I’m excited to share my book review of Momfluenced: Inside the Maddening, Picture-Perfect World of Mommy Influencer Culture by Sara Petersen with you today!
When I first heard about Momfluenced, I didn’t bother to learn more about what the book would be; I immediately assumed by the title that it was going to be a deep dive into Momfluencer culture. I was hoping for a gritty behind the scenes exposé on these picture perfect moms, but sadly this book isn’t that.
That being said, Momfluenced holds its own as a discussion on the general implications of mom influencer culture, both good and bad. As someone who works in marketing, I found this topic especially riveting given the unique entanglement of consumerism and influencer marketing (that predominantly focuses on women and moms).
Naturally, as someone hyped for a book’s release I found the author Sara Petersen on Twitter. When she Tweeted looking to give away review copies I replied, and was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of the book for review.
Despite this, all views expressed in this review are my own unbiased opinions.
Read My Full Review of Momfluenced: Inside the Maddening, Picture-Perfect World of Mommy Influencer Culture
Let’s start with a little more of what the book is generally about. Momfluenced is nonfiction, and it includes a mix of interviews, quotes, and research data intermixed with the author’s own anecdotes and personal experiences. It’s clear from the start the topic is personal, and Peterson makes no attempt to hide her own complex relationship with influencer culture.
The book opens strongly and Petersen, in my opinion, does a great job connecting with the reader. At least on a superficial basis.
It was clear from page one that she and I could easily be friends; instantly bonding (parasocially, in my case) over our influencer inspired white walls.
Petersen, with the help of experts, goes on to introduce “Mirror neurons” to help contextualise why so many mothers are drawn to influencer culture in the first place. The instruction of this concept, alongside other complex reasons, prime us to hold the microscope over our own social media habits as we explore mommy influencer culture in broad strokes.
One quote that stood out to me in this section was, “I might not fucking know, but she apparently does, so I’ll just follow her lead.” (Sara Petersen, Momfluencer, page 85).
I think this one line brilliantly sums up why it makes so much sense for us to follow people who we perceive to be better than us on social media. While others might follow influencers to idealise a version of themselves that’s fitter, richer, or more adventurous, moms are in a unique position where it’s not just a niche group, it’s everyone telling them that there is a right and wrong way to be a mother.
For so many, following someone who fits that perfect stereotype feels like a window into that world; even if we know it’s a façade.
That, alongside using shopping as escapism, living vicariously through others as a way to feel we’ve accomplished something, and the millennial mom desire to be attractive and cool (these subjects all broached in chapters 2-5), Petersen delivers poignant reasoning for how this specific type of content and culture has grown and prospered, particularly on Instagram.
Who Will Momfluenced Resonate With?
One thing that’s impossible to divorce from Momfluenced is Petersen’s individual lens as she approaches this topic. While fascinating, much of her personal relationship with Momfulencer culture didn’t resonate with me, likely because I’m not a conventionally attractive, financially privileged, straight white woman. While I respect that this book was written for and by mothers and isn’t necessarily aimed at folks (like me) who don’t identify with motherhood, as my children’s primary caregiver I absolutely identify with the pressure of what it means to be a good parent.
Still, every mention of an unnecessary purchase “influenced” by one Instagram post or another, I couldn’t help but feel like someone peering both into the secrets of mom influencer culture and the psychology of the married middle class women who consume it.
It cannot be overstated that Petersen is well aware of her privilege existing and makes a sincere attempt to use her platform (this book) to help shed light on how motherhood is experienced by anyone who isn’t a good white mom (her words).
She Doesn’t Dance Around Tough Topics
Notable is her dive into how these white female influencers contribute to white supremacy and the spread of QAnon style conspiracies. I won’t summarise too far because you definitely should read this chapter for yourself, however, my major criticism is, despite it being a full chapter, several points still felt like there was further room for expansion.
That isn’t to say that isn’t the only criticism of this book. Although it feels bearable at first, Momfluenced has far too many callouts and shout outs for a book this length. If each topic were expanded on with significantly more detail it would be more balanced, but as-is many of these feel cumbersome and tedious.
