Getting The Thin White Momfluencer Out of the Room.

The potential and power of momfluencing in marginalized communities, with Sara Petersen

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In a perfect world, the specter of that perfect, white, thin, cishet mom wouldn’t be there at all. We wouldn’t be tasked with defining ourselves against that ideal because she wouldn’t be the biggest thing in the room. 

You’re listening to Burnt Toast. This is the podcast where we talk about diet culture, fatphobia, parenting, and health. Today I’m bringing back Sara Louise Petersen for another installment of momfluencer talk.

Sara is a writer based in New Hampshire, and currently working on a book called Momfluenced. She came on a few weeks ago and you folks had a ton to say about that episode! Hearing your thoughts and questions made us realize there is a lot more to discuss here. This might become a new subgenre of the Burnt Toast podcast.

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And: The brilliant folks behind the Sunny Side Up Podcast spent this episode talking about Instagram and how we feed kids, inspired by this essay of mine. Great companion listen to today’s Instagram deep dive!


Episode 30 Transcript

Virginia

So today we want to talk about whether it is possible for momfluencer culture to diversify, and to represent different types of moms. And w e’re also asking: Should that even be the goal? 

Sara

There totally is room to follow moms that do not subscribe to cishet, white, normative, nuclear family ideal. So many moms have disrupted that narrative and have used their platforms in really cool, energizing ways to form really needed communities online. They have a different vibe than the stereotypical beachy waves, white momfluencer, the the type that we were talking about in our last episode. It feels like a totally different world.

Virginia

I want to read this really great email I got from a listener after your episode because she is articulating the problem in a way that I hadn’t quite thought about before. So this is from Tori, and she writes:

 I noticed that at the beginning of this missive you mentioned that you and Sara are both cis, straight moms with varying levels of thin privilege, who gave birth, and at the end, you say that the next “phase” is seeing non-thin, non-white, non-straight, non-cisgender moms shifting the narrative. That struck a nerve with me. I’m a white, cis, lesbian with a non-binary partner (she gave birth to our child.) Our kid is four and does not call either of her parents mom, in my partner’s case, because that word is feminine, and my partner is transmasculine. And in my case, mostly because even as a femme lesbian, I didn’t want to embody the culture of motherhood that has been pretty toxic in my life and it didn’t feel right for me. I read today’s newsletter with some distance, because I have found that even engaging with these momfluencers by critiquing them gives them too much space in my brain. I feel lucky that I do not generally feel mom guilt. I do not buy into most of the cultural pressures that straight, white moms often struggle with. And I think that’s because I had a way out from the beginning.

The queer parents I know just don’t even talk about it and we don’t compare ourselves. We talk about the absurd things our kids do, and arguments with our partners, and we share gossip about queer celebrities, but we do not really participate in this aspirational stuff. I am grateful to queer people for offering that pathway out of straight, white mom culture, and also from the fatphobia of that culture.1 Many lesbians are fat and I’m grateful to my people for showing me how to love other women’s interesting bodies as I learn to love my own.

I guess I just want to gently suggest that all of this is optional. White moms—because I do think this is a whiteness problem—can stop putting their eyeballs on the momfluencers. I know that as a cultural critic, they’re available for you to talk about since Instagram is a visual medium, etc. And there’s comments and captions to analyze. But even the critique feels like adding fuel to the fire. I just want to offer up that focusing on people who do things differently (the ones you spoke about at the end of your conversation) is an even more powerful way of shifting around the way we talk about bodies. As a journalist, I’m sure you’ve engaged with the concept of de-platforming. And this is sort of a mini version of that. You have influence yourself and lifting up the alternatives rather than continuing to reinforce white dominant culture, even by picking it apart, is especially effective. We’re out here doing it differently and a whole other parent culture is possible.

Tori, thank you. Reading this, I had a moment of feeling like, oh, right, it is optional. It is easy to get just sucked into feeling like this is the paradigm we’re in.

Sara

I also loved that email. It reminded me of a conversation I had with Rebekah Taussig, who wrote a book called Sitting Pretty. We were talking about this “ideal mother” that we’re all defining ourselves against or aligning ourselves with or comparing ourselves to. She said, in a perfect world, the specter of that perfect, white, cishet mom wouldn’t be there at all. We wouldn’t be tasked with defining ourselves against or in opposition to that ideal because she wouldn’t be the biggest thing in the room. There would be freedom to define our own parenting journeys, separate from the fetters of that looming ideal. That whole notion feels so radical to me because the ideal, white, cishet mom does loom so large in our culture.

