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The Magic of the Momfluencer Aesthetic: How to Sell the Unreal... And QAnon
Tupperware parties evolved.
From Mommy Bloggers to Momfluencers to moguls.
Journalist Jo Piazza, producer of iHeartRadio’s new original podcast "Under the Influence” declares,
“[Momfluencers are] a multi-billion dollar industry that gets ignored because women are doing it and it's a 'mom thing.’ If they were men, they'd be on the cover of Forbes.”
As the most nurturing and selfless symbols in culture, it can also explain why the Momfluencer industry is so contentious: no one’s expected moms to brand themselves and sell out.
But beyond being overlooked and controversial, they thrive on the outskirts of the larger beauty, fashion and fitness influencer experience. Unaffected by larger social trends, their immunity, prosperity and efficacy is worthy of an investigation...
One step back, first.
It’s trite, but pitchforks are in hand with our techlash. Finally recognizing the algorithms at play and the resultant divisiveness, the attention economy has also taken its toll. Enough with the hyper-polished, filtered, and framed. And deeper, enough with the brags, exaggerations and feats. It’s just all too much.
But we’re not entirely out of the woods. Social credits — Likes and follower counts — still exist, driving behavior.
In order to cut through now, the raw, lo-fi and unscripted does the trick. Tears, finstas, glow-downs and stories about mental health struggles saturate the feeds. Posturing remains, it’s just less work. This climate nurtures the raw, private, vulnerable, exposed, ephemeral and anonymous, and further informs how influencers must show up to sell.
But it’s trickier than it seems.
In order for an influencer to be effective, they must juggle authenticity + credibility + authority + relatability. They each inform one another, but most importantly, if the influencer isn’t “one of us”, what’s the point? Marketers might as well advertise via a synthetic, more traditional medium.
The juggle is a tough one. It wasn’t long before Charli D'Amelio went from one of us to one of them.
So, influencers are fraught to balance two things:
How do you remain relatable to your niche audience? (ex. I have flaws too), with...
How do I rise above the masses to sell my product? (ex. Buy this thing... and my life)
Momfluencers? Yeah. None of this seems to apply.
In “Momfluencer Content Enrages Me. Why Can't I Look Away?”, Sara Petersen for Harper’s Bazaar points out,
“Motherhood, for most of us, is a grind, not something to glorify through an Instagram filter. How, then, is consumption of motherhood media, which completely and wholly ignores the horrible realities of 2020, thriving?”
Momfluencers play a different role in culture than conventional influencers. While all are tasked with pushing products, Momfluencers sell something more profound: a complete, idealistic fantasy.
Momfluencers are porn. Fifty Shades of there’s no fucking way.
Parenting does not look like that. Model children? Hot husband? A ranch? A six-pack? Get out.
It’s escapism. A dream. A performance. Unattainable and unrealistic, yet still aspirational. Simply, voyeuristic.
The Baby Mama TikTok trend is peak fetishization of pregnancy.
Like porn, we know this isn’t great for us, but it feels so good. Only when we forget the illusion, get caught comparing our lives to theirs or get addicted does it become problematic. That’s when the love-hate manifests.
Another, perhaps more apropos metaphor: Momfluencers are like magic. We’re half in on it. Something is up, we just don’t pry further. There’s an unspoken suspension of disbelief. It’s real (wink).
For this reason, Momfluencers will never drop their facade and aesthetic. It’s apart of their act. Like their Insta grid, we know magic isn’t real, but by electing to go along, we’re beguiled, seduced. We say we want to know how it’s done, but the secret ruins the illusion. For the magic to work, we must remain naive.
Noteworthy, there’s been a rise in “honest” Momfluencer captions. Stark confessions lay beneath stunning pastures and teeny smiles. Minor missteps are meticulously sprinkled. This juxtaposition reveals the first-world struggle and balance of Momfluencers: again, how do you balance illustrating both the perfect family and the realness that’s craved in today’s social climate? The cognitive dissonance is dizzying. But if the audience gets both, perhaps there’s no issue.
When radicalizing conspiracy theories are decorated with lace and wrapped in sweet, palatable pastels, it’s quite easy to swallow the message.
Further, when Momfluencers make a name by posturing themselves on a pedestal, they construct a hierarchy. This dynamic helps sell products, but it also helps sell ways of seeing the world... for better or worse.
“If they have it all together, they must know more and better than I do.”
Trust can be dangerous.
There are other vulnerabilities to mom-followers, which spreads QAnon further. Moms aren’t the most proficient online. They lack digital savviness and media literacy. So when presented with material that appears innocent, on-brand, and comes from a trusted source — another mother nonetheless — why would they dismiss it? Also, when conspiracies deal with child sex-trafficking and Wayfair, motherly virtues kick into high gear.
Audiences aren’t likely to burn out from the pretty, fit moms for as long as parenting is hard. The platforms and figures themselves may evolve, but there will always be craves for escapism.
Playing devil’s advocate: There’s the possibility this all crashes and burns, as trends for moms are on a delay. They soon may have to reckon with the fakery they’ve been pushing, as the exaggerated and filtered takes a toll on their audiences too. While there first needs to be a larger mass rejection by mom-followers, we may be witnessing the early crumbles of Momfluencers.
For the time being, Momfluencers won’t be changing their aesthetic. It’s core to their role in culture. Drop the perfection and you just get a normal mom. Hey, nothing wrong with that, but might as well chat with a mommy friend. Yet this unchanging Momfluencer aesthetic is problematic when we consider the further spreading of QAnon conspiracy theories. Intervention is required.
Momfluencers don’t just provide aspiration — no matter how unattainable — they provide something a bit more nuanced. They can act as a mirror... Moms see pieces of themselves in others. Here’s that relatability, which helps the sell. But this mirror is a fun-house mirror, accentuating and exaggerating the parts we like, shrinking and ignoring the parts we don’t. Many can see their best selves in Momfluencers.
If we view Momfluencers as what they really are, caricatures of unattainable perfection — and not a goal — then we may have a healthier relationship with them.
...And this is a motherly lesson for all when it comes to comparing ourselves online.