For modern mothers, the toxic attraction of the ‘momfluencer’ seems inescapable | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
I recently overheard a conversation between older women about early maternity photographs. Many regretted not having more photos from this period, even if they were not, they said, “at their best”. A woman has lamented that she destroyed photographs of herself holding her new baby because she hated the way she looked and said she now deeply regrets it. It made me sad, talking about the fact that women feel subject to the outside scrutiny of others, even during such important events in our lives.
At least those photos were usually only shared with friends and family; now images like these have a potential audience of millions. I can’t imagine anything more revealing than posting such intimate photographs online, but the perfect postpartum photo has become as fetishized on social media as the perfect “golden hour” between mother and baby (it’s i.e. skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth). idealized.
Social media has transformed the way my generation views parenthood, just as women’s magazines and television advertising have done for older generations. “Momfluencer” Instagram accounts — most of them run by slim, attractive white women with immaculate homes and perfectly dressed children — are in your feed even if you don’t follow them. In many ways, they harken back to the 1950s, projecting an image of domestic contentment, where mothers and daughters dress alike (called “twinning”) and, having dispensed with outside work, embody a “traditional wife” aesthetic (internet trend). speak for “traditional wife”).
Other messages ask you to breastfeed at all costs, promise you the secret to weight loss after childbirth or tell you that they can solve your baby’s sleep problems. (I set my age at 112, so for a long time the ads I got were for wills and hair dyes, but the algorithm seems to have figured it out, either believing me to be a miracle of modern science, or in an unusual large engaged – grandparent.)
Other mothers tell me that Instagram has been incredibly destructive to their mental health and, in some cases, their physical health. Some hypnobirthing influencers scare medical intervention to the point where women refuse the care they need (the same influencers have been repeatedly cited as examples of irresponsible, unscientific, drug-free lobbying). A woman tells me she’s become obsessed with ‘wake-up windows’, an unscientific and rigid approach to babies’ sleep that’s popular on social media, and has spent hundreds of pounds in the process of sleeping . Another tells me that “milestones” became a concern and that she went to bed at night comparing her child’s motor skills with those of others. Fitness is another area plagued by toxicity, with babies being used as dumbbells during couples’ workouts (“I feel guilty, I’m ashamed of the fourth cookie and finally I’m kicking off Instagram in anger – solved to be a spherical mess unfit for the future,” one mom, Jen Mitchell, tells me), to the “dark” captions about building up babies’ abdominal muscles.
Another woman tells me she challenges the ubiquitous phrase #makingmemories, and how she “challenges all the parents who scream into the pillows or, like me, vape in the locked toilet at 10 a.m. just for five minutes of alone time”. The hashtag seems to demand that mothers take advantage of this precious time. The same woman tells me that a friend with postpartum depression once spent all night scrolling through motherhood-related posts, “wishing she had this life, the life where your house was clean and your baby slept. I couldn’t believe what she was saying, how could she believe this was all real?
As well as carrying the weight of a baby, any mother with a smartphone carries with her a portal to the #blessed lives of others, which serves to highlight – especially in a cost of living crisis where parents have struggling to feed their children – which We do not have. It can be so hard to remember that it’s all fake, that we never see the pictures of the closet full of junk or the child being scolded for having sticky fingers. The bottle of formula and the antidepressants on the bedside table remain hidden; no one records the hours of hair and makeup, the lack of spontaneous joy in a life made up of organized “moments”.
My own mother is amazed at the amount of information we have now, unlike her days when you usually had a few second-hand books, at least one of which would end up being thrown across the room. How are you supposed to learn to trust your own instincts, she wonders, when you’re surrounded by so many opinions?
Of course, social media can provide crucial support, as in the case of groups for those who have lost a baby, or accounts that document the parenting of children with special educational needs. A woman tells me how Instagram helped her identify her postnatal anxiety, when midwives and health visitors only talked about postnatal depression. Many love @biglittlefeelings for advice on toddler behavior, nurse and lactation consultant Lyndsey Hookway, author Sydney Piercey and nutrition and weaning expert Charlotte Stirling-Reed. Many women tell me that they have abandoned certain accounts or deleted the app altogether. A helpful question to ask is, “Does this make me feel better or worse?” If the answer is worse, unfollow or uninstall.
Earlier this year, a New Yorker article looked at the phenomenon of the “hidden mother” in photographs, from Victorian women covering their faces with fabric to appear discreet in baby portraits, to the modern phenomenon of the mother always being the one behind the camera, absent from the visual narrative of family life, because no one takes her picture or because she is afraid of being ugly. You could say that “mominfluencers” are taking over how motherhood is portrayed, but that ignores the retrograde character of the iconography of so many of these images. Weren’t we supposed to resist becoming the angel in the house, rather than smugly showing off the wings we’ve been #gifted?
And then, at the risk of sounding dazed, what about children whose entire lives are documented without consent? What parents spend hours asking, editing, uploading, monitoring responses? What will be the mental health impact of making a child a “public figure” from birth? The first “Mommie Dearest” memoir for the Instagram era can’t be far off.
Baby loves the Captain Calamari sensory toy, a multi-colored octopus designed by developmental experts, so much that he instantly stops crying when placed in his line of sight. It’s one of the best “new baby” gifts we’ve ever received, and it really makes sense now that he’s four months old.
What is not
I officially had cabin fever. Leaving the house is always a struggle, because the baby now hates his crib and wants to look around, but he is too small for a stroller. I find myself praying for cloudy days, so that at least we can have shade and he can watch the leaves on the trees.
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a Guardian columnist and author
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