My Life Through Filters: The Darker Side of Being a Social Media Mom

It’s been a couple of months since my last post, and honestly, I needed the time. I went through something extremely difficult shortly after my last post back in September that truly knocked the wind out of my sails, and I took a break from everything – from blogging, from Instagram, from life. It was a difficult time, and I’m still in the healing process, but this time away – along with some very deep, very productive work with a really good therapist – has allowed me the introspection to put into words something that’s been bothering me for a while. That thing is the pressure to be the perfect “Instagram mom blogger” – to flourish in what is essentially a booming industry, flooded with competition, ruled by the idea of “perfect imperfection.” It’s an entire world that I didn’t have a clue about when I joined, and to be frank: I drank the Koolaid, and I want to talk about why it’s been irking me so.

I want to emphasize that I don’t speak for all bloggers or influencers. I speak for myself. I have a long history of self-comparison and insecurity, and I’ve been forthright with that in this blog, if you’ve been following along.

When I started this blog over a year ago, I had literally zero expectations of making any money off of it or getting to even 1000 followers. I started at the suggestion of a friend, who told me I’d be good at it because I’m a good writer and I have a cute family and an interesting story – a black family with identical twins and a lengthy stay in the NICU. That was literally it. I started this blog because I like to write and I like to post pictures of my kids.

I can’t tell you exactly when I started to feel the pressure to turn this blog and my social media presence into something bigger, something more lucrative. It was a gradual thing at first. In an attempt to gain followers, I started participating in “follow loops” – essentially, you post a hashtag and everyone who searches that hashtag follows you. In return, you follow them back. The first couple that I tried made me excited watching my page grow, and I also started following more mom bloggers in return – a lot more. And with that, I started to see all of the things I wanted my page to have: full of beautiful, professional-quality photos, paid sponsorships, and likes, comments, and followers in the tens of thousands. Soon, the authentic, “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” nature of my page started to give way to that “curated imperfection” that I used to think I’d never subscribe to, and I found myself getting away from the reason I started blogging in the first place: to write and to post cute pictures of my kids in their daily lives.

Since I like breaking down my blog entries in listicle form, I’ll provide the areas in which being a “social media mom” or blogger can become taxing and the ideals that I’ve decided to throw out the window.

Creating the Perfect Personality: “Curated Imperfection”

So I can’t take credit for the phrase “curated imperfection” – I read it in a Buzzfeed article about a female self-help author who made millions by presenting herself as “relatable.” And the phrase struck a chord with me because I realized – that’s exactly it. That’s exactly what so many of us try to create everyday. The idea of being flawed enough to be relatable, but have it together enough to be admired. You’re allowed to have a bit of a messy house, but not so messy that it’s gross, and beautiful enough that even in the bit of junkiness, it’s still envy-inducing. You’re allowed to mention giving your kids junk food, but with the caveat that it’s not that often or that they also love vegetables. You’re allowed to talk about letting your kids have screen time, but also have to mention that they have time limits or insert the justification that it’s just when you need a little extra time to survive. You’re allowed to post when you indulge in some junk food or alcohol (I don’t drink, but the “mommy’s sippy cup” culture is too pervasive to ignore), but have to either emphasize that you don’t overindulge or that you deserve it for the tireless work you put in mothering. And most of all, any self-deprecation must be couched in a humorous or meme format, lest you alienate anyone by sharing real problems without attaching comedy to them or, at the very least, giving them the potential to go viral. It’s exhausting to maintain. Just today, I started to post a cute video on my story of Alexander singing, but decided against it because there was a used diaper on the floor that I hadn’t picked up in frame and I was too embarrassed to share that bit of imperfection with the world. In reality, I am not the only mom in America who’s got a pee diaper wadded up on the floor that they haven’t gotten to chucking yet. But that was too imperfect for my idea of “curated imperfection,” and so to the cutting room floor it went.

