Discover more from In Pursuit of Clean Countertops
Why a newsletter?
Think of it as joining a fun, smart, juicy text thread that's motivated by collective rage about the pervasive narrative of the "ideal motherhood" - on social media and off.
I initially started this newsletter because I was infuriated by a certain rancher’s poetic musings about a thoughtless window and his expectations of “good” motherhood. I was blown away by the reader response, and feel so validated to discover that I’m not alone in feeling simultaneously inspired, outraged, desirous, envious, and confused about momfluencer culture. I’m so happy to welcome you into the weird and wonderful world of my momfluencer obsession, and I’d be thrilled if you choose to support my work by choosing a paid subscription.
In Pursuit of Clean Countertops isn’t about countertops. Not really. This weekly newsletter is about my obsession with momfluencers and how that obsession reveals what so many of us pursue by way of mommy influencers. Maybe it’s clean countertops (something all of the top momfluencers boast in perfectly lit photos). Maybe it’s a face balm that will make you throw away all your other beauty products (something momfluencers AND the Instagram algorithm try to sell me on a regular basis). Maybe it’s a more blissful, joyful experience of motherhood by way of macrame wall hangings or simply by being born Gwyneth Paltrow.
Most of all, I’m interested in why we follow momfluencers, what momfluencers are trying to sell us, and why the answers to these questions can reveal the grim reality of mothering in America, a country that claims to revere mothers while simultaneously denying them respect or financial renumeration for their labor. I want to understand why our culture idealizes motherhood (online and off) but fails again and again to give moms what they need to thrive (like universal preschool, paid family leave, subsidized childcare).
Because I’m also writing a book about momfluencers (MOMFLUENCED, coming out in 2023), I’ll use this space to share interviews with momfluencers and momfluencer experts, behind-the-scenes publishing anecdotes, and media round-ups of the books, podcasts, and movies I’ve discovered in my research.
Writing is my full-time job. And it’s no secret that the publishing industry and the wider media landscape is a mess. Media outlets are constantly folding. Freelancer payment is unpredictable, sporadic and dependent on news cycles. I typically earn anywhere between $250 - $900 per freelance piece. Some of these take months to research and report. Some of them take weeks. And I love writing these pieces! I love participating in conversations about motherhood, feminism, and influencer culture on large platforms that reach diverse audiences.
But I started this newsletter because sometimes, something happens in the news (or on Instagram) that I know lots of people have feelings about and I want to respond immediately. This newsletter allows me to write fun, sometimes polarizing, timely cultural critiques in the moment. As a reader, I LOVE reading essays by my favorite writers responding to current events happening right this very minute. When something strange or curious happens in the news, whether it be related to entertainment, health, or literature, I seek out experts in those fields to better understand and process my own reactions. My goal with this newsletter is to provide my expertise as a momfluencer-obsessive to my fellow momfluencer consumers. In real time. In a loose, irreverent way that’s fun to read.
And while this newsletter is meant to be a bright spot in your inbox, I also write this newsletter because I’m furious about the motherhood narratives undergirding most of momfluencer culture. Narratives that uphold the ideal mother as white, wealthy, cis-het, non-disabled, thin, and wholly devoted to the mythology of the nuclear family. It’s fun to interrogate momfluencer culture, but it’s also necessary to unpack what’s going on beneath the surface so we are better equipped to demand structural supports for caregiving. And so we can create our own narratives of mothering, narratives that center mothers’ individuality, not their ability to conform to a white, patriarchal ideal. Fuck the clean countertops.
Details and logistics:
All subscribers will have access to Friday posts, which will include personal musings, essays, deep-dives into momfluencer phenomena, interviews with experts and momfluencers, and case-studies about specific momfluencers.
Paid subscribers will have my eternal gratitude and starting May 6th, bonus content. This weekly content might include any of the following:
Threads where we debrief about the Friday essay, allowing us to deepen and continue the conversation.
AMAs where I’ll respond to your questions about why I’m so fixated on Hannah from Ballerina Farm, what I’ve been knitting lately, and which Instagram ads have broken me and made me buy the thing?
Snarky, satirical responses to whatever the Algorithm has served me that week.
Something else entirely because you can’t predict how inspiration will strike!
The subscription costs $5 per month or $50 per year. The first 25 paid subscribers will also receive a free, signed copy of MOMFLUENCED (yay!) with a custom inscription. I can totally try to draw a picture of Willa the sourdough starter or a pair of ballet slippers if you want. US readers only (sorry!)
If your momfluencer obsession has ever made you toy with buying Ballerina Farm merch (I may or may not have sent a friend a Ballerina Mug farm as a joke once. It broke as soon as she poured hot liquid into it), you can join as a Founding Member; I’m suggesting $150 per year for that, but you can also enter a custom price. By choosing the Founding Member option, you’re also helping me keep the main content free for everyone.
If my work resonates with you, and if you find the interrogation of the “ideal mother” narrative valuable, I hope you’ll consider subscribing.
I write about motherhood and feminism, and my essays and articles have been featured in outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Glamour, Refinery29, and elsewhere. I’m a frequent contributor to InStyle, where I recently wrote about the misogyny inherent in terms like “mommy brain,” and Romper, where I recently wrote about performing motherhood online. For Harper’s Bazaar, I wrote a piece about the cultishness of wellness momfluencers, and another about my own love/hate relationship with momfluencers.
I live in New Hampshire with my family, where I listen to podcasts obsessively while knitting. Feel free to check out my website to find more of my work, follow me on Instagram, where I like to rant about the ads, and Twitter, where I rant about everything.
My work is fairly synonymous with feminist takes on motherhood, but I’d love to tell you a bit about how I started writing in the first place, and why motherhood ignited my feminist rage.
