Elena Ridley’s Instagram account is filled with photos of her smiling 17-month-old daughter. She started keeping a blog right after she got married, planning to document her eventual pregnancy. What actually happened was Ridley turned into an infertility blogger, growing an audience on social media who followed along with her through the highs and lows struggling to have a baby. She has over 7,500 followers and continues to be open and honest about real motherhood on Instagram now that she has a little girl.
“I’ve always been very open and I love to write, so it was just natural that it happened that way,” she explains to Romper via email, “I thought it was important to raise awareness about something that at the time I didn’t find many resources for or conversations about. Now [infertility] really seems to become something that more people are comfortable discussing, but there’s still a long way to go.” She documents life as a mother in the same way.
On a larger scale, there has been a recent shift in some celebrities using their online presence to show what real motherhood is like. There was the time Chrissy Teigen posted a photo of herself in mesh underwear, fresh from the hospital, then there was Serena Williams’ candid message to moms returning to work after a baby that got all the feels, and Busy Philipps confessing that her daughter said the F word at 2.
Motherhood is messy. It can be really hard, and sometimes seeing someone else sharing their struggles can have a cathartic effect for onlookers also there in the brambles. Reproductive psychiatrist Dr. Alexandra Sacks encourages women to share real portraits of their lives as mothers under #motherhoodunfiltered on Instagram. "Perfection is an impossible goal. It’s more than just accepting that perfection isn’t possible; we need to stop thinking of motherhood as effortless all-giving, because the healthiest approach preserves room for the mother’s own physical, emotional, and social space," she wrote recently in an Instagram post.
So what actually happens when you ditch the Crema filter and open the aperture to take in the full-ball chaos of motherhood? We reached out to experts to find out.
According to Tamar Gur, maternal-fetal psychiatrist at Ohio State University, it’s pretty rare that people even put their real selves out there in the first place. Sometimes it’s easier to hide behind the veil of filtered photos of smiling children eating out of Bento boxes in a perfectly lit living room.
Everyone has good and bad days. Life isn’t perfect and people want to be able to relate with others and not be compared.
“What that creates is a sense of ‘everyone else is doing it right,’” Gur explains to Romper, “And what that creates is a real sense of loneliness in many women, especially in the postpartum period when obviously you've just been through a major transition.”
New moms are out of their normal routine and habits, they’re sleep-deprived and their hormones are still in flux. All of these things can negatively impact a mom’s sense of wellbeing and health. Celebrities who are posting the good, bad, and ugly create a new normal for the regular woman to see and relate to. It’s the thought of, “Well that person is struggling and she has a chef and a nanny and is rich, so no wonder I’m struggling too.”
According to Gur, that thinking can actually create a platform for that woman to reach out to her support system in real life and get the help she needs.
"It can certainly impact well-being positively when the response to these struggles is compassionate and also creates a sense that you are not alone," Rachel Annunziato, Associate Professor of Psychology at Fordham University tells Romper via email. "Plus it can be a source of advice, community and even humor."
“Everyone has good and bad days. Life isn’t perfect and people want to be able to relate with others and not be compared,” Ridley explains. Recently, a follower sent her a message on her Instagram account after Ridley had shared a story. She was explaining a product she liked and used, and her daughter was hollering in the background. The follower thanked her for not editing or re-recording the video, instead choosing to leave it as is, screaming toddler and all.
“I’d never get anything done if I tried to share my life without those real moments,” says Ridley. “I’ve never sugar-coated any of what I have shared about our lives or our journey, so it’s nice that my followers are appreciative of that.”
Annunziato thinks social media for mothers has overall been very positive. "Mothers have instant access to support and validation now which is quite different from before," she explains, "One challenge though with social media is the tendency to compare yourself to others. In this regard, mothers may feel badly if it feels like others are having a much easier experience."
When you see someone sharing on social media that they’re less than perfect, it makes you feel less alone.
It’s a basic human drive to feel known and to feel understood and it can be incredibly isolating when that doesn’t happen. Hearing comments such as having the perfect family or the most beautiful baby, can be hard to hear when a mom is struggling to keep her head above water. Actually, it’s common not to feel connected with the baby for the first few weeks or months, due to sleep deprivation or relationship stressors, or a variety of other reasons.
When people are making comments about how happy a mom must be, it feels more like a condemnation than a compliment. “When you see someone sharing on social media that they’re less than perfect, it makes you feel less alone,” says Gur, “that there’s others like you, and social media obviously isn’t therapy, but it can provide a window into that kind of experience when used properly.”
Showing real motherhood on social media is beneficial, but too much honesty can bring its own problems. It’s better than a false sense of perfection, but misery loves company. Nothing, according to Gur, can replace a human connection. Even though it’s great to show the true human experience, social media may not always be the best way to find that.
If a mom is undecided about putting herself out there on social media, Gur advises them to start small. Find a secret Facebook group for moms, or filter settings to only show posts to a number of mothers that would be supportive. Mom shaming is real and unkind comments can further the hurt. She also recommends women not “vaguebook” — post on their account inscrutable things like, "Ugh, I don’t know if I'm going to make it!"
“I feel like that’s just not fair to your readers and not fair to yourself,” she explains, “You’re not going to get the support you need.” Instead, women should be clear in what they’re looking for. Posting something such as “I’m so exhausted. Would anyone love to come hold this baby for a few hours on Thursday?” gets to the point of what a mom needs.
Overall, the effects of confessing, sharing, and receiving support when showing genuine motherhood is good for both the poster and the followers. Of course many opportunities for this get missed just due to the fact that moms are busy being moms. Still, next time you're debating putting up that photo of your child getting into the peanut butter jar you forgot to put away, think about posting it, so another mom can feel not so alone in the crazy train that is parenthood.