In 2015, Shen Yifei, a sociology professor at Fudan University, gave a talk at the USC US-China Institute's #Millennial Minds symposium titled "'Hot Mom:' Motherhood, Feminism, And Asserting One's Individuality In China."
Her lecture was accompanied by a PowerPoint where she showed images of hot Chinese mothers that looked like supermodels. They’re skinny, wearing tight minidresses, perfect make-up, high heels, and holding a baby on their hips as if cute kids are the hottest new accessory.
In this podcast, we take a look at the "hot mom" phenomenon both in China and internationally. After years of being fed media images of the traditional, sacrificial, rural mother, modern Chinese women first looked to Western celebrity mothers like Angelina Jolie and Victoria Beckham as examples of what motherhood could look like.
Soon, celebrites like Dee Hsu, a Taiwanese celebrity and television host, began to be known as a quintessential "la ma."
There were magazines for and about "hot moms."
There was even a 2013 Chinese 40-episode TV drama series called Hot Mom! starring Sun Li, and a talk show called Hot Mom College. (Even if you don't understand Chinese, watch a clip from the show below just for the opening credits. They're amazing.)
And in 2013, Weibo hosted a "Hot Mom" contest, which showcased mother-daughter photos where the mother looked so young that you couldn't tell which one was the mother and which one was the daughter. It was quite controversial and picked up by international news.
For those of you who haven’t heard of the term 辣妈 (la ma): 妈 (ma) means mom, and the word 辣 (la) means spicy. But as slang, 辣 (la) is used to describe women with have sex appeal. Hot girls are called 辣妹 (la mei) -- which was also coincidentally the Chinese name for The Spice Girls. Yes, English girl pop group behind such classics as "Wannabe" and "2 Become 1" who is having a reunion tour in 2016.
And even though in the US, there isn't a direct term for "hot mom" -- the terms that are the closest equivalent are much cruder (MILF, cougar, for example) -- there is the same desire and pressure for American women to remain hot after birth, evidenced by magazine covers that celebrate how fast celebrities lose their baby weight and the ways they are able to "have it all."
Not to mention that it's becoming more socially acceptable for young men to sexualize older women.. or at least joke about it.
We share Professor Shen's research, which explains where the term 辣妈 (la ma) came from (Freaky Friday!), and how it's evolved over the years. We talk to the Pacific Arts Movement's Brian Hu to discuss portrayals of mothers in Hollywood and Chinese cinema over the years. And we talk to Mila Zuo, a professor of Film Studies at Oregon State University and director of the short film Carnal Orient, who helps us contextualize how the "hot mom" phenomenon is a byproduct of China's complex relationship with feminism.
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