Seeing 'Whip It' from a Mom's Perspective

When I watched Drew Barrymore’s must-see girl-power movie, I cheered Ellen Page’s spunky teen, Bliss, who found herself playing roller derby. But I was floored by the scenes in which Bliss’s cigarette-sneaking mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) has to accept that her beauty pageant dreams for her daughter don't dovetail with Bliss’s dreams. Sure, I loved the movie’s female empowerment message, and laughed at the jokes, but what hit home was that I used to identify with the 16-year-old heroine and now I relate to her mother.

It's not news that the characters we identify with in fiction change as we mature. My kids are no longer into Barney or Bob the Builder. I still love Morticia Addams, but Sister Bertrille? Still, I’m intrigued to see how deeply this coming of age into motherhood impacts the women I know.

Over the weekend at the Woodstock Film Festival, I was chatting with Katherine Dieckmann, the writer-director of Motherhood. She told me she gave her young son a turntable last Christmas and pulled out the Beatles albums her father had given her as a girl. "This is so uncanny," she told me and her movie’s lead, Uma Thurman. "'She's Leaving Home' came on. I was listening to it, and I was folding up and cleaning up and all of a sudden there’s this line about the mother standing at the top of the stairs in her slippers saying to the husband how could she do this to me because she’s left us. All of a sudden I was the mother at the top of the stairs in the song, not the girl."

At the time, Dieckmann burst into tears. She was overcome with sadness when she realized she was now feeling the pain of the mother in her dressing gown, not the daughter's liberation. "It just threw me back," said the writer-director-mother. "You go through life with a certain relationship to things, and then you have children and you care passionately about them, and then it flips."

Sometimes the response is tears; sometimes relief. The filmmaker Nicole Quinn has a beautiful daughter who’s already graduated college. Quinn told me, "I gave my daughter my favorite vintage cocktail dress because I knew there was no way I was ever going to wear it again. Then I realized that I didn't want to wear it again. It was too tight, too restricting, too sexualized, so many things I no longer aspire to be."

Similarly, my daughter’s closet is full of high-heeled shoes I’ll never wear – and at 10 she can already navigate them around our house more gracefully than I ever could. But she’s also better on roller skates than I ever was and, even though she’s only 10, I know that the next decade will be a balancing act between the dreams I have for her, and her own need to strike out on her own just like I did when I went away to Berkeley at 17 to find my bliss and never looked back.

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