For me, I think it is still valuable to dissect where this ideal is coming from and to look at who has the power in this narrative. Where is the power coming from? You can’t look at any of this without examining whiteness, first and foremost. I think we have to keep asking ourselves how are we approaching this cultural criticism? Which voices are we centering? 

Virginia

For those of us who are white moms and who do check more of those boxes, this is also our work to do, to hold the other privileged white moms accountable. We can’t completely eradicate whiteness from motherhood—or maybe that is what we should be doing, but that feels very difficult. So as we consider the process of doing that, can we ask more of our fellow white moms? Can we ask each other to reckon with these biases and to name these problems? That’s not work I want to ask parents with marginalization to do. It’s not their job to come in and fix the white moms. And Sara and I are the white moms, so we have to be doing this work. But also, I’m really here for the idea of how do we make space for these other voices? 

Sara

The popular narrative about how we talked about momfluencer culture is “Oh, I’m just sick of comparing myself to the perfect mom in her perfect house.” That is a really small concern in the grand scheme of things. A lot of marginalized moms, like, they don’t give a shit. Their biggest concern is not having a kitchen that matches up to momfluencer standards. 

So, there is a way that white moms do perpetuate the ideal of whiteness, in holding ourselves to those standards and prioritizing those standards as worthy of our emotional and mental energy.

Virginia

Even in prioritizing our ability to separate from those standards. There’s a strong parallel here with what we see in the fat community versus the “body positive” community. “Body positivity” has become reduced to this project of loving your body. Aubrey Gordon writes about this so well: loving your body doesn’t do shit for fat rights. It doesn’t do shit for narrowing the pay gap or making clothing more accessible or stopping discrimination on airplanes. Body positivity doesn’t actually address these larger systemic ways that fatphobia is baked into our culture. This is a perpetual problem of whiteness and of white women, that we take what is really this larger systemic  issue and we make it all about like ourselves and our feelings. How does her clean kitchen make me feel? I feel like a bad mom. That’s not what it’s about at all.

Sara

Totally. That’s a classic tenet of specifically white feminism. When you’re looking at intersectional feminism, you’re looking at the the the community that is suffering the most and the most marginalized and working up to concerns about the clean countertops. Like, that’s not where we start.

Virginia

We’ll do a quick shout out here for Angela Garbes’ new book Essential Labor. She articulates the problems with white motherhood so well, and I think it’s a must read for all white moms. I had a lot of moments reading that of looking in a mirror in an uncomfortable but necessary way.

Sara 

I also love her first book Like A Mother. Best book on pregnancy I’ve ever read. She looks at pregnancy from all different angles and it’s a beautiful, beautiful book.

I’m also going to plug Koa Beck’s White Feminism. It was absolutely earth-shattering for me in terms of dismantling everything I thought I knew about feminism.

Virginia

Okay, so we are going to talk about some case studies like we did last time, and this time, we really are focusing on momfluencers who are not in that traditional skinny-white-mom box at all.

Sara

So should we start with Nabela Noor?

Virginia

She’s not technically a full momfluencer yet because she’s pregnant with her first child. She comes from the world of YouTube beauty influencers. I did not know about her until she wrote a children’s book this year called Beautifully Me, which I love. I actually interviewed Nabela on the @Parents Instagram a few months ago. And my younger daughter is obsessed with Beautifully Me. It’s a great kid’s book. (I also talked about it here.)

And yet, there is also this continual emphasis on the importance of beauty, both in the book and in Nabela’s work. Her aesthetic on Instagram is all neutrals. Everything in her house is white and brass handles and beautiful flower arrangements. There’s a lot of emphasis on her look and her makeup. There’s this tension between the way she is challenging norms—but then there is some upholding.

Sara

I’m looking at her feed, and just the aesthetic tropes—she’s checking all the boxes. The all white everything, interior design-wise. The caressing her pregnant stomach, with a beautiful dress. Hyper-feminine imagery. The ultrasound photos, the very joyful, domestic Goddess Mother-vibe.

But I wonder how fair or even productive it is to critique someone for adhering to those norms when she didn’t create them. It feels like critiquing a fish for swimming in the wrong water or something. Do you know what I mean? It’s tricky. What do you think?

