Momfluenced is a generous book. When Petersen evaluates how these women operate, she treads gently. She’s harder on affluent, cisgendered, white internet moms, some of whom she views as “cringe follows” (they’re unbearably corny and/or have bad politics) and others who sell an unattainable lifestyle, with robust fiddle-leaf figs growing in plastic-free playrooms tastefully decorated in shades of ecru and ochre. But, overall, she is less concerned with critiquing the women who peddle an idealized vision of motherhood than she is with trying to understand why she so badly wants to buy what they’re selling.
Although it includes “maddening” in its subtitle, Momfluenced is firmly sympathetic to the influencers it studies. Toward the end of the book, just to remove any ambiguity, Petersen explicitly clarifies that she does not “take issue” with the profession of momfluencing.
“Maybe you should!?!?” I wrote in the margins.
There’s nothing worse than feeling like Helen Lovejoy on The Simpsons, a sniveling scold screeching “won’t somebody think of the children!” Moms are already judged so harshly, subjected to ridiculous expectations and often punished for deviating even slightly from cultural norms. In general, the cultural attitude toward mothers should be more generous, not less.
Yet I must interject, in a nonhysterical, non-cartoon-preacher’s-wife-y way to say, in a totally normal and cool voice … when it comes to moms on the internet, well, shouldn’t we consider the kids? You can’t be a momfluencer without them, after all.
In Momfluenced, Petersen discusses how an influencer named Katy Rose Pritchard “has been forced to reevaluate her own Instagram platform and usage thanks to a stranger stealing photos of her and her children to use for ‘role play.’” The anecdote touches on how momfluencers are beginning to reckon with the ethics of commercializing their kids. Petersen writes that Pritchard spent weeks “painstakingly removing all photos of her kids from her own Instagram feed, as well as from posts in which she’d been tagged.”
Sounds good, right? A prudent response to a horrifying incident, one that underlines how vulnerable we make our children by pushing their images into the world. Only, if you go on Pritchard’s social accounts or website right now, it appears that she didn’t end up following through on removing pictures of her kids. Their images remain prominently featured in her content, including in very recent posts.
In another story touching on the ethics of posting images of children, Petersen talks to Erica Nolan, a trans mom in Portland, Oregon. “While Erica does not make her daughter the focus of her account, she makes a point to post photos of her every now and then, with a sticker over her daughter’s face, just to normalize her own identity as a trans mom,” Petersen writes.
Again: Sounds good. But when I went to Nolan’s Instagram page to look for myself at how she’d redacted her daughter, I noticed that her account really didn’t resemble that of an influencer. Her last 27 posts are selfies. About 40 posts deep, there’s one shot of her kid with her face blurred out. Then it returns to her face. None of the posts are sponsored. It seems a stretch to call Nolan a momfluencer when her account is very clearly devoted to self-portraiture. So her approach to showing her child online doesn’t really speak to the behavior of women who do focus on mom content and monetize their domestic lives.