“Childbearing years are short. I’m growing another best friend inside of me. The mantle is significant but brings me immense joy.” My jaw clenches just a bit as I read the caption beneath the photo of the serene-looking, beautiful, homesteading mother wearing a striped sundress and cradling her swollen belly. I feel- what is that? Annoyance? Jealousy? Embarrassed as I reflect upon how I looked and handled my own two pregnancies? (I can tell you one thing- I donned exactly ZERO sundresses and I never had any deep musings about any significant mantles. I was more of a leggings-wearing, oversized t-shirt-donning, itchy, infuriated pregnant woman who could be seen partaking in anything from smearing butter on my swollen finger when my wedding ring got stuck, to prepping my hemorrhoid sitz bath, to falling asleep on the couch in between seeing my clients (Oh or vomiting. Lots and lots of vomiting……) ANYWHO
If there is one topic that gets me fired up, it’s momfluencer culture (also know as the culture of performative motherhood). I FLY first class across the room to whatever conversation is happening at the mere mention of Ballerina Farm (the account with the caption and picture referenced above.) I could talk for hours with friends about the psychological impact of consuming commodified motherhood. And I suspect this is because I haven’t fully untangled what this impact is exactly. Is it all negative? I don’t think so. It is all positive? Certainly the hell not. Is it a mix? I certainly feel a mix of things when I read Ballerina Farm’s caption and see her picture. Just what is it about momfluencer culture that feels so good and so bad all at once? Let’s dive in, shall we?
What Is a “Momfluencer” Anyway?
A momfluencer is technically defined as anyone who utilizes their identity as a mom via social media for monetary gain. There are a whole variety of different types of momfluencers- Tradewife momfuencers, morman momfluences, makin’ it work in New York momfluencers, crunchy-mom momfluencers, silky-mom momfluencers, vulnerable “real” momfluencers. You know these social media accounts when you see them.
Momfluencer accounts often feature beautiful, (usually thin, often white) mothers with aesthetially pleasing homes. Their feeds are full of professionally shot family portraits. They will often do “hauls” in their stories and have “like it to know it” shops. They try to sell us organic raspberry leaf tea for labor, wild bird floral printed baby carriers, or grey half zip sweaters (“perfect for breastfeeding!”) These accounts are now everywhere.
So What’s the Problem?
So it’s a bunch of moms just trying to make that money honey. What’s the problem? I have puzzled and puzzled over this exact question. I started glancing into the world of momfluencer Instagram rabbit hole when I was pregnant with my first baby. It was a slow dipping of my toe into the content. An innocent perusal of a post about the best things to pack in a hospital bag from one account. A look at a post about “cutest maternity tops” from another account.
But once he was here- well, that was it. I fell down the rabbit hole FAST. I can recall being up at 3:00am gritting my teeth as he hungerly latched onto my blistered nipple for the 6th time in three hours. When he finally latched I would peer through the dim orange glow of the Hatch sound machine and reach for my phone. And well- I found my respite there. I would gaze at the beautiful curated pictures of mothers cradling their newborns, and captions calling them their “babes in bonnets.” I would lust over Artipoppe carriers. I would click link after link in search of the same onesie that her baby had on because I needed it. I would salivate over pictures of babies serenely sitting in marcame swings with sun-drenched kitchens of blonde wood countertops and gold hardware in the background. It was a beautiful world full of things that I wanted. I wanted all of the stuff. But I also wanted that picture of motherhood.
Somewhere along the line I began to experience this sense of dissonance- a disconnect between the uncomplicated images of motherhood that these women were posting and the hot and cold, complicated, boring, chaotic, lonely and beautiful stretches of motherhood that I was living in real time. Why did these women all seem so… one hundred perfect happy? How did they get their babies to look at the camera and smile for pictures like that? How did they get their toddlers to wear those adorable outfits? And how did they keep their own clothing so clean all the time? How did they all have the money for these perfect playrooms? Where did they find out how to put together all of these perfectly casual-but-still-so-cute-and-put-together loungewear looks? How did they afford all of the matching loungewear sets?
