Afew years ago, for an article in our Mother’s Day edition of Lifestyle, some of our regular contributors wrote a series of stories about what kind of mother they’d label themselves. To help me correctly discern which motherhood tribe I belonged to, I asked my family to describe me. I went back to look at that article this week to remind myself what they said. “You’re nice,” said my son. “You’re loving,” said my daughter. ‘‘You’re disorganised,” said their father, projecting as usual. “You’re perfect,” said my own mother. Thanks, Ma.
Perfect, ha! I wish. Nobody’s perfect. Except maybe the “momfluencers”, whose content on Instagram is so obviously manicured and yet intriguing.
An article by Sara Peterson in Harpers Bizarre profiles a few US momfluencers, particularly Hannah of @ballarinafarm — a cross between a pioneer cosplay model with corn-coloured plaits and hipster aesthetic and a Mia Farrow-like waif, all wholesome, natural beauty. She profiles herself as “Married to my soulmate / Mothering six littles / Juilliard ballerina / Mountain farm / City folk turned ranchers etc …” I was mesmerised.
We all know that accounts like these are just a performance of motherhood — a Utopia of gorgeous women, always smiling, playing, cooking hot meals for their men, endlessly entertaining their kids in the great outdoors instead of letting them hypnotise themselves with a screen, adoring their household duties. Hannah announced her sixth pregnancy with a pirouette. She cleans her children’s bedrooms like a fairy godmother waving a duster to wish away the dirt. She has 199k followers, and counting.
Author and journalist Jo Piazza spent a year researching momfluencer culture for her podcast Under the Influence. She praises momfluencers for “figuring out how to monetise the unpaid labour of motherhood” but notes that there are issues.
Piazza says, “Many of these momfluencers are delivering exactly what we’d have consumed in Good Housekeeping, Parenting, or even Vogue. They give us recipes and product recommendations and parenting tips with beautiful photos and short captions. That’s a magazine.” Peterson says mothers exist in a capitalist system that sells the idea of motherhood to sell us the props that go with the job. “It’s a system that tangles motherhood and performance and beauty and consumption into a mess of knots impossible to untie.”