The Pop Culture Year In Moms

These 10 viral moments proved 2023 was a real mother.

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We’re firmly in the bleak midwinter, and that can only mean one thing: End of year round-ups that look back on 2023 with the clarity of a long-view. What news stories defined the year? What fashion trends rose and fell? What movies, music, and books will we be talking about for years to come? Which memes were the most clever or, failing that, most zeitgeisty?

Here at Romper we’re most interested in the “mom moments” of 2023. Which ones took up the most space in our brains? And what did we learn from them? (Honestly, not much, but that’s OK.) We went back through our collective memory to pick 10 moments that deepened our understanding of how society looked at moms in 2023, or moments that lit up our group chat, for better or for worse.

MILF Manor broke our brains and spirits

It was the twist we all saw coming and yet could not look away.TLC

On the surface Milf Manor, which aired on (where else) TLC earlier this year, was a tawdry but inoffensive bit of reality fluff: woman of an age not usually seen on dating shows (mid-40s to 60) compete for the attention — and love? — of men younger than themselves. The men, all between the ages of 20 and 30, were all open to a relationship with an older woman; for some, a significant age gap was “a must.”

So far so good, right? Nope. In a twist pretty much everyone saw coming (including, definitely the contestants) we soon discover that the eligible bachelors are all sons of the female contestants! Of course, this isn’t to say there weren’t some genuine surprises, like the game where the blindfolded MILFs ran their hands along the bodies of the men to try to identify their sons. The collective shudder we all experienced when we heard about that one probably registered as seismic activity.

It didn’t have to be this way. MILF Manor could have subverted reality dating show tropes by presenting a cadre of sexually empowered older women who unapologetically follow their bliss and men ready to cast off the tired narrative that only young women are desirable and worthy of love and attention. But no, they couldn’t resist the big ick instead.

I guess there’s always The Golden Bachelorette?

Bluey’s mom, Chilli, became a cover girl

Truly, 2023 was the Year of Bluey. Though, to be fair, so were 2022 and 2021. Somehow this show about cartoon dogs has captured the practical and emotional realities of modern parenting like no other. Sure, Chilli and Bandit are, even on their bad days, the best versions of what we hope to be, but the playful joy and the real struggles of parenthood are on full display. And Bluey is the gift that keeps giving, with 150 8-minute episodes available to stream on Disney+ (with more coming in 2024).

InStyle Australia put our girl right on their cover of their “Australian icons” issue, in a pose evocative of fellow Australian icon Max Dupain’s 1937 photograph, Sunbaker. It was a nice moment of validation: if we can see ourselves in Chilli and Chilli is not only an icon but cover-worthy, then maybe we’re pretty OK, too.

Rihanna’s Superbowl halftime performance

“Is that... a bump?”Focus On Sport/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

When I settled in to watch the Super Bowl’s half-time show this year, I was primed to enojoy a mega-mix of the singer/mogul’s greatest hits through a mom-lens. It was, after all, Rihanna’s first performance since giving birth to her son RZA in May of 2022. But as I, and indeed, America, watched, something caught my eye: Rihanna’s larger-than-typical waistline.

Twitter immediately began speculating about the contents of Rihanna’s uterus. I was more reserved in my judgment: surely this is simply a normal human woman whose body has changed after bringing a new life into the world not a year prior. Surely she’s not pregnant again. I had a whole diatribe in my head. “Rihanna Normalizes Postpartum Bodies.” “Rihanna Doesn’t Need To ‘Lose The Baby Weight’ For You.” “Rihanna-... Oh, Her PR Team Announced She Actually Is Pregnant? OK. Nevermind. Congratulations.”

Blake Lively’s secret baby

Perhaps no celebrity pregnancy was watched more closely in 2023 than Blake Lively expecting her fourth child with husband Ryan Reynolds. They were constantly asked about Baby #4 and were hounded by paparazzi. Even reserved fans waited with baited breath to see when the absurdly good looking couple would tell us that they were officially a family of six.

The way it went down is a masterclass.

Lively’s “announcement” was simply an Instagram post featuring the following...

  • A message celebrating Puppy Bowl
  • A picture of Lively, Reynolds, and Reynold’s mom, Tammy
  • Three pictures of dishes and dips Lively made, apparently to celebrate Puppy Bowl.

But after being carefully watched for so long, it was the fact that Lively was visibly not pregnant that counted for an announcement... an announcement made Super Bowl Sunday, a day she knew there was absolutely no way this news would be the top item of the day or even the day after.

Clever girl.

America Ferrera’s Barbie monologue

Obviously any round up of 2023 highlights would be incomplete without some mention of Barbie. The movie was eagerly anticipated by moviegoers around the world and has earned nearly $1.5 billion dollars at the box office. There seems to be no facet of pop culture or consumer behavior this film has not affected. But the moment in the film many moms felt most affected by didn’t come from Barbie herself, but rather Gloria (played by America Ferrara), the human woman (and mom) that Barbie traveled to the Real World in search of. Her monologue, highlighting the maddening contradictions of what it means to be a woman in contemporary society, voiced what many of us have felt but perhaps haven’t put into words ourselves.

Honorable mention in this Barbie category, by the way, goes to Midge. Based on an actual 2003 Midge doll whose round plastic tummy could be removed to reveal a baby, the movie version of Midge is depicted in a state of perpetual gestation. None of us have actually been pregnant for 20 years, but anyone who was pregnant in 2023 or, indeed, ever, can relate regardless.

