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'Momshells': Power or pressure?

There's no apron, no mom jeans or frump of any kind. These days, it's all about being a "momshell."

You can find them just about anywhere, in Hollywood, in the White House -- probably in the house next door. And now a new reality TV show is on the hunt for the "Hottest Mom in America."

"There's never been a hotter time to be a mom," says Jessica Denay. A mother in Los Angeles, she wrote The Hot Moms Handbook, one of a number of recent books aimed at women who proudly sport T-shirts, mugs and all kinds of paraphernalia that declare motherhood sexy. Denay also founded the Hot Moms Club, which began as a small group of mom friends eight years ago and has since expanded to an Internet-based social network of more than 110,000.

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Visit the Hot Mom's Club website here.

Visit the Yummy Mummy Club here.

It's tough to pin down the exact origins of momshell, which began turning up on blogs, Facebook and Twitter with more frequency last fall. The term and "yummy mummy," its equivalent in the UK and Australia, are meant as compliments, nods to moms who find time to take care of themselves while caring for their kids.

In this country, momshell has become the tasteful alternative to a more salacious nickname for hot moms, made famous in the movie American Pie. We'll stick to the more G-rated versions in this story, but Tina Fey used the naughtier term in her imitation of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who's sometimes included on the seemingly endless number of "top 10" hot mom lists online. Others include Jessica Alba, Demi Moore, Nicole Richie and, more recently, first lady Michelle Obama.

All of it is supposed to be funny and playful, even empowering.

Still, some wonder if the focus on appearance has gone too far, pressuring women to not only have it all, but to try to be it all, too.

Hollywood moms seem to effortlessly drop their baby weight in a matter of weeks, while everyday moms struggle. And moms on the Real Housewives reality shows leave us wondering just how much of them is still real.

"Now moms are expected to be gorgeous on top of everything else? It's too much," says Elayne Rapping, a professor of American Studies at the University at Buffalo, who specializes in media and pop culture.

Denay, of the Hot Moms Club, insists that finding balance is an integral part of being a momshell.

"I'm not saying put yourself on top of the 'to do' list," says the working mom, who concedes that she fe! els more like a "lukewarm mom" some days. "I'm saying put yourself on the list."

For new moms, she says that might mean simply taking a shower -- and working up to doing their hair and putting on a pair of stylish jeans instead of sweats, or taking a yoga class.

The idea is that a mom will gain energy and confidence that she can give back to her kids -- "and that," Denay says, "is hot."

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