Paris Hilton versus the Crunchy Tradwives brigade: A modern parenting story

Ultimately, what the show dares to show is that motherhood doesn't come naturally to Hilton. Picture: REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Ultimately, what the show dares to show is that motherhood doesn't come naturally to Hilton. Picture: REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Published Jan 2, 2024


Perspective by Monica Hesse

Becoming a parent opens up your social media feed to a whole range of content and creators about which you might not have otherwise given two figs, and it was via this intravenous internet drip I learned this week that Paris Hilton's son was a full month old before she ever changed his nappy.

For those of you who don't regularly have to perform nappy math: Newborns go through 10 or 12 every day of their early lives, meaning this was not a case of Paris Hilton missing out on 30 or 60 close encounters of the turd kind, but rather north of 300 changes before Paris Hilton finally took the baby from the nanny and did the job herself.

"You've never done it?" sister Nicky asks her in a recent episode of ‘Paris in Love,’ the Peacock show that captured the inaugural nappy changing. Nope, Hilton replies.

She says she wasn't even planning to do it that day either: It was her birthday. But before long, baby Phoenix is placed is on the changing table while Nicky instructs Hilton to "Be gentle!" and Hilton asks, "Is this the front or the back?"

While there's a lot to unpack here, as I watched the clip circulating online, what I kept thinking about were the other mothering-related reels that regularly end up on my feed, namely, the brigade of Crunchy Tradwives.

What is Crunchy Tradwife content? If you are on Instagram or TikTok, and the algorithms have marked you in a certain way, then you probably already know.

Picture an ethereal pregnant woman in a flowing dress, toddler on her hip, fresh bread on the cooling rack, smiling at the bounty she has created in her modern farmhouse kitchen.

Is this scene is an ad for Fleischmann's Yeast? Nope, here come the hashtags: #happyhousewife, #romantichomemaking, #traditionalgenderroles. And if there's a voice-over, it usually talks about how evil feminism might try and convince you that fulfilment comes via independence and equality, but really fulfilment comes from babies and bread.

Crunchy Tradwife - "crunchy" as in a barefooted back-to-basics aesthetic, "trad" as in traditional - sits right at the centre of a Venn diagram of the organic-hippie idyll and gender-anxious cultural nostalgia.

@itsme_lisap Women validating male supremacy is the problem with the so-called Tradwife movement #tradwifecontroversy #genderroles #momsoftiktok #feminism #genderequality ♬ original sound - Lisa P

It's a counterintuitive merging of political signifiers. Unpasteurized milk, untrusted government.

Crunchy Tradwives aren't selling a product so much as an idea, that women are designed to be caretakers, happily up to their elbows in homemade maple butter and paraben-free rash cream.

This being America, there is also a racial aspect to this lifestyle, and it's not a coincidence that most of the biggest influencers are White.

These reels started showing up in my feeds during my pregnancy a few years ago, right around the time I started Googling "best natural fibre crib sheets."

Later, I spent more than a few midnight feedings scrolling my phone and trying to figure out if these women were crazy or if I was.

I wholly support stay-at-home mothering as a valid choice, but the Crunchy Tradwife content suggests something more: Stay-at-home mothering is such a natural, easy, freeing choice that everyone can and should do it.

A few months ago The Cut published an analysis with the headline, "Is Tradwife Content Dangerous or Just Stupid?"

The author came away thinking the answer was a little bit of both, but that above all else the content was a performance.

@bmcpher No thanks✌️ #momsoftiktok #crunchymom #tradwife #marriage #husbandandwife ♬ I like your plan - The Mista Mista Lady

"Playing pretend like you're in Little House on the Prairie can be fun," Kathryn Jezer-Morton wrote. "But ultimately, you put on your puffer coat and head out to Target for your tampons and Nespresso pods like everyone else."

So back to Paris Hilton. When I first saw the nappy clip make the rounds online, I assumed that's what we were dealing with: a performance. Not a Crunchy Tradwife performance, but a performance nonetheless.

Here was a woman who became famous for playing the part of an insipid heiress taking low-wage jobs with Nicole Richie and, in the name of reality television, making messes of the menial tasks that other Americans perform out of necessity.

Surely this nappy thing was an elaboration on her old shtick. The pampered princess who couldn't even figure out Pampers. Good for an eyeroll and maybe some scolding comments.

But ‘Paris in Love'’is not meant to be a sequel to ‘The Simple Life,’ a fish-out-of-water story about an out-of-touch socialite.

The show narrates her personal and family life, and it's meant to show Hilton in her element: as a wife, a business executive (she runs a skin-care line and has written a memoir), a budding political advocate and mother.

When I watched the entire episode, not just the derided clip, what became clear is that Hilton does seem very sure of how to be in love with her baby. She seems, however, much less confident in how to care for him.

The nanny says it's time for Phoenix to be burped, and Hilton replies that she's been afraid to do it herself because she worried she might hurt him.

When she wants to take the baby somewhere, she looks to the nanny for guidance to make sure that she's not disrupting his sleeping or eating schedule.

More than once, she sits on the floor, blissfully smelling her baby's newborn head until an assistant tell her, no really, we're already late for your next appointment.

There were times, while watching ‘Paris in Love,’ when I wondered whether she had taken up a baby the way she might have once taken up a small dog.

A cute accessory to be trotted out when it amused her and staffed out when it pooped. A friend suggested that I write a column about how out of touch Hilton is, which is not an incorrect take.

But with visions of Crunchy Tradwives dancing in my head, her story started to feel more complicated.

@averagerichhousewife Being a traditional wife doesn’t mean I’m any less an equal partner. I do carry a traditional housewife title… BUT if you find the right partner you will be appreciated for your hard work… raising my roomates is WORK!!! Keeping everyone in order is work… #tradwife ♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys - Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey

Ultimately, what the show dares to show is that motherhood doesn't come naturally to Hilton.

Adoring her baby, yes. That part was a cakewalk. But walking out of the hospital with a little human who now relies on her to stay alive 24 hours a day? That was a whole different thing.

There was something poignant in the fact that Hilton waited until her sister Nicky visited from across the country to attempt her first nappy change.

Maybe she needed the moral support of an experienced mom and a non-judgmental sister before she attempted the task that daunted her. Maybe her hesitance had come not only from disdain but from fear.

Maybe she had been doing something that a lot of anxious new parents might do if they had Hilton money: building a bulwark against the terrible notion that she might not be built for this.

And that part was actually relatable. It felt like my own early parenting experiences, after the house had emptied of the supportive grandmas and aunties who had come to visit for the immediate postpartum days, and I looked down at the minuscule being I was now in charge of.

My first thought wasn't, "This feels natural and abundant." My first thought was, "Oh crap."

And yet, that's the secret behind parenthood, which Crunchy Tradwives seem loathe to acknowledge and which Hilton still has time to learn.

It doesn't have to come naturally. You can learn to change a nappy. Parenting isn't always a simple life, Tradwife-style, making homemade waffles and wearing mother-daughter gingham.

Sometimes it's a simple life, Hilton-style, parachuting into a new reality full of menial tasks, all of which you wonder whether someone else might be better at, and learning it all on the job.