The Ever-Important, All-Encompassing Measure of Success: The Follower Count

Like I said above, I never expected the following that my Instagram has now – just under 13,000. I also never expected how much I would begin to fixate on that number, and how much I would begin to tie it into my self-worth. Most bloggers will admit that they enjoy gaining followers and it drives a lot of what they post. I began to notice trends that lead to me gaining more. If I posted a great picture of the twins – the one of them back to back in an infant swing in the park has been one of the best-received – I’d usually get featured on a baby or family Instagram page and gain several followers from that. I knew which accounts got you the most new followers (if I got a feature from @blackmomsblog I was over the moon!) I’ve also learned every possible way Instagrammers go about trying to gain followers – there are so many methods. From follow loops, to follow for follow groups, to paid giveaways, to spamming others with likes and comments until they’re so flattered that they follow you. And as much as I hated that obsession – that need to constantly see that dumb little number going up – I cared so, so much. I hated seeing the number drop and would analyze what I did wrong to make people lose interest. I’d check out other mom bloggers that I considered similar to me, usually other black moms in their late-20s and early-30s with small children who posted similar content and compare their follower number to mine and try to figure out what was behind their growth. The obsession with followers can take so much of the fun out of blogging – constantly feeling the need to create content that makes people want to follow you instead of just posting, well,¬†life. Unfiltered. Real. Life. But the truth of the matter is, the more followers you had – and the lower your follower ratio – the more marketable you were to brands and the more professional (or likeable) you appeared to new followers.

…And The Dreaded Follower Ratio

The only number more annoying than the follower count is the follower ratio. That is the discrepancy between the number of people following you and the number you’re following. So, say two bloggers each have 5,000 followers. However, one is following 4,000 people, and the other is following 400. The fewer people you’re following in relation to people following you is another indication of your “success.” That means that all of those people didn’t follow you just for a follow back: they followed you because they like the content you produce.I know of many bloggers who follow lots of people, get a follow back, then immediately unfollow them to keep their “ratio” low.¬†Does this all sound really exhausting and super irritating? Probably because it is! I’ve never been too obsessed with ratio, but I can’t lie and say I never look at it. And I also never knew this was such a big deal until I entered the blogger/influencer stratosphere. It’s something I wish I could un-learn – that I wish I could totally wipe from my brain so I could enjoy this whole social media experience more.

The Need for the Perfect Feed

When I first started my Instagram page, I didn’t give a second thought to what my feed looked like. All I did was post nice family pictures – taken from my iPhone – and graphics to promote new posts that were up on my blog. When I started following more and more bloggers, I started to feel like my photos weren’t up to par. They had cohesive color palettes, themes, and designs to their pages – everything looked neat, organized, professional, and beautiful. And they didn’t use an iPhone – they shelled out the hundreds of dollars needed to get a professional camera and all of the equipment and editing software. I couldn’t afford that (still can’t), but I found that portrait mode on my iPhone did the trick. Then I found the photo editing app everyone used, and suddenly I couldn’t post a photo unless it was taken to look perfectly clean and professional (not like an iPhone photo), run through at least one photo editing app, and made to match the “palette” I’d decided I wanted my feed to have. I found myself taking photos based on what was most likely to go viral or be featured on a larger page, and got frustrated when the twins wouldn’t cooperate for the perfect photo I’d planned in my head – like they aren’t toddlers who literally do not care about what I was trying to accomplish. I’d post at times that I knew my followers were the most active, and delete and repost if I didn’t get enough likes. Again: Very exhausting. Very joyless. Very inauthentic. Very stressful. But it’s what I felt I had to to do “compete.”

Are You Really a Success If You’re Not Getting Paid?

Again, I emphasize: I never started my blog to be paid. I started it as a hobby, an outlet to keep writing and do something that was just for me. So the first time someone wanted to send me free stuff in exchange in for a post, I was thrilled. The first time someone wanted to pay me real, actual money to post something I was even happier. But then that good ol’ comparison came back to me, and I started to pay attention to how many brand collaborations other bloggers were getting. Instead of being excited that people wanted to pay me at all, I started to fixate on why I wasn’t getting more collaborations, when some women I followed seemed to post little else. They posted ad after ad, while I’d refresh my email inbox, waiting for someone to contact me with a pitch. Again, I began to tie up my value in a number instead of just enjoying myself and the content that I’d started creating for fun. I didn’t start this to get free stuff and I didn’t start it for money – so why do I care so much about that now?

Working with my therapist has opened my eyes and allowed me to face so many things that I was letting get under my skin. I’ve literally sat down with her and devoted whole sessions to Instagram, blogging, and the need to be perfect, the need to be liked and followed, and the number it’s done on my self-views in the past year. The work I’ve done with her has been so powerful and helped so much, and with that, I’m trying to get back to the root of why I started all this: because I love to write and I love my kids’ faces. And that’s it.