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Glamorous Chaos: The Tiring Pursuit of Art-Directed Motherhood

Posted by Kara Baskin  June 18, 2013 08:00 AM

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Is parenthood becoming too stylized? The New York Times has an article about how super-stylish mom-bloggers are devoting themselves to posting about fashion and decor: high-end post-maternity jeans, comfortable heels, tunics that won't make you look like a linebacker for the Patriots, and sometimes even messy living rooms and unmade beds — staged, naturally. These women are glamorizing a certain chaos. This isn't news to anyone who feels like maintaining their various social media profiles is a second full-time job (um, me). And so I say: Enough already.

When I think about how I use social media and what I broadcast about my personal life, I sometimes feel, ahem, overly purposeful myself — a one-woman machine who has to be pithy (Twitter), generous (liking things on Facebook), organized (Pinterest), and a budding Martin Scorcese (Vine). To say nothing of Instagram, where the right filter setting turns me into Annie Leibovitz. Is it instant nostalgia, or a metaphor for how we live now, compulsively filtering and doctoring and broadcasting?

I love the idea and the inspiration, in theory. Why shouldn't moms look and feel good, and revel in it? My question is: Is it phony? Who really lives this way, and who's the audience? Why are we doctoring photos and broadcasting our unmade beds and boots in the first place? It's bad enough that I feel antsy about my perpetually explosive laundry pile; even worse is the sensation that some people are actually taking pictures of theirs and turning it into some kind of art. Great, I'm thinking to myself, now I'm comparing my dirty laundry with other people's. Literally!

Are these women purely out to capture the aesthetics of parenting, for art's sake? Partially. Take Jennifer Hagler, the mom who runs a Merry Mishap, where the "main attractions are the pristinely lighted photographs she snaps in her home with a Canon EOS 7D — of a spare, undone bed; stacked books wrapped in Ferm Living wallpaper; or travel necessities like black leather Jeffrey Campbell boots," reports the Times. "Think escapism in the form of white space — a lure, perhaps, for mothers who once agonized over lighting fixtures but are now tripping over plastic Jumperoos." Part of it is art and escapism, sure, the delicious way of seeing how someone else lives. But there's a deeper, darker undertone. Another woman says of her own blog's mission: "It’s not about having it all, but having as much as you can all at once." And showing that to the world.

It's fake magic. Having as much as you can, "all at once," sounds liberating on the surface — but also very tiring. Not only are you trying to "have" as much as you can, you're also posting about how much you have, and then looking at other sites to see how much someone else "has," too. Blogs like these can be a psychological salve, a way of dusting off the dirty parts of our lives and recycling them to make them pretty and palatable for a generation of moms who are constantly plugged in and evaluating, who might know too much about the mom next door's life and unmade bed already. (The fact that Facebook and its ilk make us feel depressed and envious has been widely documented.)

This is a uniquely modern phenomenon: I cannot imagine my own mother running to take a photo of her dishwasher or brand new can opener, for instance, or my grandmother Instagramming her Sunday roast to enthrall the neighbors, then compiling each roast on a blog. Part of it is technological access, of course (my grandmother's most technologically advanced tool was her police scanner), but I think a bigger part was mindset. Sharing that kind of stuff just didn't seem as important, I don't think. I can almost hear my Nana wondering, "Who has the time?"

I filter my life through social media (and blogs!) just like many people. Part of it is my job: I'm on social media a lot for work, which comes with the territory. But as a mom, I don't have any obligation to post things beyond the same itch that drives so many other people toward Facebook and Vine and Twitter. I log on to Pinterest every week or so, feel overwhelmed, and then begin rabidly posting things in a fit of online hoarding. (Pinterest is a dangerous beast; visiting some profiles is like walking into the closet of a friend who alphabetizes and color codes her socks.) How much is too much?

I guess the difference is between posting things that are cute and spontaneous, shared between friends, and blogs or posts that feel like staged, contrived agendas. Do you find blogs like these inspiring or tiring? I love reading them, but the psychology behind them definitely intrigues and slightly repels me. I'd love to know your opinions. Let me know in the comments, and if you have any tips for mastering the subtle art of Vine to make my laundry pile look smaller, well, I'm up for hearing those, too.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Kara Baskin (@kcbaskin) is a Boston-based writer, editor, and mom to Andy. She thinks Sriracha and garlic make everything tastier. She loves Steely Dan and "Murder, She Wrote." Her More »

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