Moms After Dark: On “thirst trap selfies”

I read a story a few days ago about Piers Morgan (ugh) making some strong comments about Elizabeth Hurley’s photo of her in the snow, wearing a fluffy coat and white bikini bottom. Specifically he said, “you’re 55! Put your clothes on!” Blah blah, it’s inappropriate, what about your children, etc.

First of all, you don’t need a doctorate to know that Piers Morgan is an asshole (can we please stop giving these guys platforms? They’re boring.) He did, however, hit on something that spoke really deeply to my heart, both personally, as a woman approaching middle age and as a mother, and professionally, as someone well aware of the expectations placed on women at various life stages. When I say ‘mother’, I don’t even mean in the sense, “I don’t want my daughter to grow up hearing these things,” but more in the “I totally hear the message by society that you cease to be a sexual or attractive being when you become a mother, or hit 30, or whichever comes first.” Or, if you’re a mother, you cease to have any sexuality whatsoever. Even MILF inspires the idea of mom first, but a mother you’d actually like to fuck. Because most moms are actually unfuckable, or asexual beings. Right.

Now let’s back up a second. First of all, a thirst trap selfie is a “sexy photograph or flirty message posted on social media for the intent of causing others to publicly profess their attraction” (thanks, Urban Dictionary). Think Kim Kardashian West, who, love her or hate her, is queen of the thirst trap selfie. It’s not just Kim K. who is reigning queen of the thirst trap selfie. Martha Stewart, at 79, made headlines not long ago for posting her own thirst trap selfies, first from the pool and second from her home after makeup artist did a killer smoky eye look. Elizabeth Hurley is 55, as I mentioned earlier. J.Lo is 51 and I swear, is like a fine wine. She is also fabulously unashamed at posting thirst trap selfies. Well, apparently these thirst trap selfies are unbecoming of a woman of age.

I’m no celebrity and I assume if you are reading this, you aren’t either. As a midsize person who grew up in the 90s and “came of age” (ew) in the 2000s a la Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie in low rise jeans, I’ve never really considered myself “sexy.”(Side note, I LOVE the body pos movement and all of the representation out there for different body types. Man, I wish I had seen that when I was a kid).

In my 30s, I started leaning into the “well, the body you have is what you’ve got” and started dressing better, honing in my makeup look, and working out. Strength training was a blessing for me. I started to feel so much more comfortable in my own body. I felt GREAT, not because I was losing weight or anything, but because I felt so much more in control of my identity and how complete I felt as a person. Work was going well, my marriage was good, mostly because I felt good about myself.

So just as I was hitting a stride with this new-found self-confidence, I got pregnant. I mean, I guess that was the point, but wow. I love my daughter, but pregnancy sucked. I was bloated within weeks and had to scale way back on exercise due to hyperemesis and persistent hip and tailbone issues. Finally, I had my daughter and was “postpartum” with all the fun that comes along with that label. Early postpartum also sucked. To boot, I was of “advanced maternal age” so I’m coming out of the bleary-eyed “no, my kid still doesn’t sleep through the night” stage with things a little less, let’s say, perky and smooth as they used to and pushing 40. Oh, then COVID hit and all I do is look at myself on video. Lots of time to look at my changing face and a LOT of time to think. Too much time to think. I’m at a new point in my life where my identity has already been a bit upended becoming, “mom,” only to be faced with this aging part, too. Long story short, this is an interesting intersection of changes for my identity.

Have I aged out of everything except, “mom?” I’m about at that age that feels like the kiss of death for being considered an attractive or sexual woman because of messages like the one from Piers Morgan. Does the mom part of my life matter more now than how I present my femininity? Let’s face it, my child bearing experience did not make me feel the sexiest I had ever been, though this is not a universal experience. My confidence in my body and myself took a HUGE hit, and it feels like a double whammy of expectations as I inch closer to 40. I distinctly remember my dad telling my mom that she should “dress more her age.” To this day, we still have no idea what exactly he meant by that, but we sure did have fun trying to figure it out. The thing is, this is the exact message women hear as we age. No one wants to see the wrinkly bits. You’re a mom now, act like it. You are unbecoming of your age if you show off your body. As Piers Morgan implies, let’s leave the sexuality to the younger ladies. Aging women should be modest, yes? If you are a mother then you are simply a caretaker now, no room to be anything else, especially someone sexual.

