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 Dôen. “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.”
Dôen’s dreamy 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”.
“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.”
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