome rower who I fancied the look of”, was two years above her and studying engineering.
And she proposed. “I did, yes – in my first year. He had graduated and might have left – he's English, but he comes from Brussels – so I thought 'I can do this.'” They celebrate their 10th anniversary this autumn.
Liz enjoyed her degree work but confesses she wasn't naturally brilliant at her subject, feeling more of a linguist at heart. After graduation, aware there was lots of interesting work going on behind closed doors in Cambridge, she borrowed her dad's video camera and made documentaries about scientific research.
In the phone directory she found a small cable TV company in Huntingdon. A deal was struck. The company would teach Liz how to edit in exchange for airing her films. She went on to become a reporter there.
After first child Emily was born eight years ago, Liz began presenting a weekly mother and baby programme, which developed into a three-hour-a-day live show.
A tape of her work was fired off to the BBC, winning her a spot as co-presenter of children's programme Live and Kicking's sister show: L&K Friday
Liz travelled down to London on Thursdays, the slot was filmed on Friday morning, and she'd be back in East Anglia by lunchtime.
“It was the usual Live and Kicking mullarky,” she laughs. “All terribly high-brow. Mr Blobby was there. We had about three guests on each week: a soap star, some interesting person, and a pop band – like S Club 7, Steps. A competition. Before you could breathe, it was finished. I'd fall asleep on the train, and do it all again the next week.”
Liz did that for a season. Documentary work followed – such as presenting The Virtual Body for Channel 4. She also did a couple of pieces for the BBC's Holiday programme.
She stopped work after her second baby was born – Phoebe is coming up for six – but half a year later realised she desperately needed adult conversation and a creative outlet.
So Liz nowadays opts for a happy medium, working part-time as a freelance writer. It allows for both mental stimulation and quality time with her girls and son Charlie, two and a half.
Her big tip is to hone the ability to laugh at yourself.
“The key to surviving motherhood is to have a wicked sense of humour, and never to take yourself too seriously. And that's it.”