If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being on the baby-wrangling front lines of my friends, it’s that motherhood is excrement-filled, sleep-deprived, heart-crushing, messy work. I’ve fielded enough breakdown phone calls and late night texts to glean this reality, yet the number of stunning women with effortlessly-gorgeous packs of children filling my Instagram feed would suggest otherwise. Frolicking through sprawling fields or floating in oceans around the globe, their wavy hair is always perfectly-tousled, their sun-drenched homes are unfailing immaculate, and their wardrobes are full of clothes we all want to be wearing. They have hundreds of thousands of followers and their bios read: mom. (Or, very often, “mama.”)
“When did a baby become the coolest accessory a woman can have?” asked one of my friends, her baby in one arm, a dirty diaper in the other. “It’s like all the cool girls grew up, had really cool babies, and they all have beautiful Instagram accounts to prove it.”
The concept of aspirational motherhood is nothing new—from fictional characters like Carol Brady and Clair Huxtable to the glass ceiling-shattering likes of Marisa Mayer, popular culture has continually pushed society’s ideal of the supermom—but a new breed of social media-savvy women are beginning to reject their generation’s long-sought after power mom paradigm of working full-time to pursue a career with nannies on the clock. Instead, they’re embracing their role as mothers, reclaiming the title for themselves as they start businesses of their own—all while making it look really, really good.
Margaret Kleveland is one of these mothers. The 36-year-old launched her California-based clothing line Dôen with her sister Katherine when her son was just three weeks old. The brand, which bills itself as elevated yet wearable pieces for the everyday, focuses most of its content on incredibly beautiful, bohemian mothers, with their equally beautiful children. “I was having conflicting feelings about what my life as a mother was going to look like, working in a hugely competitive industry that expects most people to hold down 10-hour days with limited flexibility to work remotely, or work around the obligations of being a mother,” explains Kleveland, who spent eight years building a career in footwear before launching . “In retrospect it feels like a completely insane decision but there was something about being a new mom that gave me the courage to leap.”
Instagram photos of mothers in stunning settings (think: fields of tall grass and ocean-scapes) are part of what Mother Mag co-founder, James Kicinski-McCoy—whose own Instagram account, @bleubird, boasts 248,000 followers—calls “the new mom space”.’s dreamy
“Social media has given women, especially mothers, a new outlook on career and motherhood,” explains Kicinski-McCoy, who launched Mother Mag—a full-service, stylish parenting site—in 2014 with Katie Hintz-Zambrano. “For the first time ever, more women in their 30s are having children than women in their 20s and teens. Many of these women are passionate about being mothers. It’s not something they want to outsource or downplay.”
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Indeed, the average age of first-time mothers continues to increase, with first births among women over age 30 rising 51 percent, and first births to women younger than age 20 declining 42 percent, according to a 2016 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. Rather than return to their day jobs, many women are opting instead to “get creative with what ‘work’ can look like,” says Hintz-Zambrano. Increasingly, that “work” turns out to be of the entrepreneurial sort, with new mothers starting businesses of their own.
“A lot of women just aren’t into the idea of going to work for someone else, especially at the hours previously demanded of them, when they know they would be losing precious time with their kids,” explains Hintz-Zambrano, who recently launched Being Good Company, a conference for creative, entrepreneurial mothers. “Ponying up for childcare when you lose all of that time with your children and you’re not necessarily taking home much more than the childcare provider doesn’t seem like the best situation.”
For these entrepreneurial women, social media is a key tool in promoting the growth of a new business—which today, often means promoting yourself and your lifestyle. Being a mother is a big part of that lifestyle, so it makes sense that their identity as a mother becomes a part of their marketing strategy.
Women like Courtney Adamo (@courtneyadamo, mom-of-five, 226,000 followers), Jordan Rebello (@bigsecret, mom-of-one, 17,000 followers), Taylor Sterling, (@taylorsterling, mom-of-two, 138,000 followers), Christy Dawn Petersen (@crittycat00, mom-of-one, 21,000 followers), and Julie D. O’Rourke (@rudyjude, mom-of-one, 41,000 followers) are shrewd entrepreneurs and hard-working moms who have tapped into the income that Instagram offers, whether it be directly through sponsored posts or indirectly by using it as a tool to bolster their own personal businesses. Yet to the average spectator, their aesthetically-pleasing, often curated images can appear effortlessly beautiful. Which, as a woman who eventually wants to have children, raises the question: “Is this really what motherhood looks like?”
Blake Lively raised this question on Late Night with Seth Meyers during her second pregnancy. “There’s a lady on Instagram who I used to love to watch…she just made having a baby look lovely,” Lively explained to Meyers. “Everything is white and she always has a fresh blueberry pie that’s steaming, and scones and clotted cream, and she’s reading Old Man And The Sea. Her little baby… is just, like, sleeping while knitting… and her toddler is like giving her a reflexology massage. [I’m thinking], What?!”
Model Tori Praver, a mother-of-two and founder of her own eponymous swimsuit line, is refreshingly honest about her own curated Instagram account, acknowledging that social media creates a vision of motherly perfection. “Most of us choose not to post photos of spit up or cleaning crayons off the wall,” she says. “But people come up to me all the time saying, ‘You live the perfect life!” and I respond by saying ‘Thank you but that’s not reality.’”
