I never expected to succumb to the charms of Instagram influencers. Aren't they all 20-somethings posting about self-care in bikinis? Yet somehow, lured by colourful recipes, I fell into the wormhole of Instagram mom influencers. I'm the mom of two young boys and THIS is my demographic.
Now I can spot instamoms a mile away: attractive, slim, insta-filtered to the max, with a little munchkin or two in tow. They have a signature hairstyle that waves like the flag for a secret clubhouse: long tresses that can easily be thrown into a topknot (hello, symbol of youth and playfulness!). They churn out feel-good platitudes about being a mom, and idyllic photos of their lives, their meals, their homes and their adoring husbands.
Instamoms also share little tidbits about themselves and their families. You can follow along as they go on vacation, lose weight and reorganize their pantries. They even post about their kids getting sick. But don't worry, you will never see the hellish airport security line, a real kid's bedroom with ugly Disney toys or an actual, snotty-nosed, sick child.
The photos are sometimes taken by professional photographers with poses set up for the camera. Sometimes you'll notice the same outfit and same location repeated in their feeds on a different day, a telltale sign of a professional shoot. Most importantly, instamoms' feeds are heavily curated. They are not posted in real time and they are not #reallife. They are a slice of rarified life, scrubbed clean of real motherhood — the sleepless nights, spills, cuts, bruises, vomit and the tears (oh, the tears).
I admired how effortless instamoms made it all look (#goals!). I dreamed of a cream-coloured sofa that doesn't emit toxins, I took notes on their core-strengthening workouts, and thought to myself, "I need to be more in the moment" as I stared at my phone.
When my own messy life bumps up against the filtered images on Instagram, I can't help feeling inadequate.
But eventually a feeling of unease started creeping up on me. I felt like I wasn't doing motherhood right. I don't make granola bowls every day, I don't feed my kids roasted cauliflower and chia seeds, I don't look like I just got a blowout at a hair salon. Most days, I'm running late, I've screamed at the kids to get their shoes on 63 times, I forgot the snacks, the siblings are fighting, someone is bleeding and they are both whining for screen time.
#Realmomlife means most things don't go as planned and someone has a meltdown (often me). I love my kids and am trying to stay afloat with a job, meals, kids' activities and the disasters of everyday life. When my own messy life bumps up against the filtered images on Instagram, I can't help feeling inadequate.
I searched for more realistic content, but even if you look up a hashtag like #realmomlife or #honestmotherhood (go ahead, try it), or a hashtag that promises something more unfiltered, the photos are eerily the same. The caption may make reference to a "tough morning," a "sleepless night" or a cliché like how "it isn't always easy," but the image shows a glowing, goddess-like woman with nary a bit of dirty laundry in sight.
This seems to be key to their formula — you can complain, as long as you don't show any cracks. If an image is worth a thousand words, these photos are an epic novel of ease and glamour. Woe to the woman who finds motherhood challenging.
It's not news that social media can have a damaging effect on emotional well-being. Nobody benefits from seeing or feeling that their life isn't as happy and chic as those of other ("better") moms out there. There have not yet been enough studies on Instagram cause and effect, but a study done at Tel Aviv University found that Facebook users were less happy than non-users, mostly because they compared themselves to others and it made their own lives seem lacking.
My life is not a perfect ad campaign for a motherhood that doesn't exist.
There's an even more insidious angle to this trend in social media. Small-scale Instamoms go anywhere from 10k followers (of which there appear to be hundreds, maybe thousands) to the beasts like Amber Fillerup Clark with 1.3-million followers. Big brands want access to all those mama eyeballs. Sponsored posts now make their way into many Instagram moms feeds in ways that look like ads aimed at 1950s housewives, only they are hawking organic laundry detergent, home-delivered bone broth and chlorophyll face masks. It's not "having it all" as much as "doing it all," if doing it all means yoga and avocado bowls.
Their message is monolithic: Being a mom is like being in a blissed-out magazine spread. You should want nothing more than a cute baby and a toned body. Savour every moment of this magical time. If you're not, there is something wrong with you.
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Seeing the positive is not in itself bad advice. Taking care of yourself is a good idea. Being grateful has been linked to increased happiness. Of course I have moments of unbridled joy and times when we are all in flow. I adore my kids as much as is humanly possible; I'm not a monster. But my life is not a perfect ad campaign for a motherhood that doesn't exist. Motherhood is the most complicated thing I have ever done: I both love it and hate it at times, and I feel both bound by it and in many ways it is freeing. It can be messy and brutal, with moments of profound weirdness. To see it reduced to this warm and fuzzy fashion show feels not only like a lie, it feels damaging for everyone.
Tally Abecassis is the creator of satirical instagram mom account @vegansmoothiemama.
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