Let's talk about Momfluencers
I don't remember the last time I was so happy to be Black and ignored by capitalism. Only after reading this have I realized that I've been free to make motherhood mine because American society doesn't expect me to mother at all.
I admit that I used to follow Naomi Davis of Love Taza. I have 3 kids around the same ages as her oldest kids. I’d read her posts and be torn between disbelief that traveling with 3 little kids and navigating NYC with them was supposedly so easy and, otoh, desire to believe the fantasy because the photos were so pretty, lol.
There were parts that I found really distasteful - sometimes they’d cross a line for me by monetizing supposedly special moments with their kids. For example, I remember one time Naomi took her oldest daughter out for a special “mother daughter” day yet it turned out to be an ad for jeans. And it was heavily photographed too so I guess Josh was along to document it (he acted as her photographer at the time)? Did the daughter understand why he’d be along on her special outing with mom? Idk, it was kinda weird and starting to verge too much on the Truman Show for me.
Related to this, I did read Petersen’s book and I was disappointed that she didn’t have much to say on the inherent “ickiness” of these influencers using their kids, who aren’t old enough to give consent no matter what they may say to the contrary, to make money. There’s a difference between a fashion influencer who occasionally mentions their kids to what “Momfluencers” are doing which is commodifying their family lives and their children’s childhoods. And again, if you follow along for any length of time like I did with the Davis family, it does start to become very Truman Show-esque. When the kids grow up and look back on their childhood memories, are they going to wonder what was real and authentic and what was staged to sell jeans and applesauce?
There’s also the fact that when they grow up, these kids will have a digital footprint the size of Montana that they’ll never be able to scrub away and that they didn’t ask for. As a parent, I think it’s important to protect my kids’ privacy and anonymity until they are old enough to make decisions for themselves.
The idea of Ballerina Farm being a "good mom" is where, I think, the whiteness stuff REALLY shows up for me. She fairly regularly posts content of situations that are actually pretty dangerous for kids (like tiny infants unsecured in vehicles) that would result in accusations of her being negligent if she wasn't a rich, pretty white lady. But she gets a "they are farm kids, the rules are different" pass from her followers that REALLY makes clear that people are romanticizing the farming lifestyle (hang out with real farmers for long enough and you'll find that almost all of them have a story about a kid being killed or maimed in a farming accident). This idea that because their life looks so wholesome that it can't be dangerous is really wild to observe.
Wow, Sarah, thank you for sharing about how social media influenced your decision to have a third child. My jaw actually dropped because I don't see that discussed openly often at all. There can be so much reluctance and fear around transitioning out of the prescribed child bearing role and you really nailed it in that small paragraph.
ETA: I don't have 3 kids, but I very much relate to this. I remember feeling oddly lost after my 2nd kid was born and I was no longer deciding whether to be pregnant, trying to get pregnant,.or being pregnant. I almost convinced myself to try for a 3rd, I think in part because of that lostness and also because it would validate the image of me as one of those hardcore MOMS. Even having "just" one kid felt immensely disruptive and difficult and exhausting, but no one could see it. How many kids does it take before you feel like someone sees the work, sacrifice, commitment, depletion of yourself that you are putting forth as a mother?? It doesn't make SENSE to think this way, but it was definitely part of my mental soup at the time.
I stopped using Facebook in maybe 2018 and quit Instagram in 2020. I am so, SO happy to not have that "content" put in front of my eyes constantly any more. I used to be self employed and needed to create content for IG to promote myself. Even as someone with a tiny smattering of followers, the mental health ramifications of it were just too weird. When my business closed early in the pandemic, I was so relieved to not feel like I needed to be on SM any more.
Put it on a billboard: “The construction and upholding of maternal ideals has always been in service of white men in power. It’s never had much to do with mothers.”
As an older and childless Gen Xer I find this discussion upsetting and gross. I have a few of these “momfluencers” in my Insta feed and I check out their #grwm posts occasionally with curiosity, disbelief, and despair. In between assembling these wardrobes and filming themselves wearing the free clothes, how many hours are left in the day to, um, parent? And some of them claim to have other outside-the-home jobs!
Why do younger newer moms need Instagram to tell them how to parent? This is an honest question. Where are the moms, grandmoms, aunties, older sisters, godmoms, family friends who ostensibly filled this role before we had the internet? I get that all influencers exist to sell us stuff we don’t need. But I find it hard to believe that young women don’t know how to parent without momfluencers. I’ve just assumed that people tune into these feeds for shopping tips and escapist entertainment. I’m sad about my own naïveté. How lonely and alienated we Americans have become.