Sure, these moms often posted captions about being imperfect mothers, but I often found that those captions left me feeling even worse. Because the things that they were “admitting” seemed so small in comparison with my own motherhood struggles. Their captions would be along the lines of “sometimes buttered noodles are the only thing on the menu, and that is ok mama!” I would snort and think to myself, “I would literally be dancing on the counter tops if my two year old touched buttered noodles. Her shame would be my victory. How sad is that? I’m a failure.”
So…Is Momfluencing All Bad?
With the picture that I am painting in this blog post so far, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? But when I look at the entire picture, I simply cannot say that their impact has been completely negative (at least not for me.) There are a few specific momfluencers like @thewanderingeye, who talks openly about gender disappointment or the incredibly depressing slough of the fourth trimester with a colicky baby. Or @diaryofanhonestmom, whom I have found to be helpful in normalizing the *real* every day struggles of motherhood. I can recall one post of hers that really resonated lately…something along the lines of “if a friend threw a meal that you just took time to prepare on the floor and screamed at you, you’d experience anger. It’s normal and ok to feel angry at certain points with your kids.” “Yes!” I remember thinking. “It is OK to experience anger. What point in time did I lose grasp of that concept? That all emotions are allowed- yes for mothers too!” It felt affirming to read. The fact that it also felt radical and taboo was not lost on me either. Because in the sea of momfluencer voices that peddle perfect images of their children and motherhood, I am also constantly consuming content from professionals and coaches discussing the importance of gentle parenting, and about how easy it is to traumatize our children. It all comes together to make me feel a little crazy. And a lot like a constant failure. So when I do find the motherhood accounts that feel genuine, earnest and affirming…I cling to them.
There are a few accounts (not many. But a few) that have allowed me to feel more seen. Some of them do an incredible job of highlighting the constant duality of motherhood- the beauty along with the pain. The long stretches of boredom punctuated with the most breathtakingly tender moments. The experience of wanting time to mooooove along, whilst also simultaneously knowing on some level that at the end of your life, when you are reflecting on your time, it will be these days, with your very young children, that you will long to relive just one more time. I appreciate these accounts and the women out there who are able to speak to this experience more eloquently than I ever could. I cling to their words on the days when I feel most alone and sad.
Hey…I Smell Misogyny
I have also found myself reflecting on how I so often text my friends screenshots of these momfluencers and note how “cringey” that caption was, or how infuriating this image is. I have recently had a reckoning of sorts in which I came to terms with the not-insigificant realization that many of us seem to be angrily pointing fingers at a women-dominated and mother-run profession and field. I think it could be helpful for anyone, myself included, who has ever experienced knee-jerk reactions to momfluencers to sit with the idea- really sit with it- that there may be some internalized misogyny driving those reactions.
Take Ballerina Farm for example. I could not count the amount of conversations that I both participated in and seen online in which she was scathingly referred to as someone who is “cosplaying prairie life.” I recently saw a comment on one of the posts about her: “So she’s building a business of making sourdough starter kits and raising a bunch of kids on a farm. There’s probably worse things that she could be doing with her time, right? Why am we so mad?” And I think the answer to this is complex. It’s complex like the reason you may feel an instantaneous flicker of annoyance at the momfluencer tiktoker who gleefully talks about how she plans to purchase“new t*tties!” as soon as she stops breastfeeding her kid. There is complexity in the emotions we experience here. I think it is important to acknowledge that there are very real valid reasons for feeling frustrated (like the feeling that Ballerina Farm is attempting to showcase a rustic lifestyle in what is essentially a dishonest way) at least a small part of that frustration might also come from a culture that quite simply teaches us to dislike women.
Internalized misogyny is a real experience. I consider it important to be constantly checking in with ourselves, no matter what our gender, to sort of evaluate if misogyny is in the room when we are considering any strong opinion we have quickly about another woman. My personal belief is that misogyny is tricky. It sneaks in because it is the sea we have all been swimming in from birth. When we are feeling annoyed with these moms, it is important to ask ourselves if we would feel the same vitriol towards dadfluencers? Would we judge them for trying to sell us things? Would we feel that the commodification of fatherhood was just as “cringey”? I do not believe we would, at least not with the same intensity. And while I do not think this is the bulk of what drives our disdain for these types of creators, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it here.
But Are We All Actually Momfluencers?
