I was in college when SNL’s Mom Jeans sketch first aired on the night before Mother’s Day in 2003. It made me laugh to tears.
In the sketch, Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, and Maya Rudolph parade around in high-waisted stone washed jeans, some of which had vestigial pleats, looking goofy doing “mom” activities like gardening, driving kids to soccer practice, and not noticing that their husband (Chris Parnell) is disappointed in the way they dress.
“Mom jeans fit mom just the way she likes it,” says the voice over in the sketch. “She’ll love the nine inch zipper and casual front pleats.”
Maya Rudolph at the height of her powers smirks confidently as she dances slightly off beat, her waist hugged by a comfortable elastic waistband.
Part of what made the Mom Jeans ad so perfect was the fashion moment it hit. If you were a young woman in the Year of our Lord 2003 and weren’t taking a cue from Xxxtina Aguilera, wearing pants low enough that it seemed like your mons pubis could escape into the night like a city housecat with a death wish, you were a real dork. And what’s dorkier than a mom?
“Give her something that says, I’m not a woman anymore… I’m a mom.” the voiceover continues as the studio audience laughs.
Way too much time has passed since that first time I cry-laughed at Tina Fey’s ass padded for comedic effect. Every music show I went to before pandemic was rotten with stylish women rocking mom jeans; nine-inch zippers are cool now. (I wish I could say mom jeans are here to stay, but fashion is cruel and mean, and within the next few years the industry will probably again try to convince women that we’re waxing our entire crotches and wearing two inch zippers again.) People born the week the sketch first aired are now the same age I was when I first watched it. Time is a goon.
I thought about Mom Jeans the other day as I zipped myself into one of the three pairs of my pre-pregnancy jeans I’ve dared even try on in the nearly six months since giving birth. I even sang the little jingle to myself “Giving up… giving up… put on your mom jeans.”
I haven't given up on myself as a but I'm not exactly gliding through the world in a perpetual state of feeling myself. I am not what I would call anywhere near the peak of self-confidence. I look back on photos from even just short of four years ago, the summer I met Josh, and think about how ordinary I thought I looked then, and, looking back, how silly I was to look in the mirror and feel self-loathing. I wish I had time to feel as though I look nice, but I don't, and I miss that luxury that I took for granted.
My eyes scanned the laundry basket of folded pants in my heavy rotation. All of them are high-waisted and elastic or stretchy, at least in the waistband. Yes, they’re semi-fashionable, but since giving birth in November, even if they weren't fashionable, they're the only thing that's comfortable.
I wasn’t wearing mom jeans because I’d given up. That's not why moms wear mom jeans at all! Moms wear mom jeans because having a baby is like growing a cannonball inside of your pelvis and then blasting it out through your cervix and in the ensuing months and years being expected to just go on through life with a stretched out belly or totally fucked up pelvic floor and happily cleaning up after everybody else and peeing a little when you sneeze, until you die. [Fuck Chris Parnell's exasperated dad character! I bet he doesn't even know the name of his kid's pediatrician!]
For me, everything from the ribcage to the thighs is still a little askew. I need a high waist. I need a roomy pouch. I appreciate an elastic waistband and will entertain the notion of a pleat. I need to feel like my pants are hugging me and saying, “We’re here for you until your guts feel like they’re in the right place again.”
Human gestation does absurd things to the human body–painful things, lasting things, semi-permanent and permanent things. Things I didn’t know about until they were about to happen to me, because I hadn’t asked.
Things I had no idea about the first time I saw the Mom Jeans sketch; things the stars of the sketch probably didn’t know at the time, either (none of the stars of the sketch had kids when it first aired, but Fey, Poehler, and Rudolph would all go on to have their first children in 2005; Dratch would go on to give birth in 2010).
Before I had a kid, I thought one of the most irritating phrases in the world was “you’ll understand when you’re a parent.” I still think it’s one of the most irritating phrases in the world. It’s so condescending. No, Barb, maybe you’re just bad at explaining things that you’ve experienced that other people haven’t. It’s possible to understand something without having actually lived it yourself; that’s literally the point of written and spoken language.
But the truth about Mom Jeans is something I truly couldn’t grasp until I’d become a mom myself. The sketch is still funny, it just hits different now.
And if women’s fashion is going to try to bring back the low rise horrors of 2003, it can pry my Mom Jeans from my cold, short-fingernailed, permanently chapped hands.
Image via screenshot/SNL