This is so great! It completely lit a fire for me on a trend I experience first hand ad nauseam.
I work with rural and small town kids (in Anne Helen’s old stomping grounds) on college access. A lot of that is working with families and moms. And this exposes me to the whole “empty nest” phenomenon IRL and online.
We all feel when (if) our kids go to college. A person who was a center of the home isn’t there any more. It’s a huge shift in your family dynamic, relationship with your spouse if you have one; even your pets feels it.
But some parents REALLY fall hard. They grieve like it’s a death and it sometimes threatens their kids ability to engage in the next phase in life.
And it’s become a whole social media thing. Check out the FB a group Grown and Flown this time of year.
Anyway, I was caught in the idea that we are offered Mom as our identity with NOTHING after that, and it makes a lot more sense.
I’d love to see more writing on the subject!!!
I'm childless, by circumstance; I found out I had POV at 37 after I got my fertility tested. Being childless, but wanting to have had children, I pay more attention to this stuff than other childless people might, especially because many of my friends had children around the time I found out I couldn't. Anyway, I was surprised at how much becoming a mother rocked their worlds, sense of self/confidence, and continues too. I think the ache for shared experience and community and need for validation is incredibly powerful. I know it is very much for me as I journey through early perimenopause. And these types of life transitions can be so lonely. If there had been the kind of "menoinluencer" stuff ten years ago as there is momfluencer stuff, who knows what (other terrible) rabbit hole I would have went down (and how mush STUFF I would have bought!). Anyway, I just wanted to empathize with what I think is sometimes the initial motivation of the content creation and the ultimate consumption - to feel less alone, to be better understood, and make sense of a massive life shift.
If a momfluencer and children weave their way into the golden rod fields and no one is there to photograph it, were [checks notes] solitude, silence, and privacy really had?
Such a thought provoking article, thank you!
It feels timely; my husband and I were recently comparing our Instagram feeds, which since the birth of our 15 mo have become terribly kid centric. We realized all of his feeds are fear mongering (don't slide with your kid!! Feed your kid fish or their brain won't develop!! Ah!) and all of mine are about the complex, need-an-advanced-degree-in-developmental-psychology dance of raising good, well behaved, thoughtful, independent, happy, and emotionally intelligent humans. I'm sure we've partially & accidentally self-curtated these different narratives... But damn are they gendered.
Anywho, thank you for the permission slip to NOT follow these accounts and embrace the dozens of toys strewn over my floors.
“I often think about how effectively aesthetics have been sold to me as a placeholder for personhood.” What a great line. This describes perfectly my unease with social media generally, particularly the momfluencer space. Can’t wait to read this book.
What a great interview! I’m an old, chronically online millennial with two kids, aged almost 10 and 6. Momfluencer culture surprisingly hasn’t flooded my feeds, though it’s there. I wonder if part of this is because of timing, as the interview points out—it was less of a thing a decade ago. The pushback / antidote insta account to aestheticized motherhood is @officialsadbeige which I’m sure many folks here will know. It started as Hayley (sad beige) doing a funny Werner Herzog bit as voiceover for niche children’s products, like white wooden everything and expensive potato sacks re-purposed as onesies, but it’s become a commentary on / forum for the difficulty and joy of parenting in 2023. It’s also made me laugh a lot. I love it.
I'm sharing this link to save someone else a little confusion. The Ruby Warrington book is "Women without Kids: The Revolutionary Rise of an Unsung Sisterhood." I went to look up the book and couldn't find it at first because I searched for "Women without Children."
Fundie Fridays has a hilarious video about Kelly Havens.
The bit about book influencing about the end of this interview stopped me in my tracks, because a friend of a friend's wife pivoted to trying to be a "book influencer" after she left her MLM. Monetizing your life seems so exhausting to me.
I’ll have to grab a copy, since my clients keep hiring these folks. I’ve always suspected that they have spread the influence of upper-middle-class motherhood standards deeper than ever into the middle class...I can’t think of worse factory of needless anxiety. Proliferating needless moral alternatives is one of the more destabilizing effects of media. It causes self-doubt your own social network is not raising.
This is the modern day exemplification of domestic containment (Elaine Tyler May) and I have sooo many thoughts. Is our national uncertainty and terror of the near future what makes this so appealing? Why are we attracted commodified whiteness?