Virginia

I see that. The belly caressing in particular really moved me because she started caressing her belly like that when she was, like, nine weeks pregnant. To see this woman, who has a belly, caressing her belly without apology with so much joy and reverence for it, at a time when there’s often still a lot of negativity about the belly. We’re conditioned not to really celebrate the bump until it’s like the perfect basketball bump on your tiny body. And she’s never gonna have that perfect basketball bump on a tiny body. That’s not how she’s built. There was something very radical and moving to me to see her being so proud of that. That does feel powerful for me in terms of representation of pregnancy that doesn’t look like the way we’re told pregnancy needs to look. And yet, it does unsettle me to then see her grasping at holding up every other possible standard of perfect pregnancy. It’s like she’s only allowed one out or something.

Sara

Yeah, that’s so interesting. Mia O’Malley went viral for sharing her own pregnancy photos and she wrote an essay accompanying them. This was, I think, three-ish years ago, and she still gets comments and emails from other moms saying they never even considered taking pregnancy photos because they had so internalized that this was a thin person thing to do. Like the basketball bump—if you don’t have that, your pregnancy is not worth celebrating or beautiful or whatever. The mere fact of representation is really powerful.

Virginia

And for someone who reaches such a wide audience who haven’t reconsidered their feelings on fatness or beauty, she is asking them to do that.

Sara

Yeah. If a mom disrupts any part of the stereotypical ideal—like in this case she’s disrupting thinness and whiteness—that’s a net positive.

Virginia

Yes, I agree. But I do think of what Tori was talking about in her email. Nabela is not opting out. She’s opting all the way in and saying, “I belong in this room.”

Sara

Well, and I think back to what you were saying before. The responsibility and the onus should be on white moms, with the most privilege, for them to opt out.

Virginia

I agree with you. I think if anyone’s going to be making the big momfluencer bucks off the endorsement deals, I’m glad it’s Nabela.

What else do we want to say about Mia?

Sara

In addition to her main feed, she has a baby wearing feed. She became a babywearing consultant because when she was pregnant and when she had her newborn, every time she was shopping for a baby swing or a baby wrap, it was modeled on a thin model. Did you ever baby wear?

Virginia

I was really uncomfortable babywearing and size was definitely a factor in that. 

Sara

Right. I didn’t babywear until my third baby because I was just generally overwhelmed. Those wraps are like a mile long. They’re hard no matter what kind of body you have. But to have a body that’s never represented or to not have tutorials that speak to your particular shape is a real barrier to entry. It’s like, is this even going to work? Is it even going to be safe?

Virginia

Yeah, and I do have one fat friend who like came over with her Moby Wrap and helped me figure it out. That was very helpful, but I remember envying mothers for whom it felt effortless. It did not feel effortless for me, ever.  We’re making babywearing into something that you’re supposed to innately know and understand at a time when your body is a complete stranger to you.

Sara

And the baby’s a complete stranger!

Virginia

They’re very small and squishy. It’s very disorienting.

Sara

There are a ton of fat moms and plus size moms who are creating networks of healthcare providers who don’t have anti-fat bias. This world of momfluencing is worlds away from the one we talked about last week.

Virginia

That is the real potential and promise of mom influencers, to help break down barriers and create communities that can share information. PlusMommy is another one who’s awesome in this space. She does really great advocacy, helping moms know what questions to ask at prenatal appointments. She also talks a lot about being a fat mom going to Disney World or being a fat mom at the playground. Our physical spaces are not built for larger bodies very often, and particularly our parenting spaces. 

Sara

I want to bring up Andrea Landry, who runs the account Indigenous motherhood. She points out that indigenous mothers have always created their own communities, calling each other and saying, “don’t go to this doctor, you’re gonna face discrimination and racism at this practice.” But since Instagram, that community-building has a way broader-reaching impact.

And in terms of looking at issues that maybe white moms should be focusing our attention on more than clean countertops, Andrea and I were talking about the huge amount of Indigenous children that are placed in foster care. They are removed from Indigenous communities, which is further colonizing these communities and preventing them from learning their traditions and languages. She was saying that even up until the early 2000s, Indigenous women were still experiencing forced sterilization. In Saskatchewan, they would wake up from C-sections having had hysterectomies without their consent. These things are still happening. It’s not helping us to stay in our bubble and it’s certainly not helping the greater motherhood cause.