*That* passage in Prince Harry’s memoir Spare

The day we all googled “todger.”Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images

Back in 2020, Prince Harry and Megan Markle fled the UK to start a new life in North America. After stepping down as “working royals,” the pair settled in California to live a life that was just a little bit freer: Freer from royal duties, freer from the notoriously dogged British tabloid press, and freer from financial support from the Crown.

Since then, the Sussexes have launched podcasts, Netflix docuseries, and Harry’s highly anticipated memoir, Spare, a candid and vulnerable exploration of his life as the “Plan B” prince. At times, it was perhaps, too vulnerable, as this moment when he talks about an unfortunate accident involving his penis... which just so happened to evoke his mother, Princess Diana.

My penis was oscillating between extremely sensitive and borderline traumatized ... I’d been trying some home remedies, including one recommended by a friend. She’d urged me to apply Elizabeth Arden cream. ‘My mummy used that on her lips, you want me to put that on my todger?’
I found a tube, and the minute I opened it, the smell transported me through time. I felt as if my mother was right there in the room. I took a smidge and applied it down there.

Harry: please remember you came to America for more privacy than you had in England. Begging you to remember that. This could have stayed in your head forever.

Donna Kelce had an OK time

The “OK” heard round the world.Cooper Neill/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

In a stunning collision of pop culture behemoths, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and singer/songwriter/icon Taylor Swift launched their coupledom. Because we’re talking about Taylor Swift, the first inkling of the pair dating spread through a series of perceived hints and rumors: Swift’s personal life is nothing if not a Millennial white woman’s DaVinci code to be solved.

But the story got really interesting when Swift joined Kelce’s mom, Donna, at a game. When asked about the moment by Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie on the Today Show, Donna was notably tight lipped. “It’s fairly new so I don’t like to talk about it ... It’s just one of those things where, obviously everybody saw me. I was in the box with her. It’s just another thing that’s amped up my life.”

Fair. But when pressed for more details — What was Swift like? Did she have fun? — Donna replied cryptically.

“It was OK.”

The Swifties were shooketh. But, honestly, any among us who’s ever endured a passive aggressive comment from their partner’s mother felt that “OK” in the depths of our souls.

We all rallied around Sophie Turner

Ricky Vigil M / Justin E Palmer/GC Images/Getty Images

Back in September, Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner announced their divorce after “four wonderful years of marriage.” Though the joint Instagram post was nothing but civil and even-keeled, almost immediately afterward, the headlines hinting at something far less benign began. They ranged in tone from straightforward (“Sophie Turner’s partying reportedly factored in to Joe Jonas divorce”) to scandalous (“Cocktails and sports games: Inside icon Sophie Turner’s so-called ‘party girl’ life”); gossipy (“Sophie Turner seen partying in Birmingham as divorce from Joe Jonas confirmed”) to histrionic (“Sophie Turner filmed partying just days before Joe Jonas filed for divorce! LOOK!”). They sometimes even took a passive aggressive tone (“Sophie Turner Was In High Spirits At UK Wrap Party Before Joe Jonas Filed For Divorce”).

But no matter how they was worded, the heart of the stories were the same: “Sophie Turner is a bad mom and woman.”

But then something unexpected happened. The public, and especially the female public, saw those accusations for what they seemed to be — baldly and brazenly manufactured in a PR office to make Turner look bad. The spin doctors planted the “Sophie Turner Is A Bad Mother” seed in the ground and we, the folks who know that a woman can go to a bar and not be a bad mom, dug it up and flung it mercilessly back from whence it came.

Seeing this go down felt like breaking a particularly odious media cycle that’s harmed so many women and families, not just celebrity women mind you, but every day women subjected to the same scrutinies and calumnies.

Britney’s vindicating memoir narrated by Michelle Williams

*room silences as Justin walks in*Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Speaking of cycle breaking, for Millennial women, the publication of Britney Spears’s The Woman In Me felt like a kind of justice. For the past several years, we as a media consuming public have begun to rethink our treatment of high profile women, especially those deemed “notorious” at any point. Monica Lewinsky, Lorena Bobbit, Tonya Harding. We realize just how unfair the political cartoons were, how cruel the late-night jokes, how inappropriate the questions from red-carpet interviewers. But of all the women we’ve begun to rethink, Britney looms large as a “scandalous women” who was done dirty.

The Woman In Me was released after years of public ridicule and belittling, which was unrelenting even when Spears was at her most vulnerable — to say nothing of the (now ended) conservatorship that effectively silenced Spears publicly for 13 years. Hearing stories about how she felt at the time (no one ever really asked her in any meaningful way), or how she was treated by those close to her (*glares pointedly at Justin Timberlake*), felt like a kind of closure.

And honestly, Britney’s memoir alone was enough to make it on our list, but the fact that it was narrated by Michelle Williams elevated this cultural moment to art: a heady blend of early-2000s high-brow low-brow culture that was a balm for our souls.

“This Isn’t Your Mother’s Mean Girls...”

I beg your pardon...?YouTube

Do you remember that scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when the Nazi bad guy drinks from the wrong grail, ages rapidly and in anguish before melting into heap of ash? Hearing “This isn’t your mother’s Mean Girls” in the trailer for the new movie was kind of like that. We were just sitting there having a good time, getting excited for a musical reboot of this icon of Millennial culture. And then — WHAM — an abrupt and harsh reminder that we are now closer in age to Mrs. George than Cady. It was like reading our entry in Regina’s Burn Book.

We can’t wait to see what 2024 has in store.

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