Keke Palmer was criticized for not dressing like 'a mom.' Why experts say this highlights unfair expectations placed on mothers.

Keke Palmer's boyfriend criticized her for not dressing like
Keke Palmer's boyfriend criticized her for not dressing like "a mom." (Photo: Getty Images) (Noam Galai via Getty Images)

People on the internet are hyping up Keke Palmer for wearing a sheer black dress after the actress's boyfriend, Darius Jackson, criticized her for not looking like a mother.

The discourse began on Wednesday when Palmer, who is nearly five months postpartum after giving birth to son Leodis in February, stepped out in a see-through ensemble with a bodysuit underneath to attend Usher's Las Vegas residency. When a video of the actress being serenaded by the singer was posted to Twitter, Jackson offered some harsh feedback on her fashion.

"It's the outfit tho.. you [sic] a mom," wrote Jackson, who is Leodis's father.

Jackson was met with criticism from people online who called him out for being "insecure" and "jealous" of his partner. He responded to the backlash with another tweet, writing, "we live in a generation where a man of the family doesn’t want the wife & mother to his kids to showcase booty cheeks to please others & he gets told how much of a hater he is. This is my family & my representation. I have standards & morals to what I believe. I rest my case."

Palmer didn't allow him to get the last word. She took to Instagram to post a slideshow of photos of herself in the all-black look."I wish I had taken more pictures but we were running late!" she wrote.

Jackson deleted his two tweets before ultimately deactivating his Twitter account on Thursday. However, the conversation that his comments sparked isn't letting up, especially as people evaluate what it means about the expectations placed on mothers.

The idea that someone might be able to "look like a mom" is a result of patriarchal thinking, according to Raena Boston, founder of The Working Momtras and Chamber of Mothers. "It comes from somebody else setting the terms of a woman's existence," she tells Yahoo Life. "When speaking in a very heteronormative way, there’s this idea that once a woman becomes partnered with a man, it's almost like that's the beginning of the death of herself. And then once you have kids, it's game over. You're just in service of your husband, in service of your children. You as a person cease to exist in a lot of ways."

Donna Oriowo, a race, sex and gender therapist, points out that "owning or enjoying one's sexuality" is expected to end once women take on the role of mother. For Black women, there's additional policing as a result of "a history of white and male dominance coalescing toward the idea that our bodies are not ours and thus are fodder for others to exert their ideas and desires for power and control on," Oriowo tells Yahoo Life.

This also helps to explain the phenomenon of "snapback culture," in which new mothers are expected to slim down to their pre-pregnancy figures right after giving birth. But as Boston notes, this is intended to make the woman more attractive to her partner, not others — in Palmer's case, someone like Usher.

While Jackson was seemingly trying to enforce those ideals and expectations, many are pointing out that for Palmer and Jackson, the patriarchal norms already don't apply.

"Keke is the breadwinner. So, she's kind of subverted some norms in that way too," Boston says. "It's like, 'Who is this man who is not in the traditional male role to tell her what she can and cannot do?'"

The uproar over Palmer's outfit — and Jackson's response to it — has seen other women, many of them moms themselves, speaking out online about the expectations foisted upon mothers in terms of what they should look like and how they should behave.

Many are also hailing Palmer's public response to her partner's criticism. In sharing more photos of her look from her evening out, she's giving other women permission to experience independence and joy regardless of their motherhood status.

"Keke is being herself. She is doing what she wants to do and she's still not letting being a mom, or not letting being partnered with somebody, divorce her from her agency," Boston says. "It allows moms and women to maintain their identity as well as their agency, because they are independent of being somebody's partner, somebody's mom. They're a person first."

Oriowo agrees. "It gives an example of enjoying your body without needing to discipline it for the gaze or enjoyment of anyone but yourself."

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