Another thought I have found myself wrestling with lately around this topic: Are we all momfluencers to some extent? After all, most of us are on social media and post images that have to do with our role as mothers. Ergo, most of us are indeed performing motherhood to some extent. It sort of comes with the nature of being alive in this society at this point in time. The majority of us participate in social media to some extent. And mothers tend to utilize it more frequently than some other groups in my experience.
We post pictures of our kids with tender captions-we post pictures of ourselves cradling our newborns- we post “let’s get real for a second” moments to our stories. All of these posts are so valid. AND- they are performative, because they are being posted, at least in part, for the eyes of others. And they are influential in our small circles. We influence one another all the time without realizing it. (Of course a key difference between us and the momfluencers that I am referencing in this blog post is that we aren’t making money off of our posts- an important distinction.)
Once again, in many ways I think our pictures and caption shares can be positive. I love seeing my friends’ pictures with their children. Sometimes when one of my older friends posts a picture I find myself getting lost in thought about how cool it has been to have seen them in so many seasons of life. Fifteen years ago we were peeling each other off the sticky floors of college parties and now we both literally grew humans in our bodies and are keeping them alive?! It’s something that I find so beautiful, and it’s something that social media, and their posts and captions, allow me to witness just a little bit more than I might otherwise. And that is pretty damn cool.
Boundaries and Take-Aways
Like most of the topics that I love talking about, I don’t know that there are any neat answers here. No black and white conclusions to be made about momfluencers, and our role in it all. There is complexity and duality. There are huge negative consequences and beautiful parts.
I do think that there are two things that we should be intentional about doggedly reminding ourselves of when we consume motherhood content, and that is curation and money.
- Curation- these image are incredibly curated. They are not moments captured in this mom’s day, they are days dedicated to creating (and selling) the image of the idea of this moment. So it is unfair to compare ourselves and our own appearance and images to theirs.
- Money- I do believe many of the largest momfluencer accounts have a huge degree of generational wealth that allows them to live in homes and wear clothing that inaccessible to most of us. Again, it is unfair to compare ourselves in any way to someone who has had such a vast amount of generational wealth and resources.
One decision I have made for myself in this realm is to be intentional about considering my boundaries when it comes to engaging with mom content on social media. I check in with myself about how someone’s content generally makes me feel and I liberally use the unfollow button. I try not to cringe-follow people anymore. I have unfollowed many of the more curated accounts of the mothers who post item hauls- because I have found that (shocker) buying the stuff doesn’t actually buy me the feeling of finally being a good mother. I try not to engage in the content that leaves me feeling like I am desperately clawing at the curtains of the mom I have always wanted to be- because this feeling is something that I am constant wrestling with regularly anyway
At the end of the day, these boundaries help, but they do not “solve” my complicated relationship with momfluencers. My view is something that is constantly evolving and cannot be neatly wrapped up with a bow. For a far more in-depth and incredible analysis on this topic, I recommend reading “Momfluenced: Inside the Maddening, Picture-Perfect World of Mommy Influencing Culture” by Sara Petersen.
By: Dr. Colleen Reichmann, practice founder and Licensed Clinical Psychologist
How Can Wildflower Therapy in Philadelphia, PA Help You?
If you’re looking for someone to come alongside you to help you unpack and approach the complex set of emotions you may experience during eating disorder recovery, pregnant, or throughout motherhood, our therapists in Pennsylvania are honored to help! In fact, you can get to know a little bit more about them here and book a free consultation here.
Other Mental Health Services Provided by Wildflower Therapy in Philadelphia, PA:
Life is a unique and sometimes messy journey for each of us; we all have our own individual battles to fight. Our therapists know there is no one-size-fits-all approach to any of life’s challenges and because of that, we offer many unique perspectives and approaches to help meet you where you are with our Philadelphia, PA Therapy services. We offer in-person therapy in Philadelphia, and also offer virtual therapy to anyone in PA, NJ, DE, FL, MA, or VA!
We offer services for eating disorder therapy, body image struggles, services for anxiety, and depression, and have practitioners who specialize in perinatal mental health , maternal mental health, therapy for college students and athletes. We also celebrate that we offer LGBTQIA+ affirming Therapy. As you can see, we have something to offer just about anyone in our Philadelphia, PA office.
Reaching out is often the most difficult step you can take to improve your mental health, so please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have! We look forward to partnering with you on this journey!