There’s a corner of the internet, fostered in large part by the social media boss that Instagram has become, where all the mothers hang out, posting beautiful images of their babies, blogging about their toddler’s cutest moments, and generally sharing all the #momfeelings that stem from this wild, crazy, and fantastic ride. It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I started finding Instagram accounts from everyday mothers with huge amounts of followers. Like thousands and thousands. And these women aren’t celebrities from the music or film industry. They're "average" moms from all over the world who've risen to a sort of social media fame just by raising their kids on Instagram. Clearly, by the number of followers they attract, we’re obsessed with Instagram moms.
Why is it that a host of repetitive pictures of the same children, same house, same mother holding her little one over and over in these feeds get so much attention? Is it purely because they look pretty, staged to perfection with trendy baby clothes, toys, and home decor and posted with a dreamy filter? Or is our obsession with Instagram moms founded in something more meaningful? And how do we seem to relate to a type of motherhood that is often presented in images not even close to our own reality?
“Instagram is about our ability to communicate with image — a much richer medium than words. Image taps into all our sense, not just our cognitive ability to transcribe letters into meaning,” Dr. Pamela Rutledge, Director of the Media Psychology Research Center tells me in an interview with Romper. She says when Instamoms paint motherhood unrealistically, “it may be a feature of 1) aspirational motherhood (how we wish it would be ALL the time), 2) our perceptions and joy at the moments that ARE amazing or 3) how we like to see ourselves and or motherhood, much in the way we dress up for parties.”
Despite our ability to recognize the unrealistic nature of these photos, many of us still love scrolling through them. McKenzie Murray, a 31-year-old stay-at-home mom of her 2-year-old son, tells me the reason she first started following certain Instagram moms was because “it feels nice to creep on the seemingly perfect mom with the perfect life and perfect family when I'm so far from that reality. It's a crazy fantasy.” That’s not unlike the attraction of following celebrity lifestyles, which, on a smaller scale, is something Instagram and blogging have both enabled an average person to become.
Most mothers want to know how to be a better one, as if that exists on a spectrum. For me, if I can gain such knowledge from following the feeds of all kinds of mothers on Instagram, I’ll heed to their styles and advice. Since that information is pretty much inexhaustible, the desire to look for it also becomes insatiable. And so countless Instamoms keep gaining countless followers.
Murray also says that eventually she stopped following accounts based on how beautiful they were:
I think at first I felt insecure about my own parenting. Like somehow nothing I would do seemed right according to what I was seeing. Now I just understand that every mom will do things differently, and some will do the same, and all of it is OK.
This is exactly what Dr. Rutledge proposes our outlook on the Instamom influence should be: “Rather than view [self-representation] as a negative or as somehow ‘fake,’ we need to readjust our understanding of how people experience themselves and their hopes for themselves,” she tells me. “Few people publicly misrepresent to manipulate others, it’s more about creating an image we want to be or focusing on life’s best moments.”
I spoke to Carrie Anne Roberts, owner and founder of Mere Soeur, a lifestyle brand created from own her first-time mom experience in which she designs merchandise specifically for moms. Her company, essentially built on Instagram, amassed over 28,000 followers, a loyal customer and fan base, and has afforded her opportunities like motivational speaking engagements. She says the reason why the Instamom community is such a "thing" — of which she says is a total honor to be apart — is because it’s a mostly safe place for moms to share their stories unashamedly. Roberts says,
When you become a parent a lot of what you’re doing is guesswork, and it’s not only incredibly interesting to see how other people live and parent and manage their lifestyles, but it also takes us a long way to understanding why we all make different choices. Being able to have that window into people’s lives (people who may have different beliefs, cultures, religions to you, and live on the other side of the world but still feel all those feelings you’re feeling and [are] overcoming similar emotional obstacles and sharing similar triumphs) is so insightful and inspiring.
It’s this empathy and expansion of understanding that can happen from an "obsession with Instamoms" that I think taps into an inherent characteristic of motherhood: Most mothers want to know how to be a better one, as if that exists on a spectrum. For me, if I can gain such knowledge from following the feeds of all kinds of mothers on Instagram, I’ll heed to their styles and advice. Since that information is pretty much inexhaustible, the desire to look for it also becomes insatiable. And so countless Instamoms keep gaining countless followers.
The "Instamom effect" gives average moms more than just an avenue to gain insight or a bar by which to assess their own parenting. There’s an overwhelming feeling of community and belonging.
The sentiment is echoed by another Instamom-following mom who wished to remain anonymous during our interview: “The more I learned from the ones I admired, the more I began to trust myself,” she says when asked whether or not she feels more or less secure in her own parenting when seeing posts by those she follows. But the "Instamom effect" gives average moms more than just an avenue to gain insight or a bar by which to assess their own parenting. There’s an overwhelming feeling of community and belonging referenced to by the moms (those with huge Insta followings and those without) I spoke with.
Diana Bardega, founder of The Mamahood, an organization that hosts a variety of events for creative mothers aimed at helping women find their own real-world (not just on Instagram) community says Instagram is the easiest way for time-conscious moms to engage with the world. “How different — and more immediate — it is now than when it was just magazines and blogs,” she says. “We can look at photos, at what people are wearing or eating, or who they are hanging out with. In essence, [Instamoms] are creating [communities] in the modern world for us mothers.”
For Zoë De Pass, the mom behind the popular account and brand Dress Like A Mum, there’s more than merely finding a community to belong to from Instagram. Being able to redefine what motherhood is from how traditional media portrays it is her jam. She tells me,
Up until a few years ago, 'mums' were spoken to as one group [and] huge assumptions were made about us — what we liked, wore, how we spent our time etc. With the rise of Instagram, mums have been able to find one another, connect, share tips, tricks and support one another.
Getting to pick how you want to be influenced by who you choose to follow remains a key factor of the Instagram (and Instamom) appeal.
If solidarity, inspiration, and changing the way motherhood is viewed in a modern society isn’t enough, Tayler Gunn — @taylergolden on Instagram, who admits her 179,000 followers is mindboggling — gave me another reason why she and others can acquire so many admirers despite the perfectly curated feeds. “Creative people who like to take photos will look for the beauty in motherhood, and that’s what we like to take photos of,” she tells Romper. “I don’t think it means they live a fake life or are trying to fool anyone. No one wants to see photos of dishes piling up in your sink or your baby's blown out diaper.”
She also found a place to seek advice and found content she could relate to when she first started her Instagram after assuming a new role as a full-time mom. She adds that most of her real-life best friends are moms she met on Instagram. “Lots of people keep it real in their captions,” she adds.
The bottom line is the Instamom obsession speaks to the appreciation mom-culture has for the easily accessible encouragement, motivation, belonging, education, inspiration, and amusement parents are able to draw from each other — moms specifically. And it doesn’t show signs of fading any time soon.