Not your typical Mormon mommy blogger
Why the Mormon church should pay attention to Amber Fillerup Clark
I can’t remember exactly when I first started reading Amber Fillerup Clark’s blog (which used to be called Barefoot Blonde), but it was probably around the time I discovered Naomi Davis’s blog. At one point, both Amber and Naomi’s families went on a sponsored trip together (I think skiing) and the merging of my two favorite bloggers’ worlds was very exciting.
At the time (2014ish?) Amber's blog featured lots of braid tutorials, lots of fashion inspo, and of course, lots of photos of cute kids frolicking in beautiful golden light. Whereas I went to Naomi to pore over her maternal happiness (and wonder endlessly how such bliss could be real or if such bliss could be learned), I went to Amber’s blog mostly for product recs. She had frequent round-ups of her favorite hair towel, her favorite airplane toys for toddlers, her favorite flirty sundress for under $50. I liked reading about shit I didn’t know I needed, clicking on links, and typically buying none of it. It was soothing.
At first glance, Amber might seem like a run-of-the-mill momfluencer. She’s white, marketably attractive, thin, cis-het, married, non-disabled, and boasts the most famous beachy blonde waves in the biz.
She’s also Mormon.
Historically and currently, many of the most successful and famous momfluencers have been Mormon. A few include Stephanie Clark Nielsen, Natalie Lovin, Rachel Parcel, Heather Armstrong, and Naomi Davis. Not all of these women are still affiliated with the LDS church, but Mormonism and momfluencing have always been cozy bedfellows. And as long as Mormons have been blogging and momfluencing, we’ve been fascinated. Read more about that here, here, and here.
To provide some background on why so many household-name momfluencers are Mormon, I spoke to Monica Danielle, one of the first crop of successful Mormon “mommy bloggers,” who quit both Instagram and Mormonism long ago. In 2005, she had roughly 110k monthly views to her blog, The Girl Who, and in 2011, she was named one of the year’s most influencer bloggers by Babble. She’s a beautiful, sharp writer and has a newsletter where she’s writes about feminism, mental illness, beauty standards, and her relationship to shame and the Mormon church.
“Mormon women are raised in an overtly patriarchal society that instills in them from birth that their main purpose in life is to serve their husband by bearing and raising his children and running the home,” Monica told me. “They're also taught to journal and scrapbook and document their families for ancestral purposes (Mormons are big into genealogy) and blogging/photography falls right in line with that. A Mormon mom at home with kids all day starts looking at Instagram and the evolution from there is obvious.”
So the fact that Amber Fillerup Clark grew up Mormon and made a name for herself as one of the most well-known momfluencers of all time isn’t surprising. But what is surprising, and what makes Amber Fillerup Clark unique, at least from my perspective, is how she has written so frankly and transparently about her personal relationship with the Mormon church in a way that very few practicing Mormon momfluencers have. So in today’s newsletter, we’re gonna unpack Amber’s blog post about her “church experience” and why it matters.
In the lengthy blog post, which was published in March 2021, Amber includes photos of herself wearing a peachy tie-dye sweatsuit lounging in a bed dressed in tangerine and rose colored sheets. Amber’s body language, her facial expressions, the utterly cheery colors of the bedding—all contribute to photos that convey happiness, self-acceptance, and ease.
She begins the essay by acknowledging “the elephant in the room” regarding her religion, which immediately illustrates her self-awareness that her audience is curious about her faith, whether because they’re fellow Mormons and find her social media presence at odds with Mormon ideals of feminine modesty, or because they’re like me, curious about a religion that is so famously white and patriarchal, curious about why someone like Amber, successful by nearly every metric, would choose to align herself with an organization whose roots are famously racist, sexist, and whose official website says the following about queer identity in 2022:
“Like other violations of the law of chastity, homosexual activity is a serious sin. It is contrary to the purposes of human sexuality (see Romans 1:24–32). It distorts loving relationships and prevents people from receiving the blessings that can be found in family life and the saving ordinances of the gospel . . . Those who find themselves struggling with sexual temptations, including feelings of same-gender attraction, should not give in to those temptations. People can choose to avoid such behavior and receive the Lord’s help as they pray for strength and work to overcome the problem.”
Gotta say, I was shocked at how forthright the LDS church is regarding their unabashed homophobia. I thought they’d at least sugarcoat it or hide behind flowery language? But nope! “WORK TO OVERCOME THE PROBLEM.”
Anyway. In her essay, Amber explains that both she and her husband grew up in the church, which she likens to growing up in a “bubble . . . VERY much a bubble.” She goes on to say that she had always felt a “little different” because she was in touch with her sexuality from a young age.
