Fifty Shades of Mom

If old-school sexy was a leather mini-skirt, the new sexy is confidence

A picture shows copies of the novel ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ on display at a book shop in central London on July 19, 2012. (Photo: Will Oliver/Getty Images)

Last Saturday, I was getting dressed for a night out when my daughter danced into my bedroom wearing froggy boots and a pink tutu. She caught me wriggling into an old cocktail dress. I won’t lie, it was tight. In all the wrong places. And shorter than I remembered. I told myself it would work as long as I promised not to sit down for the duration of the evening. Then my kiddo spoke up.

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“You aren’t going to wear that, are you?” she asked, pointing her tambourine at me. “Because you look crazy.”

I don’t often wear dresses. Yoga pants are more my speed. Paired with t-shirts I find on the floor. But that night, I wanted to spruce. I was invited to an adult gathering, and figured I could drop in, have a drink and a chat, and slip out with my dignity intact. And without having to purchase a new garment. Besides, before my daughter assailed my hopes, I thought I looked … sexy.

I know. Moms and the S-word—gross. Most days, I feel about as sexy as a bowl of oatmeal. As a mother of three, my body has been used as a milk truck, a trampoline, and an alien incubator. I have rolls where I used to have a waistline, and a lot more junk in a much larger trunk. Sure, some moms pull it off. They wear leopard prints to the bake sale and stash zebra sunglasses in fur-trimmed bags. But for most of us, rocking a jungle theme makes it difficult to be taken seriously.

I want my daughters to be classier than I was. I want them to be witty and wise, to be alluring for what they have to say, not for what’s tumbling out of their shirts.

It wasn’t always this way. I spent most of my teens and early twenties trolling for men. I hoisted up my bazoombas, and wobbled around on slingback heels. But as a parent, those old definitions of “sexy” are a problem. I want my daughters to be classier than I was. I want them to be witty and wise, to be alluring for what they have to say, not for what’s tumbling out of their shirts.

So if we can’t look sexy because our daughters are watching, can we at least feel sexy?

YES. Just because we are parents doesn’t mean we cannot be thrilling and risqué. Try something that scares you. A Brazilian bikini wax or aerial yoga. Book a last-minute flight to Bruges for the weekend. Not every risk needs to be parasailing. Blast Bon Jovi in the carpool lane. Hop on a bus to see where it is heading. Invite the parents of the shy kid over for tea.

When I think back to my twenty-year-old self, I understand that posturing for what it was: an act. I tried on costumes and hoped someone would pay attention. Being noticed for nice legs and a wry smile was easier than being taken seriously.

But that was then.

If old-school sexy was a leather mini-skirt, the new sexy is confidence. It is entering a room and holding your own, not because of the plunge of your neckline or height of your heels, but because of the stories you can tell. Confidence is holding someone’s gaze, listening, and having insights worth sharing. Confidence is captivating.

I want my daughters to know they are valuable, that their ideas matter. As children, they offer their opinions effortlessly. During dinner tonight, our family conversation wandered from gluten-free zucchini noodles to whether Hillary Clinton will be our next president. I know when some girls grow up, they lose this confidence. Self-assurance is replaced by foolish notions of how women are supposed to be — polite, pretty, well-liked. I want my girls to kick those expectations in the teeth. I will help, but not wearing three-inch heels.

It is tempting to judge parental success by how neatly our kids fit in. Do they have the latest American Girl doll? Are they in soccer and dance? But at some point, we must help them forge their own identities. And we can start by reclaiming our own. We are more than just their parents. I want my girls to appreciate the sexiness of my being a writer and a teacher, a wedding officiant and a weight lifter. They will see me walk into a room full of strangers, able to listen and speak my mind. Even if my dress is so small I can’t sit down.

Annmarie Kelly-Harbaugh is a mother, teacher, and dog lover, an above-average cook and below-average housekeeper. Follow her at

Fifty Shades of Mom