The day before I offered my current babysitter the job, I ran into a friend outside our neighborhood subway station.
I told her that I thought we’d found a great new nanny for my girls, who are nine and six. Then I mentioned an interesting detail about her, only relevant because I knew that my friend would eventually meet the nanny, as our kids play together on occasion: “Oh and she’s gorgeous. Like, she’s an actual, working model. She legit looks like Cindy Crawford’s daughter,” I said.
Her response: “Um, do you really want to bring that into your house?”
I wasn’t entirely shocked by the question. My best friend had said as much the night before on the phone, when I’d updated her on our sitter-search. When a mom-friend at school recently hired a new au pair, who’s a particularly stunning Brazilian young woman, another mom joked to me that this “was a dangerous move.” And I know someone else who has a kidding–not kidding rule when it comes to choosing child-care providers: “Only ugly nannies.”
Then there’s the pop-culture trope. On the second season of Big Little Lies, Renata’s husband, Gordon, not only loses their fortune but also is revealed to have been getting “stress management” from their daughter’s French nanny. And in an episode of the truTV comedy I’m Sorry, the main character, Andrea, notes that a beautiful young blonde on the playground is actually the new nanny for one of her daughter’s friends, and she immediately quips:
“Have we learned nothingfrom The Sound of Music? It basically just the story of a taken man banging his hot nanny. It’s like the story of Ben Affleck, but with jaunty nun music.”
So let me get this straight: If I bring a hot young thing into my home, I’m headed towards marital mayhem?
The Ben Affleck-effect is surely responsible for some of the mistrust. (See the tabloid transgressions of stars like Affleck, Ethan Hawke, and Gavin Rossdale—a.k.a Mr. Gwen Stefani—who reportedly all had dalliances with their kids’ caretakers, despite being married to some of the most beautiful women in the world.)
Julia Pelly, a mother-of-two in North Carolina, agrees—to a point. “Sure, I think that high-profile cases of celebrities hooking up with or running off with their nannies does heighten the worry that the same will happen for everyday people,” she says. “But if you’ re secure in your marriage, hiring a hot babysitter is really no different than ‘letting’ your partner work with a hot colleague or spend time with friends who you might feel are more attractive than you.”
And yet, the nay-sayers still insist that domestic proximity is enough to prompt indiscretion. To that end, the I’m Sorry playground scene continues with Andrea offering the following comparison: “Why would you put that in your house? I mean, you’re a snacker and I trust you, but I wouldn’t put potato chips in front of you. Even if you aren’t hungry, eventually you’re gonna snack. That’s just terrible judgment.”
My friend Jocelyn, a mom-of-two who asked not to use her real name, recounts a recent “don’t put that in your house” horror story from her small town in New York. “Not long ago, a father here cheated on his wife with their 20-something au pair, and it was a huge scandal. He was a big man on campus here—both a town official and a co-owner of a popular local establishment, so it wasn’t low-key. He left his wife and now lives with the au pair, which continues to blow people’s skirts up.” According to Jocelyn, the whole thing felt less like a cautionary tale, than one that prompts the question: Was the “problem” the hot au pair in the house or the married man with no scruples?
Which is to say, if you’re at all concerned about your nanny’s physical appearance, it may be time to look hard at the man in the mirror (or the marriage license). “Not hiring a super-hot nanny because you’re afraid someone in your marriage will stray is a huge red flag about your marriage,” says Jamie Beth Cohen, a mother-of-two from Pennsylvania.
Julie Provenzano, a real estate agent in Dallas who’s married with two children in Dallas, has had a series of bombshell au pairs from Europe over the past few years. The static from friends and neighbors has been steady. “I find that so bizarre,” says Provenzano. “The focus is on the 20-something hot au pair when it really should be about society’s concept of all men as pigs. Are men that debased as a gender that they simply can’t be trusted around a young pretty woman? Certainly, some qualify for that reputation, but I don’t buy that. If you’re really that concerned about a cute au pair as a threat to your marriage, there are definitely bigger issues at play.”
Provenzano’s husband, Frank, also a real estate agent, puts it even more succinctly: “My job is fairly simple: (1) Don’t be a creep, and (2) make sure the au pair has a safe and fun year. That’s kind of it. And if you get number one wrong, number two is impossible.”