I grew up surrounded by mothers who made motherhood seem cool, bohemian, artistic, beautiful, and sometimes, maddening. My own mother occasionally worked outside the home during my childhood, but for the most part, devoted her time and energy to care work and homemaking. She made wreaths from Bittersweet and created fairy wonderlands for our birthdays. She was kinda like Rudy Jude if Rudy Jude also shopped at Marshall’s and had a mid-1980s shag haircut. My aunts were jewelry designers, art teachers, and world travelers. But they all, for the most part, spent the bulk of their working hours invested in caretaking and domestic labor. They were all brilliant.
So I grew up assuming I’d follow in their footsteps without ever thinking too much it. I wanted to be a mother because all the strong, smart-as-hell women in my family were also mothers.
I was a voracious reader and an angsty teenager, and spent hours reading Anne of Green Gables and writing terrible Anne fan fic in my journal (lots of “slim waists,” “ruby red lips,” and “delicate wrists”) while also bemoaning the fact that no one understood me and I would never find my own Jordan Catalano because I had no boobs and my acne was soul-crushing.
Despite a lack of confidence in performing my real selfhood to the world, I was pretty good at pretending to be other people, and got my undergraduate degree from Emerson College in Theatre Studies. I loved acting but I lacked the do-or-die drive to ever be successful. So after a few years auditioning, dog-running (it’s a whole thing), and occasionally acting in New York, I moved to New Hampshire, where I got an MA in Literature because it quickly became clear that I also lacked the motivation or drive to pursue a life in academia and earn my doctorate. Shortly after this, I got married, and very shortly after that, I had my first kid.
My decision to try and get pregnant immediately after getting married at 29 was largely informed by fear. I might have subconsciously known this at the time, but I definitely know it now. I had an MA I didn’t know how to utilize along with a fierce desire to become a mother because if I became a Mother I would finally Be Someone.
But any mom reading this knows what happened next. I had a baby, which did not make me anyone in particular, but did make me sleep-deprived, unfamiliar to myself, and desperate for a shower that wouldn’t be interrupted by newborn screeching. I experienced postpartum depression which was probably chemical, but also likely informed by my complete lack of understanding of mothering versus motherhood. The first is informed by active labor. The second is informed by passive constructions of identity.
Around the time my second child was born, I started discovering blogs. Mommy blogs like Love Taza, yes, but also Emily Henderson’s design blog. I liked the pretty pictures and enjoyed the quippy writing, and when she posted about needing someone to help write copy, I applied. TO BE CLEAR, I HAVE NO INTERIOR DESIGN EXPERIENCE. To this day, I’m not sure why I thought I’d be qualified to write blog posts about kilim area rugs, but I loved writing my sample essay, which was a suuuuuuper quippy little piece about finding new friends through a mutual hatred of Live, Laugh, Love home decor.
Obviously, I didn’t get the Emily Henderson gig. But I started thinking about how I could keep writing. And I started applying to writing conferences, one of which required a 15 page writing sample. I wrote about my first kid’s birth, my postpartum identity crisis, and my maternal rage. I got accepted to the writing conference.
Since roughly 2015, I’ve just kept pitching myself to things I was wholly unqualified for until slowly, I began to be qualified for them. One of my first published pieces was about how potty-training made me reconsider the concept of “good motherhood” for Huffington Post. Another one was about my relationship with an “anti-feminist” student when I was adjunct teaching writing for a nearby college. One was about talking to my small daughter about my beauty routine.
And the more I wrote, the more I kept circling around our culture’s standards of idealized motherhood. Mothers should be beautiful but not waste time that we could be spending on our kids working to make ourselves beautiful. Mothers should have vibrant careers and also create domestic havens worthy of gracing the pages of Real Simple magazine. Mothers should love being mothers (if they’re good mothers). And if they don’t love every aspect of motherhood, something is wrong with them, not with the untenable societal expectations foisted on them.
As the years progressed (and as Instagram influencer culture slowly gained traction) I found myself spending more and more time on my phone, perusing cream colored kitchens and hand-dyed baby clothes and skin-brightening serums. I knew the products and lifestyles I coveted had something to do with my generalized feeling that motherhood in America is an epic scam (shout-out to Rachel Yoder for putting that feeling into words in her must-read novel, Nightbitch). And so I started pitching editors pieces about how Amber Fillerup Clark’s writing about Mormonism was also about motherhood and feminism (a forthcoming newsletter topic!); about how I designed my kitchen according to a single inspiration photo clipped from Amanda Watters’ Instagram; about how so many lovely, linen-clad momfluencers preached against the “toxins” in sunscreen; about how sometimes I wanted to be mothered by the momfluencers I followed instead of mother my own kids simply because it seemed like they knew the right answer to all the hard questions.
Some of these pieces were picked up, but the quirkier ones, the most niche ones, were not. Which I get! Thinking back to the essay that launched this newsletter, my treatise on Daniel Neeleman and his profound window disdain, I know I would not have been able to place that in a mainstream publication. But I loved writing it. And a lot of you told me you loved reading it.
I’ll still be writing for mainstream publications (I have a Q and A with Angela Garbes coming out soon for The Cut - RUN DO NOT WALK to preorder her gorgeous, energizing, necessary book, Essential Labor), and I’ll be furiously editing and revising and overthinking MOMFLUENCED. But I’ll also be here, writing quirky takes on leg oils, momfluencers’ beachy waves, and even the concept of the dadfluencer.
Thank you for being here. I hope this space feels like a delicious text chain with a friend who, upon reading Daniel Neeleman’s prose stylings about windows and diurnal creatures, will simply text you the vomit emoji followed by a string of profanities.