Hollywood actors and executives talk a big game about the industry's ability to confront and address important social issues. One needs to look no further than the variety of causes Oscar winners stump for during their acceptance speeches. However, sometimes reality is too real for Hollywood and the culture machine, as was demonstrated when ABC and the Academy decided not to air an ad dealing straightforwardly with the reality of postpartum life. The ad for Frida Mom, a retailer in the baby and new mother field, depicted a women confronting in a realistic manner the stress and changes that occur for new mothers.
Perhaps this should come as little surprise for an industry that still uses antifreeze-blue liquid as a stand-in for menstrual blood or a baby's dirty diaper, but it is disheartening nonetheless, especially in the present moment, when there is increased scrutiny on Hollywood workplace culture in particular, but also work culture more generally, that is in dire need of confronting the issues facing new mothers.
The ad's champions have gone on record to highlight how accurate and important the ad's depiction was, and what was lost by not airing it. Principally, the ad would have been an opportunity to raise awareness not only about the struggles of postpartum life, but also highlighting how essential paid parental leave is. Leave policies need to be understood no simply as time away from work, but as an opportunity for parents to acclimate to a new stage in life without the stress of missed workforce participation. Additionally, clinical trial researchers have suggested that such leave policies lead to better health outcomes for parents and children.
The ad also had the potential to show others that such policies allow mothers the chance to heal, physically, from childbirth, something that Hollywood or the advertising industry rarely addresses in realistic terms that acknowledge the depth of change and the physical and emotional stress childbirth places on mothers. This is not to say that childbirth and motherhood does not have its joys as well, but only to acknowledge that there are real, concrete issues that new mothers face, and often face alone.
By denying women's chance to recognize their experiences and realize that their challenges are shared by millions of other parents, we cannot push toward policies that make such a huge life transition as motherhood better for new mothers.