“As a member of the church I was always encouraged in church and at home to wait until I was 16 to have my first date. I did not wait til I was 16 and definitely did not wait til I was 16 to kiss a guy. I think my first kiss was in 6th grade and that just lit a flame for me and I was a very curious young girl. Looking back, all the ‘mistakes’ I made that I beat myself up for and felt so dirty for, weren’t even that bad. I mean in the grand scheme of things, it was all very normal. I wish I had known it was normal instead of feeling so much shame for doing things that are perfectly normal for an angsty teen.”
All Mormon church members are encouraged to confess their “sins” to a church bishop, and Amber writes about being told to repent for her sins (such as being a human experiencing curiosity) and prohibited from taking sacrament by her bishop. Sacrament is an essential part of the Mormon church service, and according to the LDS website, church members “do not need to be perfect in order to partake of the sacrament, but they should have a spirit of humility and repentance in their hearts.”
Apparently, Amber did not perform “humility and repentance” adequately enough for her bishop, and she writes about feeling isolated and ashamed after being denied sacrament as a young girl. Although she and her family still attend church fairly regularly, Amber reflects that she never wants her own kids to go through a similar experience. “I see no purpose or lesson learned there. I only see shame and humiliation in front of their siblings.”
Achieving the Mormon ideal of chastity seems to be a full time job at which most people are bound to fail, and at which a kid or teenager would almost certainly be doomed to fail. Chastity means never having sex unless you’re married (“Sometimes people try to convince themselves that sexual relations outside of marriage are acceptable if the participants love one another. This is not true.”); choosing the “correct” locations for dates (“They should stay in areas of safety where they can easily control themselves.”); “avoiding being alone with a member of the opposite sex;” and constantly monitoring oneself for thoughts that might not be “pure” according to the church’s standards (“Control our thoughts.”)
Amber linked to several church doctrines in her piece, for which I’m so grateful because they provide such illuminating context for understanding why a kid feeling curious about sex was shamed and made to feel abnormal and bad for simply being human.
Next in her essay, Amber talks about garments. Garments are essentially a church-mandated pair of underwear. Thick straps, full coverage. One would never be able to wear a bikini, for example, over Mormon garments, thus also ensuring that female garment wearers are prohibited from showing too much skin (and luring good heterosexual Mormon boys into temptation).
Garments are required of all church members once they become endowed (after their 18th birthdays) and are meant to remind members of their relationship to the Heavenly Father. Garments are considered sacred, but especially for women, have been historically itchy, uncomfortable, and cumbersome under clothes.
In Amber’s essay, she writes about the many, many, many times followers or acquaintances in her community have called attention to her own failure to wear garments, criticizing her lack of modesty and questioning her viability as a “good role model” for young Mormon girls.
Amber writes that, much like other aspects of Mormonism, the mandate to wear garments has made her feel alienated from her true self. “Looking back I am not sure I was ever going to be ready for garments and what that entails. The Mormon church’s version of modesty has always been incredibly difficult for me. It just doesn’t feel like me and never has.”
She elucidates how “countless” people comment and discuss her personal choice to wear (or not wear) garments meant to symbolize a person’s unique and private relationship to God. “This upset people, so many people, to a degree that I can’t even fathom. I had countless upset people commenting and discussing the matter on forums. I had someone even write a letter to my in laws saying ‘Brother and Sister Clark, you should be ashamed of your new daughter in law…’ It goes on but that was the part that stuck with me.”
Amber concludes her thoughts on garments by writing that she has tried to wear them “off and on over the years” because of “social pressure,” but ultimately decided she doesn’t feel personally called to wear them, nor do they reflect her personhood or her relationship to God. “I wish I could say I am sorry or that I care that it disappoints you but I am not sorry and I don’t care.”
There are so many parts of Amber’s essay that move me, but this line in particular stands out as being worthy of a “fuck yes.”
Part of why this declaration is so revolutionary is that Mormon women are trained from a very early age to police their behavior and their bodies to please an external (MALE) gaze. Monica Danielle explains how the drive to perform femininity (which extends to social media for many Mormon moms) starts in the community.
“Mormon women, particularly those born and raised in Utah, are often competitive perfectionists who were brought up performing for neighbors and an omniscient god. In a way, they were built for influencing because church is the ultimate runway for showcasing your devotion to god while being super stylish. Church is a gossip scene where everyone puts on a facade and pretends to be the most righteous, have the best marriage, the perfect children.”
Writing about moving to New York City with her husband, Amber recalls being excited for a fresh start in a Mormon community that might be more open-minded, more accepting. A community that would allow her to “do her own thing. And at first, she thought she had found it: “I had just been raving to David how much I just loved our ward, it really felt so welcoming.” But then she found an “evil” online forum full of hateful comments, one of which mocked Amber for looking and acting like she was “trying out for a pageant.”