Unfortunately, the Author is Occasionally Tone-Deaf
I could have screamed as I turned the page from wellness Momfluencers telling their followers to avoid sunscreen to Petersen discussing a funny Reels account she follows that satirises said wellness influencers. It just didn’t fit, and quite honestly, felt dismissive of the serious implications these “wellness” accounts cause.
While I’m not opposed to lightening the mood per se, there was very little contextualization of the serious topics to make this contrast feel natural. As someone in a position where these wellness narratives are actively conflating real issues that affect my ability to live a happy, normal life (natural = normal = good, queer people aren’t normal = queer people are unnatural = queer people are bad), it was jarring.
This tone deafness is cemented in the final chapter, where Petersen mentions a trip to Florida (a state unsafe for me to visit) where she was able to unplug; and how glorious that was. Regardless of whether or not you can safely visit Florida beaches, the reality is most moms don’t have the luxury of a vacation, and are too in the thick of it to spend their time doing anything but doom scroll.
(Never mind the complete lack of discussion surrounding the droves of women who consume influencer culture but are unable to be “influenced” due to socioeconomic status and, therefore, continue in a depressive cycle or, maybe worse, go into debt.)
Momfluencer Culture and Marginalized Groups
Above, @aaronicabcole, one of the women mentioned in the book.
This isn’t to suggest that Petersen didn’t try extremely hard to welcome outside perspectives. I can’t think of any authors in the motherhood sphere who have attempted to amplify the voices of so many diverse women and mothers when given the opportunity.
By sharing the stories of Black moms, Indigenous moms, transgender moms, fat moms, and other marginalised groups, Petersen helps shed light on not only who is disenfranchised by motherhood influencer culture, but how women in those communities are using social media as a platform for social justice and change.
This also bore my new favourite phrase, “brunch activism”. Genius.
It was nice to see, for once, someone bring forth a clear explanation of what real activism and performative social justice is; and to balance my earlier criticism, this was one moment in this book where I did feel seen.
Despite the importance of these chapters highlighting the intersectionality of diverse motherhood and social media, they were at many times they were the weakest chapters.
Some Topics Felt Out of Place
For example, a company who features real women instead of models in their nursing wear products (YES!) had their Instagram ads removed for violating community standards (BOO!) despite not showing anything sexual. While the discussion is around the patriarchy and male gaze overall, there was no data or deeper information to back up these claims.
To be clear, I think what was said is absolutely true, but this is just one of many examples where there was so much more room to expand on a topic to give it credence. Given that data is cited and experts are interviewed in earlier chapters, this section of the book felt like a rushed collection of anecdotes rather than the investigative reporting and author speculation done prior.
This was also the first time algorithm programming biases were mentioned, and only briefly at that. Although it might be because it’s a topic I’m personally passionate about, I believe that you can’t have an honest discussion about social media influence without understanding how that information is being pushed to the users.
Most of this chapter felt this way which is frustrating because it’s such an important part of the book.
Side note: I do wonder if the lack of author perspective in this section is intentional. Perhaps Petersen didn’t want to try and tie her own experiences to that of folks she doesn’t fully understand, or change their words in any way that might impart her personal biases. I respect this is a tricky tightrope to walk and there are no right answers.
Still, I believe that the anecdotes could have been better selected, and there is always room to report what someone says with real world data.
Despite my criticisms, I can’t tell you how many times I had a lightbulb go off, highlighted a specific line, or read something aloud to my partner. And you definitely don’t need to be a mom to find something in this one, either.
Should You Read Momfluenced?
Overall, I give this one a yes: read it.
You will enjoy this book if…
- Want to understand why you follow influencers
- Want a peek inside mom culture and social media pressure
- Are looking for ways to better understand the pros and cons of social media
- Don’t follow Momfulencers but want to understand what’s happening in this sphere
- Bought something because a mom on Instagram said it was good
You will not enjoy this book if…
- Dislike seeing diverse voices elevated, especially moms
- Believe that Wayfair is selling children
- Have no interest in what women and moms have to say (including lack of empathy)
Momfluenced: Inside the Maddening, Picture-Perfect World of Mommy Influencer Culture releases on April 25th, 2023.