Virginia

Should we talk about disabled motherhood? 

Sara

I mentioned Rebekah Taussig. She has really educated me on the structural issues impacting disabled moms that non-disabled moms are probably not aware of. In 30 states there are still discriminatory laws that mandate that custody can be removed from a disabled Mom on the basis of their disability. Like, not having the burden of proving that there was neglect or child endangerment or abuse. Just on the basis of the disability.

Virginia

Wow, this is a great country. I’m really proud.

Sara

It’s so fucking bad! It’s bad for all moms, but it is so much fucking worse for marginalized moms.

Okay, Daniizzie. So, she has twins. And yeah, a movie is being made, a documentary about her experience. She’s really cool. She posts a lot about access, in terms of specifically parent-related activities. Yeah, like inclusive playgrounds.

Virginia

She uses a wheelchair and she’s parenting twins. And yeah, of course, how would you play on most playgrounds with your kids? The ground is gravel. There are so many instant barriers.

Sara

Real safety issues. You have to follow your toddler up the huge curly slide or whatever.

Virginia

I mean, sidebar: I hate playgrounds. Until my children became old enough to play independently on them, I just viewed them as parent punishment. But I will also fully acknowledge the privilege in that. I didn’t want to get up on the slide, but I could do it.

Sara

Oh, I just discovered KC Davis. She has a book called How to Keep House While Drowning.2 She has a post about laundry where she has a bunch of photos of beautiful laundry rooms, and all she says is, “This is a hobby.”

Virginia

This is blowing my mind a little bit right now.

Sara

It is an actual task that we must do to keep our family in clean clothes. But we’ve also internalized that it should look good and be pretty.

Virginia

And is that actually going to make the task of laundry more enjoyable? Is it more delightful to stain treat skid marks in a room with shiplap? No, it would still be gross.

And there’s then the added labor of trying to make the room continually look like that photo. Because it will not. The whole point of a laundry room is to be filled with dirty laundry. So it’s never going to look good unless you’re not doing laundry in it.

Sara

I think so much about this. I’m really into pretty houses and shit, but I am constantly thinking about how it’s only pretty if it’s clean. The biggest battle is the actual domestic labor.

Virginia

Her account is strugglecare. And before people who have beautiful laundry rooms all DM us, she says: There’s nothing wrong with being someone who likes this. Just call it what it is. This is a hobby. It’s a fine hobby to have. 

There’s a great parallel here with diet culture because I often think about fitness in the same terms. Fitness is a great hobby! But somebody loving to train for triathlons and having the “triathlon body” doesn’t make them better than people who don’t like to train for triathlons. It’s the same weird infusion of hobbies with moral value because they relate to thinness and whiteness. This kind of laundry room personifies a certain kind of mom, that’s why we’re making it “better” than other laundry rooms.

Sara

I really want to talk about Cia. They identify as queer and non-binary. They have a lovely, illuminating post about gender dysphoria in regards to breastfeeding. They talk about how breastfeeding in our culture is so wrapped up in the image of a beautiful white mother luxuriating in her femininity. Cia talks about feeling really good about feeding their child and bonding with their child, but also feeling like they don’t fit into this prescribed norm of what breastfeeding should look like.

Virginia

Yeah, this is a really important conversation. I think about, for non-binary folks going through pregnancy, the importance of communities around that. Because the body changes could be so dysmorphia-inducing. But also, you deserve to be just as proud of what your body’s doing as anyone else. It’s ridiculous that they aren’t included in the conversation.

Sara

Well, and the reason it feels disorienting and not great is because, again, of the ideal.

Virginia

Right, right. It’s the thin white mom taking up way too much space in this conversation.

I’m also loving all the normalizing the body changes in this feed, like there’s a lot of photos of their belly, and their postpartum belly. Yeah, this is very cool.

When we were talking earlier about disabled mothers losing custody rights, it also reminded me we were going to talk a little bit about The School for Good Mothers and process our feelings about that book. We’re going to try to do it without plot spoilers, because people may want to read it. Although, it’s very important to know that you don’t have to read it. Sara read it and wrote a piece about it. And I was like, “Oh, I’m reading it right now!” And she texted me to say, are you? Do you want to stop? And then I was texting her at 6am when I finished it, in tears. But! We wanted to bring it into this conversation because it articulates the ways that the standards of white motherhood creates these huge disparities and very real trauma.