I can’t imagine I’m alone in feeling really frustrated by the ever-present conflicting expectations on mothers and women. Can I not be a good mom and enjoy being attractive? There’s some underlying slut shaming in this narrative, I think. One thing I do love about KKW is her ability to be a mother, an advocate, a boss, and be as unashamedly sexual as she wants to be. I’m also really digging the Martha Stewart homemaker turned thirst trap vibe. You keep killing those selfies, Martha.

My husband asked me the other day if I had heard of the #bussitchallenge on Tiktok (I am not on TikTok as of this writing, Snapchat felt like a bit of a stretch for me) but I was familiar with the shoe flip challenge and apparently, they’re somewhat similar. I did remark that my “sexy clothes” went from turtleneck to maybe wearing a tank top? I can’t remember the last time I bought a pair of underwear that wasn’t specifically for the gym. Granted, I’m not going anywhere right now (thanks, COVID) but I’ve learned over the years that one of my values is that my appearance tells the world that I take myself seriously. I don’t think I should be shamed for that as I age.

I guess what I’m saying is I love thirst trap selfies, particularly if you’re not 20, and you’re a mother. I love this message that we, as women, and mothers can have ownership over our bodies and our sexualities. We want to share? Cool. Your thirst trap selfie for your partner only? Excellent. Just for you, in a little corner of your phone? I’m loving it. If this all sounds vapid and vain, well, ok. What if it’s not vanity, though? What if it’s embracing of a value that I hold about myself? Why are we so afraid of confident women? Why are we afraid of women’s bodies? I mean, they’re pretty awesome.

If this all sounds vapid and vain, well, ok. What if it’s not vanity, though? What if it’s embracing of a value that I hold about myself? Why are we so afraid of confident women? Why are we afraid of women’s bodies? I mean, they’re pretty awesome.

My broader point is that society really expects women to fall very neatly into this next stage of life that seemingly has no sexuality or if there is, it should be very tightly restrained. The message is loud and clear. I think it’s inevitable that we have less time to devote to physical appearance as we get older, particularly if we have children. They do take a lot of time and energy. I do think the narrative that we get less sensual or attractive as women as we age is a very dangerous one, though, just as the narrative that we have don’t get to have time to focus on our own well-being is a dangerous one. We should continue to allow ourselves to be sexual, to feel attractive to ourselves and to our partners (if that’s important to you). While perhaps looking the way that Liz, and J.Lo look in their 50s is largely unattainable without access to a lot of resources, we should definitely be allowing ourselves to love the skin we’re in and celebrate ourselves at every age. That includes our sexuality and femininity, however we value that. We just need to think more critically about how dangerous and damaging the messaging is that you can be anything less than your whole self. I’d love for my little human to grow up owning her sexuality at every age, and enjoying the heck out of herself along the way.

So friends, let’s keep posting those thirst trap selfies. I don’t care how old you are, or how many kids you have. Let’s shed some love on people who are confident and love themselves too. Don’t lose your sense of sexuality and confidence as you get older. It may evolve, but it’s an important part of who we are as people. Let’s not let assholes like Piers Morgan dominate the conversation about what women should and shouldn’t do with their bodies as they age.

(My heavily filtered thirst trap selfie (I don’t think they usually call for sweaters or closets, but the temp is in the negatives and the lighting is good in the closet, ok?)

Stay thirsty, my friends. - Kori


I love Ashley Graham for her body positivity and embracing her new role as mother: on IG @ashleygraham

Cosmopolitan: 11 ways to take the perfect thirst trap photo

And a more realistic shot…