Last week, Julia Fox posted a TikTok tour of her New York City apartment that pretty quickly went viral. “I never thought in a million years I would do this, but I do believe in maximum transparency,” the “Uncut Gems” actress says at the beginning of the video. “And I know I’m going to get roasted, and whatever, but hopefully maybe someone can watch this and be like, OK, well, maybe I’m not doing so bad.”
Fox’s tour is quite charming and very relatable, especially for urban apartment dwellers like me. She put her bed in the living room to make room for her son to have a playroom. There are toys scattered here and there, shoe boxes in the kitchen and a “small mouse problem.” Writing for Romper, Evie Ebert described the video’s authentic feel, observing that what Fox showed us isn’t the typical “perfectly imperfect” influencer content that offers brief moments of messiness in otherwise antiseptic TikTok feeds. Instead, Ebert muses, Fox would appreciate the “trash box” in Ebert’s own apartment, because Fox has curated “a cozy nest, where a single mom and her toddler have all they need and the whole city at their doorstep.”
Fox’s video put me in mind of the TikTok creator Emily Feret, who is “normalizing normal” by talking about her hodgepodge diet, the travails of her daily getting-ready routine and showing off her home’s “nonaesthetic playroom.” I’ve written before about Feret, who serves as a corrective to how the perfection (or performance thereof) of certain momfluencers can worm into your brain, even if you strongly suspect that their online lives are something of a put-on.
While those glossy moms of social media — with their spotless backsplashes and blown-out hair — are still very influential and attractive to advertisers, I do feel that we’re seeing, for lack of a better term, a “vibe shift” among moms online, moving away from the unattainable ideal and gravitating toward content that actually resembles real life.
Even Marie Kondo, who became a worldwide phenomenon with her best-selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” recently acknowledged that since 2021, when she had her third child, her house is messier, and as The Washington Post’s Jura Koncius reports, Kondo’s new book is about finding joy in different aspects of life. Of a perfectly tidy house, Kondo said: “I have kind of given up on that in a good way for me. Now I realize what is important to me is enjoying spending time with my children at home.”
So, what’s changed? Emily Hund’s new book, “The Influencer Industry: The Quest for Authenticity on Social Media,” cites the pandemic as the tipping point. After years of image-first Instagram photography that valorized aspiration, there was already a growing hunger for content that more closely resembled consumers’ day-to-day existence, Hund notes. Then, in 2020, we were stuck at home, spending more time on social media and experiencing more anxiety and upheaval.
The events of that year, including an online backlash to the momfluencer Arielle Charnas, who appeared to flout precautions after she tested positive for Covid, were “ultimately accelerations to industrial shifts that had been percolating for some time — long overdue bookends, perhaps, to an era wherein the thin, white, heterosexual, wealthy and apolitical macroinfluencer set the standards.”
For her book, Hund, a research affiliate at the Center on Digital Culture and Society at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, interviewed influencers and the people who fund them. She quotes a brand marketer named Beth who described the shift toward more “authentic” content in 2021: Instagram was really built on “showing that highlight reel,” Beth said. “But now people are really shifting to say, ‘No, we don’t want to see that. We want to see the real thing.’ And TikTok’s really made that idea flourish and take hold.”
That’s because Instagram’s lingua franca was the still image, while TikTok’s is video, which rewards humor and personality, said Kathryn Jezer-Morton, a sociologist who wrote her dissertation on momfluencing and “affective expertise” and writes Brooding, a family life newsletter for The Cut. (Though Instagram is chasing TikTok with its emphasis on Reels.) Jezer-Morton has described the TikTok vibe as “a loosening of the vise grips of morality that have governed social media motherhood.” She told me she finds Fox’s video to be a very cool expression of this new moment because Fox is not apologizing for her household’s lived-in feel. If we’re apologizing, we’re not liberated, Jezer-Morton said: “She’s just saying, this is my apartment. We’re going to see more of that.”
Another feature of TikTok that allows for a bit more levity — including sending up some of the more airbrushed, if you will, momfluencing — is its “stitch” functionality, which people can use to add video commentary to an existing video. In one recent video, a mom earnestly included the statement, “I don’t relate to women who need time away from their kids. I’m obsessed with mine and if they can’t go I’m not coming,” with a video of her snuggling her child and a love song playing in the background. Other moms stitched that video with videos of themselves laughing, clinking glasses of wine together or simply reacting with a droll “okaaayyyy.” Responding to a video with a video is more visceral, and just funnier than leaving a written comment below an Instagram post.
All that said, obviously, everything we put online — and I include my own social media posts here, even this newsletter — is curated. In her book, Hund makes the point that “authenticity” is still a construct. As she puts it: “Shifts in authenticity in the social media context continue in the same system of cultivation and communication — just with a different look.”
Don’t get me wrong, I still absolutely love #cleantok. I could listen to the satisfying whoosh and snap of organizing a cabinet drawer all day, and I think Kondo has helped millions of people feel more in control of, and less controlled by, their stuff. Note also that birthing makeup was trending on TikTok in January, which shows that an unvarnished image clearly isn’t for everyone.
Still, I think it’s a win that we’re seeing more varied representations of mom life flourish on the internet. There’s space here for all of us: Feret, Kondo, Fox and her apartment mouse, too.
Parenting can be a grind. Let’s celebrate the tiny victories.
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