Under The Influence

According to a study by InfluencerDB in 2018, more than 500,000 active influencers are operating just on Instagram. That makes up 39% of all Instagram accounts with more than 15,000 followers. And among this group of active Instagram influencers, 81% have followings between 15,000 and 100,000 users. That’s a large audience—and we as moms are part of it.

By definition, an influencer is someone who inspires or guides the actions of others. I’m guessing an influencer is operating under the assumption that followers want to be like her or have a home like hers—and a large part of them do.

Pretty things and people are fun to look at. It’s what advertising is made of after all and what draws us in as consumers. But what effect do these endless perfect pictures have on those who are already struggling with feeling inadequate?

I asked a random mom group on Facebook how they felt about mom influencers in general. The responses were overwhelmingly similar.

One mom said, “They don’t make me feel bad about myself because they’re just so unrealistic and I know they’re only showing the good parts. I will go to their Instagram pages for play ideas but I don’t want to see them every day, it just makes me roll my eyes.”

Another noted that she has unfollowed quite a few of these accounts (in addition to “regular people”) who don’t bring her joy and make her feel “less than.”  “Being a stay at home mom, especially during a pandemic, is already hard on the mental health so I don’t need added stress of [feeling that] I’m not doing enough.”

The thing that stuck out of me about these two responses was their use of social media literacy—the ability to assess and critically evaluate what they see. These moms sorted realistic from unrealistic, what served them well and what didn’t, then hit the unfollow button accordingly. It can be easy to mindlessly follow accounts without taking a step back and analyzing what feelings we get from them.

Another mom brought up an interesting point about authenticity. She shared that what really bothers her is after a push a few years back for people to be more “real,” many influencers started posting pictures of how “dirty” their homes were (i.e. one shoe in the hallway) or someone planning five creative activities for their kids instead of ten. She added “like no…this isn’t authentic. You’re still only showing the parts you want us to see. But now it’s worse because you’re saying it’s totally real and it just makes people feel even worse because their bad days are way worse than yours.”  And the comparing continues.

But then there’s the flip side. When your platform and life is built upon a flawless home, face, and kids—that is a tough hamster wheel to be on. “Think of how exhausting their lives must be trying to maintain this artificial facade,” one mom commented. How many times has there been a well known person who seemingly had it all, come out and share a divorce or other personal issue that no one had any clue about. I can’t imagine the loneliness. Surrounded by followers but completely alone.

I’ve often wondered if influencers themselves are aware of the effect they can have on their audiences. The phrase “with great privilege/power comes great responsibility” continually comes to mind. In no way do I think these women are directly responsible for the mental well-being of their followers, but I do hope they are cognizant of the influence they have.  If I had thousands of followers, what message would I want to send? What type of influence would I want to be?

If you have a social media account, think about this. You don’t have to have 10,000 followers to influence people. We hold the brush for the picture we want to paint for our audience, whether it be big or small. Think of an account you follow that leaves you feeling seen, joy, or less alone—one you reshare because you want others to feel those same things. Be someone who people want to follow. As for the influencers, choose who you follow and what you consume carefully. Social media is a beauty and a curse—only you can curate your feed to what serves you well.

Megan Coffey
Hi! I'm Megan, former teacher turned stay-at-home-but-never-home mom to Peyton, 7, and Gage, 4. I host the Kansas City MomCast podcast! I'm married to the most patient person on this earth, Chris, and we live in Overland Park with our kids, an insane lab, and two guinea pigs. You can find me over committing to everything, reading informational and self-help texts, listening to podcasts, organizing, spending time with friends over margaritas, thrifting, and staying up way too late to have peace and serenity. I love people and hearing their stories and look forward to connecting with KCMC readers!