It's getting tough to open a magazine, turn on the TV or watch a movie these days without being confronted by some desperate housewife with a crazy libido and great abs. As a cultural phenomenon, all the "hot mom" movement has lacked is a heated legal battle, and now it has one: Trouble is brewing over ownership of the very term "hot mom."
Jessica Denay, a single mom from Brentwood with a celebrity following, is in a dispute with TV marketing firm Buzznation and Medicis, the manufacturer of the dermal filler Restylane, Botox's so-called sister product. The company is producing a reality-TV pilot that, Denay maintains, co-opts a brand she has created.
Medicis isn't fazed by her claims, calling them "unfounded" and "false," and sees this aging demographic as too good to pass up. Consequently, trademark applications have been submitted. Testy lawyer letters have been exchanged. High-profile litigation firms have been retained. And an awkward chapter in feminist history unfolds.
The fight erupted last summer around "Hottest Mom in America," a pilot paid for entirely by the pharmaceutical company, which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz. The show's producers auditioned thousands of moms in six cities and say they will award the "hottest" one $50,000 in scholarship and prize money, a year's supply of Restylane and an interview with a modeling agency. Denay, who left her job as tutor for Pierce Brosnan's kids to promote her own "hot mom" brand through a website and a book, says the pilot cheapens her carefully crafted "movement" and risks her hard-won celebrity endorsements.
"Hottest Mom" producers haven't even completed the U.S. pilot and already they're trademarking the name in other markets. Denay, who co-founded an online community, www.hotmomsclub.com, and published "The Hot Mom's Handbook: Moms Have More Fun!" said she has two TV shows and a radio program in development.
Both parties know that the first reality-TV show out of the gate has a clear advantage. "The phenomenon is something that the networks have wanted to get their hands on for a very long time," said Jeff Greenfield, an executive producer of "Hottest Mom in America" and Buzznation's executive vice president.
Unfortunately, he conceded, the whole motherhood/sexiness thing is delicate turf. "There's a fine line between porn and regular stuff," he said. "This is a show that is sexy enough to satisfy the people that are looking for that, but it is definitely not that at all."
All the elements of the "hot mom" phenomenon were richly on display at the "Hottest Mom" auditions on a Sunday morning last month. Ladies in belly-baring tops and skintight jeans were lined up in the lobby of El Rey Theater in the mid-Wilshire district, ready to pose provocatively for a photographer in a makeshift studio and audition for one of four computer monitors equipped with cameras. One woman with waist-length platinum hair and wearing a halter top gushed, "I'm multicultural! Multitalented! I'm a stay-at-home mom! I work part time as a makeup artist! And I also sing!" Then she broke into "Part of Your World," a song from the "Little Mermaid" soundtrack.
"Even though you're a mom, you don't have to be dowdy, especially nowadays," said contestant Xia Boyd, a mother of three who wouldn't reveal her age but who wore an enviable pair of sparkly gold stilettos. "We're not the women of before who let things go."
As Medicis Chairman and Chief Executive Jonah Shacknai explained later, this show "is all about market expansion. We don't think we've even hit the tip of the iceberg."
This focus on a cosmetic procedure is anathema to Denay, who says her club members include 300,000 women in the U.S. and Canada. In her book, she writes that a hot mom can be "eighteen or ninety-eight, a size 2 or a size 22, have one child or 15!" However, the silhouette on the book cover (and on the T-shirts and the website) is definitely closer to a size 2 than a size 22 and sports belled pants, high-heeled boots and a Farrah Fawcett feathered do.
For her, she said, "hot mom" means "confident, empowered. That's what we stand for. That's why so many celebrity moms have come and rallied behind us. We get e-mails constantly telling how much this book has changed their life. We don't have an agenda. Our only mission is to help create a network of moms."
Denay and Joy Bergin, a stylist for "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider," launched their site in February 2005, and soon they had a whole team pitching their brand to Hollywood. Actress Lauren Holly wrote the introduction to Denay's book. And last month, Mariska Hargitay hosted a star-studded "Hot Mom's Soiree" charity benefit. Britney Spears even donated her maternity clothes to the group to distribute to needy moms, Denay said.