In a 2021 Saturday Night Live sketch, Aidy Bryant, adorned with the signature coiffed bob and cutesy patterned dress of a typical middle-aged woman, opens a series of presents from her 40-to-50-something-year-old friends.
The gifts she unwraps are cheugy, or tacky in a way that’s roughly five years out of date. They’re all decorative home signs matching the “live, laugh, love” vibe that’s popular with suburban mothers. The concept of this scene might not be out of place for the slightly out-of-touch over-40 set. But as Bryant opens those decorative signs, their slogans intensify from “Wine gets better with age, I get better with wine” to “I put wine bottles in other peoples’ recycling bins so the garbage men won’t know how much I go through in a week.”
Through that escalation, the sketch skewers our culture’s normalization of substance use disorder. It critiques the “wine mom” aesthetic, which suggests women need alcohol to cope with the trials of everyday life.
“These phrases are extremely hurtful to women on the road to recovery,” Dr. Deni Carise, Chief Scientific Officer at Recovery Centers of America, told In The Know in response to the clip. “We need more prominent people with the power to influence culture amplifying this message.”
Critiques of this culture are not new — the troubling fact that it’s remarkably easy to find T-shirts and glittery cups emblazoned with slogans like “mommy needs wine” in stores has been a frequent topic of conversation for the past few years.
Now, Gen Z is leading a relatively fresh conversation about how this sort of aesthetic is fundamentally uncool. Without openly critiquing its sinister message, young people simply see this kind of merchandise and immediately categorize it as “basic,” “cis-core” or “cheugy.”
Can that new attitude toward wine mom culture help heal the damage its normalization has done to people in recovery in the same way that marketing efforts made smoking appear uncool in the late 21st century?
Lisa Kays, a mom and therapist who focuses on recovery and substance use disorder, told In The Know that she thinks we’re still a “long way off” from that point.
“I would say that moms (or anyone, really) wanting to stop drinking, or even drink less, still battle concerns and legitimate doubt about whether or not drinking will alienate them from others,” she said. “Shame or stigma [is] creeping back in around drinking as a parent, and the loudness and proudness of it may be decreasing while the behavior itself continues to persist.”
Shelby John, a therapist who is sober, said she’s “not so sure those wine mom products are uncool or basic.” They don’t target the members of Gen Z who currently find them to be uncool, either.
“I still see many advertisements and photos of women with the T-shirts and glitter cups, not to mention the steady stream of posts discussing the need for alcohol to deal with their kids,” she told In The Know. “Our culture has targeted women with alcohol culture for years, perpetuating the notion that we need alcohol to do life.”
Abbey Fickley, who uses her TikTok platform of more than 100,000 followers to educate young people on the realities of sober motherhood, told In The Know that wine mom culture plays a “huge role in normalizing unhealthy ways of coping.”
When she had her daughter at age 20, she suffered from extreme postpartum depression. Nightly wine mixed with prescription benzodiazepines became an addiction that “left no crumbs.” After losing her home, her car and custody of her daughter, Fickley credits the fact that her father pressed charges against her with “saving her life.”
“Wine culture totally justified some of my behaviors,” she said. To her, the antidote to its normalization isn’t necessarily letting it go out of style. Instead, the solution is opening up about the negative impact it has had.
“I believe the more we speak on recovery and share our stories, it gives the moms that do have an issue or question themselves a place to go and reach out for help or find support,” Fickley added. “Or even just simply ask questions to learn more about their own truth or what may be going on.”
“I think that the damage has been done for some, but there is hope for the future,” she said.
Though the impact of wine mom culture can never be truly undone, recovery experts agree that creators like Sharp and Fickley have the power to dismantle its normalization for future generations.
Holly Jespersen, who works for the substance use disorder recovery nonprofit Shatterproof, told In The Know that moms in recovery are doing the heavy lifting in this area.
“We can be amazing role models for our children without glamorizing drinking as a necessary ingredient to be a parent,” she said, noting that women have to deal with this stigma far more than men do. “It is demeaning, and we can do better than that.”
Quoting a popular recovery mantra, Fickley said, “It’s an act of radical self-care to end your day with water, not wine.” It’s the kind of quote that could easily be found on a sign or a T-shirt alongside typical wine mom attire, only much cooler.
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