MOTHERHOOD ON INSTAGRAM
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The reality is, airbrushing is at the very core of Instagram. A quick scroll through my own accountyields a collection of hyper-photogenic, cherry-picked slices of my life: me floating through the desert-scape of Joshua Tree in a gauzy dress! Me walking away from the camera in perfect-fitting Levis! Photo brags of my husband, our home, and our travels, all sprinkled with a few sponsored posts. The influence these images can have on shaping another woman’s world view—and perhaps not for the better—is something I often think about. For Kleveland, ’s “ultra dreamlike, tender images of women and their children” are something she and her sister love sharing, but they try to be aware of the way their company represents working moms.
“We have the opportunity to be transparent about the way that we are able to incorporate kids into our work lives,” she says, adding, “my sister and I do have our kids in the office sometimes…but we also have a support network of nannies and caregivers. We are in no way living a life that is part of the common social media ‘look at my beautiful family, great house, and all of my stuff’ illusion. I really feel strongly about avoiding that precious and unrealistic representation of motherhood,” she says.
Courtney Adamo, co-founder of Babyccino Kidswho has five kids under the age of 12, argues that social media doesn’t differ much from traditional media sources like magazines and television, where the majority of what you see is the “polished, styled, pretty side of things”. Like most of us, she treats her Instagram account as a place to share what makes her happy—a place to document her children’s milestones and a place to inspire and gather inspiration. “I am not motivated to get my phone out and snap photos when my kids are arguing or when I’m feeling stressed with work or when the baby is screaming in the car on a long drive. I’m not opposed to sharing these things, but it’s just not something I think to photograph or document at the time”.
Adamo has her own strategy for keeping things authentic on her feed. “Often when I’m sharing photos I have my parents or my siblings in mind. Instagram is a way to share our family’s daily adventures. I’m not trying to impress them but rather to share a glimpse of our lives here on the opposite side of the world.”
Candice Miller, co-founder of Mama and Tata, an online resource for New York-based mothers, agrees that social media has become something akin to a digital magazine, and treats her Instagram account @mamaandtata as such, using her content and the app’s story feature as an opportunity to highlight the reality of being a mom. “I try not to sugarcoat real issues, and am expressive when I’m having a difficult time or seeking help in a particular area of motherhood,” she says. “This is my brand, my business, my creation, so it is important to me that it be both aspirational and inspirational to my followers.”
Miller also raises an important point: social media, with all of its faults for creating a varnished image of motherhood, has helped forge a virtual community that allows moms to network, connect, and relate to one another. “For a long time, motherhood and its challenges made women feel alone and isolated,” she says. “Now there is an open forum to stay in touch and make light of our ‘mom fails.'” This is something that mother-to-be Hannah Morrill, a New York-based freelance writer and editor, can relate to. Morrill, who is expecting her first child in early October, began following a handful of mama-centric Instagram accounts after she found out she was pregnant, and says she enjoys the authenticity in many of the captions that accompany the beautifully-composed images. “Maybe my life has enough real realness that I don’t need it on my Instagram feed—these polished images balanced with honest captions are a soothing tonic.”
Mother-of-three and art director Elaina Bellis (@laylaygobson) is especially known for her honesty on social media. After suffering a stillbirth in 2014, she shared her heartbreaking experience on Instagram. Similarly, an intimate post about her struggles with breastfeeding went viral last year. Bellis, who has over 30,000 Instagram followers, admits to struggling with how to maintain a sense of authenticity when companies ask to work with her through sponsored posts.
“That aspect of Instagram is tough,” she confesses. Both she and her husband are freelancers, and these sponsored posts are a source of income for their family. “We might not have been able to afford twins without them…I just do my best to keep it organic and genuine to me.”
Taylor Sterling, the founder of Glitter Guide, a popular lifestyle website for women, also recognizes the challenges—and pitfalls—of the Instagram-ification of motherhood.
“There is a lot of new research that’s coming out about social media and how it affects us. I know that as a creative director and someone who really loves artistic things, I can get trapped into posting only pretty things, or things that look cohesive with my ‘brand,’” says Sterling, whose Instagram account @taylorsterling boasts 138,000 followers, attests to the complexity of today’s three-way marriage: motherhood, business and social media. “Nowadays, we working moms want to brand ourselves as businesses but not ignore that we are mothers. I know for me and my Instagram account, I start off with ‘mom’ first since it’s such a huge part of who I am. I’m not ashamed to be a mom entrepreneur and I want my audience to know they will see a mix of my business and my life as a mom on my account.”
Kicinski-McCoy echoes the importance of accountability when portraying motherhood on social media. “I think influencers have a responsibility to keep things real much of the time and take a step back from portraying that everything is roses,” she says. “Motherhood is hard and dirty and no one has their shit together 100 percent of the time. It’s okay to show a perfectly-kept home where the beds are made, all of the toys are put away, and your happy kids are dressed in Sunday’s best, but I personally find it refreshing to see the other side—piles of laundry, dishes in the sink, mac and cheese or cereal for dinner (because that happens sometimes)—and moments of weakness.”
In the end, these women are doing exactly what I’m doing with my own Instagram account—but they have the added responsibility of supporting a family. Or, as New York-based mother-of-one Senami d’Almeida put it, “These women who have multiple children and make it look good make me feel happy about motherhood. And if it’s paying their bills, more power to them.” She paused, adding: “Motherhood and work-life balance on their own terms. Finally, moms have seized the day.”
From: Harper’s BAZAAR US