But there are still people who think that no matter how much faith you have in your relationship and trust in your partner, the nature of child-care work is one that can lead to blurred lines. Kat Kendall lives in Bend, Oregon, with her husband and young daughter. “I would trust Ben if he was lost in the woods and came upon a house of strippers engaged in an orgy and there was no way I’d ever find out, but I still would probably think twice about bringing a supermodel nanny into our house,” she admits. “I don’t really like that I would do that, but when someone is in your house all the time there is an opportunity for intimacy already present and if they’re highly attractive, then it just seems like a risky element that I wouldn’t want to have around. Like, what if you feel super schlumpy someday and you are sort of in a grind with your spouse and then this beautiful woman arrives to lovingly take care of your child and laugh at your husband’s jokes and clean up around the house, then wouldn’t that potentially make you feel worse?”
Beauty cuts both ways, though, says Kendall, who says she probably wouldn’t hire a hot “manny” either. “I’m a natural flirt, so I just wouldn’t want that distraction for myself in the house. Being married is tough,” she adds, “and staying monogamous—not just physically, but emotionally, and mentally— can be really hard. It’s like, just don’t put yourself in a tricky situation.” Emily Furlani, an art director in Brooklyn and a mother-of-two, agrees: “Seeing a man be great with your kids is a natural aphrodisiac.”
The desire to let it all hang out at home (a.k.a, the schlump factor) was something many of the women I spoke to brought up. Middle school teacher Lauren Goldberg, a mom-of-two who lives in Brooklyn, says she wouldn’t be keen on a hot sitter because “when I’m at home, that’s my time to be relaxed and chill and not worry so much about how I look. I think if I had a sitter who was really beautiful and super stylish, I would always be comparing myself to her and perhaps wondering what my husband is thinking even if he has no intention of doing anything. I don’t read fashion magazines and I’m not on Instagram to minimize comparing myself to other people and thinking about my age, etc. So for me, it’s more about me and how I would feel about myself. There are enough things in the world to chip away at my confidence. Home should be a refuge.” Similar reasoning is why Camille Chatterjee, the mom of a toddler in Brooklyn, says “no way” to a drop-dead babysitter: “My husband knows this, and I realize that it’s my insecurity driving this, plus the feeling of having to compete as an older, haggard new mom versus some nubile young thing.”
If all of this seems terribly unfair to the women looking for work as a caregiver, it’s because it is. It’s one area in which “pretty privilege”—the notion that looking a particular way can lead to certain economic and social benefits—can actually have a negative effect.
Before I started writing this story, I broached the topic with our breathtakingly beautiful babysitter, E, who asked that I not name her. She has spent the past three years modeling around the world, and recently came back to Brooklyn to enroll in college. It felt weird—and almost unkind—for me to write about this without asking her thoughts. It’s hardly the first time her looks have dominated her life, she told me, or prompted whispery discussions or unwanted distractions. “I definitely think there’s a real stereotype out there about babysitters in general, and good-looking female babysitters for sure,” she says. “For me, there are a lot of instances where being conventionally attractive can work to my advantage—and certainly I decided to model exactly because of that—but there are also plenty of situations where it can be frustrating or not as much of an advantage as you’d think.” And while the celebrity news cycle has, in part, kept this trope alive and well, she adds, the bottom line for her is to keep in mind that “if these celebrities ‘can’t hold onto their husbands,’ it’s not the nannies’ fault, nor is it their own fault. It’s because their husbands are assholes.”
And that’s just it: Preemptively wagging a finger at a beautiful babysitter or accusing husbands of bad behavior reeks of both ingrained contempt for both women and men. For many people (and sometimes for good reason) the male-female dynamic is fundamentally underpinned with a bit of mistrust or derision, one in which men are only one flirtation away from being predators, and women are either preyed upon or ready to pounce on a halfway decent married man. It brings to mind the absurd rule that Vice President Mike Pence follows—that he he won’t dine alone with any woman who is not his wife.
Perhaps what needs to change is our standards for men. The baseline standard should be that a man can have lunch with a woman—“attractive” or not—without hitting on her in any way. Just as many women are finally holding their partners to higher expectations around the house, in terms of the division of labor, so we should do that in this situation as well.
And while I understand where so many of these wary women are coming from (and I am not unaware of the steam of tabloid tales and the stubborn clichés), I don’t want cynicism to rule my life. I’m already pissed off enough about other things. I don’t compete in any way with a 20-something woman whose legs are almost as long as my whole body. (Show me a 40-something in my field with kids and pets and good skin and obedient hair, and then I might get fired up or competitive!) Besides, I don’t want to see women as the enemy, nor do I want to ascribe to my husband a men-are-dogs stereotype he has never warranted.
So yes, we have a babysitter who’s smoking hot. But more important, she’s also warm, creative, reliable and safe. That’s pretty much all that really matters.
From: Harper’s BAZAAR US