Sara

Right now, I can only watch basically like tea and crumpets television. So, if you’re in a space like that, maybe wait a hot second on this book and read it when you’re feeling a little less tea and crumpet-y?

Virginia

I would say when the world is better, but I don’t know when that will be. 

Sara

Maybe when there’s more sun?

It just hits close to home, which is why it’s such a harrowing read. Just the very arbitrary ways we define good mothering—mothering, specifically, because I think it’s important to note that mothers are held to a different standard than fathers.

There is one character who isn’t harrowing—I find her hilarious. So, she has basically a momfluencer character in the book named Susanna. She’s not a momfluencer, but she follows all the like, you know, “essential oil will heal all things.”

Virginia

She is the new girlfriend of the ex-husband of the main character. So the main character’s daughter is now being raised by this new girlfriend and the father. So, she’s watching her child be parented by a momfluencer, basically, and it’s kind of your worst nightmare.

Sara

At one point this wellness-y, culty momfluencer removes carbs from the toddler’s diet.

Virginia

Yes, it’s like, who’s the child abuser? Obviously, it’s not good for a two-year-old to not eat carbs. That’s science. Meanwhile, this woman of color whose parental rights have been terminated over a very minor issue, is watching this happen. Jessamine Chan does such a good job of articulating how the system continually rewards and reinforces Susanna’s style of parenting, even when it is patently bad, like with the decision around the carbs. But there’s a totally different set of standards used to measure mothers of color.

Sara

The standards are funny in that they are so over the top. Like the teachers at the school test them on their hugs. This is the hug you give when your toddler is having a meltdown about sharing and is the hug seven seconds too long? Are you doing the bedtime hug? Are you communicating the right kind of maternal warmth through this embrace?

Virginia

So much in there comes out of parenting influencers and the parenting advice that we see on social media. You might have to come back and we’ll do a whole episode about parenting influencers because the way that positive parenting is pushed on social…


Butter For Your Burnt Toast

Sara

So I have a tortilla recommendation. Do you know the podcast Home Cooking with Samin Nosrat?

Virginia

Yes! It was everyone’s coping strategy during lockdown.

Sara

She recommended these tortillas and I immediately bought them. You put them on a super hot pan for 15 seconds and they balloon up into this crispy, delightful, salty... It’s so good. They’re so good.

Virginia

They have pork fat tortillas, duck fat tortillas, and avocado oil. This sounds amazing. I will be getting them immediately.

Sara

Yeah, I got the duck fat and avocado oil. They were both good.

Virginia

We do a lot of tacos because it’s one of the few meals my family can agree on eating. So I would really like to up our tortilla game. Thank you! 

I am also going to recommend a food. So, as people know, I had COVID. By the time this airs, I’m hopefully over it. But as we are recording this, I am on day seven and I’m still testing positive. For the first few days I couldn’t even move. But as the fog began to lift, I was like okay, now I need comfort food so I have to bake something. We had a bunch of bananas going brown on the kitchen counter, so I made this banana bread recipe.

I did not think I had strong opinions about banana bread. I thought that it was a food that you could just Google any banana bread recipe and it would all turn out the same. Yep, no, no, this is the best banana bread. It is smitten kitchen’s the ultimate banana bread recipe and she is correct. It has this amazing, thick crust and then the inside is still really squishy and gooey. Just make it. Thank me later. It’s very easy to make, too. There’s not a lot of ingredients. I mean, I made it while still having COVID and not being able to stand for more than fifteen minutes at a time. I ate it all week and no one else in my family wanted it and I was so happy.

Well, Sara, thank you so much for doing this again. Remind us where we can follow you. 

Sara

Okay, so I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Virginia

Thank you for being here.

Sara

Thank you, Virginia!


The Burnt Toast Podcast is produced and hosted by me, Virginia Sole-Smith. You can follow me on Instagram or Twitter.

Burnt Toast transcripts and essays are edited and formatted by Corinne Fay, who runs @SellTradePlus, an Instagram account where you can buy and sell plus size clothing.

The Burnt Toast logo is by Deanna Lowe.

Our theme music is by Jeff Bailey and Chris Maxwell.

Tommy Harron is our audio engineer.

Thanks for listening and for supporting independent anti-diet journalism.

1

Note from Corinne: While queerness may offer some a pathway away from fatphobia, of course that is not a universal experience. Here are some other perspectives.

2

She also has a really incredible TikTok.