It’s ludicrous to think that the anonymous commenter on the forum was criticizing what might very well have been Amber’s best efforts at conforming to the intense physical and behavioral constraints placed upon Mormon women. According to Mormon logic, Amber allegedly dressing and acting “like a pageant queen” seems entirely in keeping with well-established standards. And I’m sorry, but I think we all know another Mormon momfluencer who is an actual pageant queen and downright lauded for it, so this particular “diss” seems off!
“The LDS church’s website has an entire section devoted to grooming and dress, complete with makeup tutorials. ‘You are not required to wear makeup; however, wearing makeup can help you look your best,’ it reads. ‘To minimize the appearance of dark circles under your eyes, use a yellow- or pink-toned concealer lighter than your skin tone. Use your fingers to gently apply and blend the color under your eyes, along the lash line.’”
Alice Gregory’s Allure piece was published in 2017, and I couldn’t find these exact makeup tips on the LDS website today, but STILL. I’m also a little annoyed that whoever wrote this particular makeup tip provided sound insight about the yellow-toned concealer but didn’t clarify that you should “gently apply” under eye concealer with little taps. Don’t smear that shit, folks!
In addition to mandating against “clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner,” the LDS website also instructs women to restrict themselves to one pair of earrings, keep their shoulders covered, and avoid short skirts. “The fashions of the world will change, but the Lord’s standards will not change.”
All of this is to say: If Amber seemed preoccupied with her clothes or appearance in church (according to the commenter’s “beauty pageant” accusations), is it any wonder? How could she not be?
In the concluding paragraphs of Amber’s essay, she clarifies that she opposes the Mormon church’s homophobia (“I believe that all families look different – they don’t have to be a man and a woman and I believe that Heavenly Father loves all families regardless of what makes them unique and special.”), she objects to the church’s “culture of shame,” and she exhorts the church to focus on acceptance rather than exclusion.
And finally (and this is my favorite), Amber offers her thoughts on how the church could better serve Mormon girls and women:
“I think we should teach them to think about themselves and not place so much emphasis on marriage… and please for the love, NO more telling girls to pray for their future husband. Tell them to pray for themselves and work on themselves. They should not be thinking about marriage that young let alone praying for a man they don’t know yet. And I think teaching men to always be prepared to pull their weight at home and potentially be the stay at home dad to support their wife if she should choose to have a turn chasing a career. If we are teaching the girls how to sew and bake bread let’s teach the boys too . . . David and I also want to teach our kids about their Heavenly Mother and have them feel the female power through their prayers too.”
Again, very much fuck yes! Amber is a Mormon mommy blogger and Mormon momfluencer, but she is opening the door to honest, nuanced conversations about the church’s clear limitations, biases, and frankly, harmful doctrines. Because the Mormon church is so secretive and because Mormon women are encouraged to obey and never question, I think Amber’s willingness to not only interrogate her relationship to Mormonism—but also share her thoughts and experiences with a wider audience—is downright radical.
Monica Danielle thinks so too. She says this about the Mormon church’s history of feminism:
“A few years ago Mormon feminism was a hot topic wherein women members were asking questions about things like why women can't wear pants to church and even held a Wear Pants to Church protest. Later, a group of Mormon women founded an organization called Ordain Women to question why women can't hold the priesthood and at least one of them was ex-communicated. Shows what can happen to you if you speak out. The Wear Pants movement gained enough traction that the church later changed its pants policy just as it ultimately changed its discriminatory policy that did not allow any Black people to receive the priesthood or even be married in the church until 1978. We're seeing the church slowly change its stance on homosexuality as well but under extreme social pressure, which is why it can be hugely empowering to women members when high profile Mormon bloggers speak out about certain issues.”
Amber has 1.3 million Instagram followers, and has created a lifestyle empire that includes two haircare companies. It’s hard to imagine many Mormon women with larger profiles, or many using their platforms to ignite much-need conversations about inclusion, gender roles, and patriarchal control within the church. According to Monica, “The Mormon church could use a lot more women like her and I think it’s their best bet to trend in that direction if they want to retain/ increase young members.”
If you want to read more about why Amber is more radical than you might think at first glance, check out @emdoodlesandstuff’s EXCELLENT take on Amber owning her own sexuality and transforming from a traditionally “soft, feminine, prim and proper” Mormon momfluencer to “absolutely not giving an F to the haters” and becoming more comfortable in her own skin.
LOVE TO SEE IT.
And if you find yourself liking Em’s Tiktok content (and truly, what’s not to like?) get excited, because I’m featuring an interview with her next week about why she loves predicting momfluencer baby names, what baby names communicate about our beliefs and aesthetics, and why Hannah Neeleman favors baby names that “glamorize humbleness.”