Lead image by Stella_E / iStock

By Elizabeth Kane

Social media has become a hub for mothers seeking camaraderie and support amidst the highs and lows of parenting.

In this digital landscape, momfluencers – social media influencers whose content is primarily directed at mothers – play a prominent role.

While social media can offer connection and glimpses into the daily lives of others, a closer look reveals that momfluencers are often projecting an idealized version of domestic life and motherhood driven by a desire for financial gain.

A young woman poses for a photo with her hands crossed.

Carleton University Communication and Media Studies student Cydney Banton

Carleton University communication and media studies student Cydney Banton argues that this trend encourages a high level of material consumption by its audience in the pursuit of fostering a more effective and enjoyable family life. This in turn has the side effect of inadvertently setting unrealistic and harmful expectations of motherhood.

Parenting Solutions for Sale

Banton examined the world of momfluencers as part of her fourth-year honours research essay under the guidance of Miranda Brady, a professor in Communication and Media Studies at Carleton.

“Even though we think of momfluencers as a new phenomenon, we’re actually seeing similar trends that have been identified in the past,” notes Brady,  whose forthcoming book Mother Trouble investigates the changing expectations of gender roles in relation to motherhood and reproductive labour.

“Those trends include precarious employment and concealing the true labour of motherhood, which includes a lot of dirty work.”

A woman wearing glasses poses for a photo.

Communication and Media Studies professor Miranda Brady

Banton’s research explores how these themes shape perceptions of motherhood by examining momfluencers who utilize Amazon affiliate marketing.

Over three weeks, Banton analyzed 274 pieces of content from 20 creators.

“I quickly realized that most of these posts were trying to sell me something,” says Banton.

“Usually in the form of gadgets or organization supplies – the kind of products that promise to make motherhood easier.”

A recurring trend she identified was the seemingly never-ending cycle of momfluencers decorating, reorganizing and decluttering. Posts featuring this cycle of behaviour would nearly always be accompanied by links to “must-have” new products available for purchase.

“Whether it’s for different holidays or spring cleaning, there’s always something to decorate or reorganize for,” says Banton. “It becomes a trend of hyper-consumption.”

Banton also noted that when momfluencers showcased vulnerability through their parenting struggles, it was often as a means of selling an affiliate-linked product they implied would resolve these issues.

“The momfluencers I studied tended to try to sell anything they put on the screen, there was no vulnerability without advice to purchase something new,” says Banton.

“It heightens our expectations of ‘good motherhood,’ with value placed on those who have the economic means and time to provide a certain lifestyle to their children.”

A young woman films her self holding up baby toys.

Posts Portray Aspiration Over Authenticity

Banton’s research also uncovered intriguing insights into the portrayal of family dynamics in momfluencer content. “There were very few depictions of husbands or children performing any kind of domestic labour like cleaning, cooking or organizing,” says Banton. “In the few posts that included husbands, they performed traditionally masculine manual labour such as taking down outdoor Christmas lights.”

Banton also discovered that as follower counts grew, relatable or underperforming content tended to be removed from their social media accounts in favour of more aesthetic content.

“I found that influencers with 200,000 followers or more are usually posting photos of perfectly prim, proper children and their homes were always clean,” notes Banton.

This pursuit of perfection, she argues, creates a feedback loop that discourages the sharing of more authentic content.

“Influencers who want to be successful in this space seem to realize that they can’t perform motherhood in a way that looks realistic,” explains Banton. “It needs to be aspirational, and it needs to be unattainable.”

Two people have a chat while sitting on a wooden bench.

Concealing Paid Labour Through Domestic Ideals

The portrayal of the perfectly put together mother, who is both entrepreneurial yet family-focused, is not limited to social media.

Throughout Mother Trouble, Brady explores media depictions of motherhood since second-wave feminism. In it, she examines a similar depiction of aspirational motherhood and femininity in popular media – the HGTV mom.

If these depictions of motherhood are unrelatable, what drives their popularity? In a world where living expenses have increased rapidly, part of the appeal may lie in the intense focus on the simple, if aesthetically unrealistic, pleasures of home life.

“Younger generations right now are really struggling to find stable employment and affordable housing,” says Brady.

“This content might speak to deep social anxieties. The nature of the posts highlighting unpaid labour through taking care of the home, conceal the paid labour that they’re doing through influencing.

“But not everybody can become a successful influencer, and this kind of entrepreneurial work comes with a lack of stability and a blending of paid labour into family life. As well, some momfluencers enroll their children in this work without regard for their privacy.”

While social media might not be reflective of reality, it can have an impact in the real world.

“Studies show that the self-esteems of young girls and women are impacted by images that they see on social media, and this doesn’t stop if you become a mother,” says Brady. “Mothers have a huge burden in terms of what’s expected of them and the kind of scrutiny they live under.

“These glossy, perfect images of motherhood are really harmful for mothers who are inevitably set up for failure, because they’re not going to be able to achieve these unrealistic expectations.”

Banton notes posts that look too good to be true, generally are. She advises that social media users try to remember that there is a profit incentive to influencing before comparing themselves to an unrealistic standard.

“Online depictions of motherhood, by and large, are trying to sell a product through an ideal,” says Banton. “Social media has commodified motherhood.”

A smiling mother interacts with a child in a kitchen.

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First wide photo by Oleksandra Troian / iStock
Third wide photo by Stella_E / iSTock

Wednesday, May 8, 2024 in , ,
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