Plus-size model Tess Holliday is known for her bold, IDGAF style of body positivity, and it's an inspiring and refreshing change, particularly in an industry where you don't usually see a lot of it. But her confidence and career success doesn't mean she's immune to the often intense and emotional challenges of motherhood, and in an Instagram post Sunday night, the recent mom of two opened up about the pressure of trying to juggle both roles. Tess Holliday's Instagram about the reality of motherhood is raw and honest, and is also an important message that doesn't always get shared. Because even if it should seem obvious that having a baby will inevitably impact a woman's ability to do her job as well as she once did, the expectation that motherhood shouldn't change a woman's professional life is pervasive — and it's so unfair.
In the powerful post, Holliday shared a make-up free photo of herself with tears running down her face, and in the lengthy caption, she wrote about being up in the middle of the night with her 8-month-old son, Bowie. She explained that Bowie was teething, and refused to go to sleep, waking up each time she tried to put him down. Pretty much any parent will agree that nights like those are some of the hardest nights you can experience with your baby — sleep deprivation is so, so brutal. But what pushed Holliday past her breaking point was the fact that she knew she had to be up to go to work in a few hours, and that she'd be expected to show up looking refreshed and ready to take beautiful photos despite feeling completely exhausted and overwhelmed.
Holliday wrote that, while "most days I can work 15 hour days, take care of both boys & put some lipstick on & deal with it," that night, with zero sleep and a teething baby, she was feeling beyond overwhelmed. And knowing not only that she had to go to work after all of that, but that she had to go to work as a model, a job in which she literally makes her living based on looking good and presenting a specific version of herself to people who are paying her to represent their brand or product? Well, the pressure of it all was starting to feel like too much. Holliday wrote,
When your face is breaking out from the hormones of breastfeeding + total exhaustion from lack of sleep, bags under your eyes, patchy red skin & to top it off no energy to work out or leave my bed.. how do you do it? How do you feel confident in your skin & feel like you aren't letting the client down by showing up exhausted & disheveled?
Holliday's specific situation as a model might not be one that all moms can relate to, but especially given that 40 percent of mothers are also the primary breadwinner in their households, according to Pew, the dilemma is probably very familiar to an awful lot of women. After all, there is already a ton of pressure on mothers — and new moms, in particular — to act a certain way. You're supposed to be a loving, self-sacrificing caregiver, who also makes homemade, organic baby food. You should keep a tidy, Pinterest-worthy home, and also make sure to maintain your pre-baby friendships and prioritize your relationship with your partner. And, if that weren't enough, you're also supposed to love and accept your new body while simultaneously be working to lose the baby weight and look amazing as soon as possible. That's already impossible, but if you also have a job on top of that, there's an equally-as-impossible expectation: that you should be a wonderful mother, and also be just as good and committed to your work as you were before.
That's not just an opinion of over-sensitive new moms though. The motherhood penalty — that is, the degree to which women face increased obstacles and disadvantages in the workplace after becoming mothers — is a phenomenon backed by research, and it's basically rooted in the assumption that a woman should somehow remain every bit as motivated and focused on her job as she was before. Even though most women will readily admit that that's not really possible (even if you really intended for it to be the case before your baby arrived), the idea that it should be possible, or that it could totally happen if women just wanted it badly enough, means that things that should be totally understandable — like needing to take a day off because of a sick kid, or just being really, freaking tired — are seen as entirely their fault. Can't show up at work looking great and ready to put in 100 percent effort because your kid was up puking all night? Well, that's too bad. Try harder.
As warped as that idea is, it's one that's so entrenched that recent studies have shown you don't even have to be a mom to be held back by the motherhood penalty. According to the Harvard Business Review, you basically just have to be a woman who could theoretically become a mother one day, and it will already be assumed that you may eventually be a less valuable employee than your male or childless counterparts. In fact, according to Business Insider, not only did men's workplace value generally not seem to decrease after having children, having children actually boosted their worth as far as their income-earning potential was concerned, especially for white, college-educated males.
It might be easy to dismiss Holliday's post as an emotional, sleep-deprived pity party, or as a total first-world problem (she's a successful model, cry me a river), but to do so would not only be dismissive (and straight up mean), it would ignore the fact that Holliday speaks on behalf of many, many women when she talks about the unfair expectations that accompany motherhood. Raising a child can be so, so hard, and in those early days especially, when sleep feels non-existent, it seems impossible that you could do anything beyond the absolute bare minimum. But when you're also expected not just to go to work on top of it, but to do so as though you aren't a mom who was just up all night with a crying child? Well that will likely send anyone over the edge.
At the end of her post, Holliday wrote that she hoped one day mothers could be viewed "as the flawed human beings we are that are just trying to keep our sh*t together like everyone else." And even though I don't think any mom will be holding her breath for that to happen anytime soon, we can hopefully all agree that having more compassion for the reality of motherhood is the least we can do to be more supportive of women who become moms.