Long-time Instagram influencer Amanda Shadforth shares how she navigates online privacy as a mother and why ‘face-free’ images are her signature style.
Instagram influencer Amanda Shadforth shares how she navigates online privacy as a mother.
When I was first pregnant, about seven years ago, my friend Bree asked me how I was going to introduce that part of my life as a mother, as a pregnant woman, or my child, to social media. And (very typically me) I told her I didn’t know and that I’d deal with it as it came.
When you’re pregnant, you start to change and to look different, but I didn’t feel any different. I felt exactly the same, my work was the same, what I wanted to create was the same. I had two parts of me at once: there was the person having the baby, which was a very personal experience, and then my public persona – my work life. Having it out there that I was pregnant prompted questions from people I didn’t know that I wasn’t comfortable answering – I didn’t want to talk about my breasts, or what kind of birth I was going to have.
As I say to my now six-year-old son, the bulk of my work and what I am paid to do is photography. It started because I was an artist with my own art gallery on the Sunshine Coast and I felt a little bit isolated from the creative community. The internet and social media was a way to connect with others outside my region. This was the Myspace era, long before Instagram, so I started a website more for myself to document my work and inspirations. It was directed towards art with no intention to cover fashion, but since art is so visual, it included a wide range of imagery. That’s how it turned into my digital publication, Oracle Fox, which showcases my own work as well as that by other creatives.
It was a while later that I even photographed myself for Oracle Fox – and I had my face hidden. I’ve never wanted to show my face, because I think when an image is faceless, it has anonymity and a mystery to it. People can relate to it more, since it’s not seeing the person as a personality, rather, they are looking at it as a subject matter. Instead of seeing just me, I wanted people to notice the styling, the photography and the light.
But as Oracle Fox grew in popularity, so did the curiosity – people wanted to know more about the person behind the scenes. It was quite strange to begin with. When the fashion community began to show an interest in what I was doing, it could have quickly turned into being all about me, but that’s just not how I am. Anything worth doing has to speak to the viewer morally; it’s a long road for sure. I was in my 30s with my own business when I was swept up in this world, so I had the time and experience behind me to carefully consider how I wanted to be represented, and back then it wasn’t as fast as it is now. Nowadays, it has become the norm to just put yourself out there – including your face.
I really think you can use social media as a tool not to elevate your own self-worth, but for other things. When social media really took off, the automatic response from so many users was to elevate their own self-presence and identity. But for me, my identity wasn’t in my face and being recognised. Instead, my identity was in my work – finding
pictures interesting, and creating interesting pictures. And as an artist, people always need to see the value of your work before they judge you.
But there is definitely that temptation; my own staff and friends tell me they want to see me talking more to camera on social media, but it doesn’t really feel like me when I do it. I really have to be pushed, even though it improves engagement. Analytics will tell you how to increase engagement, but it’s never been about that for me. If
I upload a photo it’s because I like those shoes, not because I think I’ll get more likes or follows.
I’ve met people for the first time who say to me: “I thought you were going to be snobbish, but you’re not like what
I thought.” They assumed that because I wasn’t so forward online, I might have thought I was too good to share that with them, I suppose. That moment did strike a chord, and it made me consider how I needed to share more to show I really am approachable. I love to chat, to meet new people, and I’m warm. Although when you show more of yourself, people want more of that, too: it’s a fine line. If I was having dinner with girlfriends and met someone through them socially, I’d be open about it, of course, but there’s a point where I wouldn’t want to talk about that beyond my own circle.
If I start sharing as much as other people do online, then my account is going to look like every other person. It’s a paradox to me: why would I follow a formula if it’s the same formula everyone else is using?
Sharing can mean different things. I would prefer to share more of the realness of the day-to-day of what we do, rather than my personal life. Whereas I think now people believe sharing means logging on to your social media and talking about the fact that something very personal and hard has happened to you. There definitely is validity in doing that for some people, and if you’re someone who can express something and help others with a difficulty in their lives, then you should be doing that. But I’m not the right person for that.
As a mother, you do what works for you. It wasn’t something I realised until I became one myself. I am close to other people who share photos of their children on social media. We’re all really empowered by making our own decisions for ourselves. So many women have been pregnant, so I don’t really think I need to own that story.
At the same time, I don’t want people to think I’m ashamed, or I’m trying to hide my children. When I first fell pregnant, there were a few people who said in passing: “Hey, what’s going on here? Are you ashamed?” Of course I wasn’t, and I would become upset and ask how they got that impression. They would reply: “Well, it kind of looks like you’re ashamed of the fact that you’re a mum.” That was really hurtful, because they would comment that everyone else puts up photos of their children online. I wanted to say: “Well, if everyone does this, would you follow what they’re doing?”
I’m happy to accept that people have different beliefs – that’s what makes the world special. And social media is a space where there’s room for people to come forward with their own identities and ideas, but they need to be genuine and unique. I talk a lot about my kids when I’m out and I’m proud of them. I show people photos of them on my phone. It’s just that they don’t need to be on my social media.
Once when I was really pregnant and seriously thinking about this issue, I did think if I did something else for work – say if I was a dentist with my own clinic and staff, and I was working hard to be the best dentist I could be, and had a social media person looking after my clinic’s account, it’s highly unlikely you would see my kids on Instagram. I’d want to be talking about the beautiful teeth I was working on. So it felt weird that people had that expectation.
There’s a lot of my own private life I don’t share. Just the other night, my best friends and I went out for dinner for a birthday. The girls started taking pictures for their Instagram Stories. I never do that, because I remember doing that once earlier on and a friend said to me: “You liked a picture on my Instagram and all these people started following me, so I had to turn my account to private.” It was upsetting for me, because it wasn’t something I thought to consider at the time. It made me think I have a level of responsibility not just to my children, but also to other people in my life to keep my work separate to their personal lives. While my girlfriends wouldn’t mind now if I did share something on Instagram Stories, it’s not natural for me to do so, because I’ve seen what it has done.
Photos are up on the internet for a long time. And this is a pretty strong thing to say, but children don’t have a choice. My almost-threeyear-old daughter posing in sunglasses might ask me to take a photo, and then it’s on my phone. But if I think it’s cute, and I put it on social media, she has no idea that millions of people are looking at that picture. And that feels strange to me. She might get older and see it as a situation she had no choice about being in.
When Vogue contacted me to ask whether I would do this story, I did wonder if it would make me look like a hypocrite. It’s a fear that comes from opening up about my children, and being contacted about brands, or partnerships about them, having them become a commodity, and then everything I’ve worked on so much being unravelled. But then I realised that I wanted to open up like this and have people understand why I am the way I am.
If I start sharing as much as other people do online, then my account is going to look like every other person. Why would I follow a formula?