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‘Momfluencers’ who glamorize motherhood are making new moms insecure: study

A collage of a woman and a baby related to a study on online portrayals of motherhood
A new study published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media determined who is more susceptible to the negative effects of idealized portrayals of motherhood shared online.

Comparison is the thief of joyous mothers.

“Momfluencers” may be more harmful than helpful for some new moms, according to a new study. The findings, published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media Research, suggest that idealized portrayals of motherhood — clean house, happy kids, photo-ready hair and makeup — shared on social media increase anxiety and envy among some new moms.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln surveyed 464 new moms to analyze whether or not certain personality traits may make some people more susceptible to the negative effects of idealized portrayals of motherhood shared online.

Research has shown that idealized portrayals of motherhood — clean house, happy kids, photo-ready hair and makeup — shared on social media increase anxiety and envy among some new moms. Getty Images
Research has shown that idealized portrayals of motherhood — clean house, happy kids, photo-ready hair and makeup — shared on social media increase anxiety and envy among some new moms. Getty Images

They found that those with a higher social comparison orientation — a tendency to compare themselves to other people — tended to be more negatively affected by glamorized social media posts.

Mothers who displayed a higher social comparison orientation had a higher chance of becoming less confident about their own parenting abilities after internalizing these posts.

Surprisingly, self-esteem did not seem to be a factor.

“We all have this tendency to compare, but some of us are more inclined to compare than others,” lead researcher Ciera Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “If we know how these posts are affecting mothers and that they are more detrimental to certain moms, then that helps us, from a strategic health communications or health professional standpoint.”

Determining who may be more vulnerable to the negative impacts of social media will allow experts to intervene before the negative impacts begin.

Kirkpatrick, who has conducted extensive research on the effects of “mominfluencers” and mommy bloggers, also noted that the turn from photo to video sharing has reduced the number of perfect posts.

The research showed that those with a higher social comparison orientation — a tendency to compare themselves to other people — tended to be more negatively affected by glamorized social media posts. Getty Images/iStockphoto
The research showed that those with a higher social comparison orientation — a tendency to compare themselves to other people — tended to be more negatively affected by glamorized social media posts. Getty Images/iStockphoto

“I think it was simpler, with a photo, to capture exactly what you want and leave out everything else,” Kirkpatrick commented.

“It’s a little bit harder to make sure everything’s perfect in a video, and I’ve seen more of a push for showing realistic portrayals of motherhood as I’ve been collecting these types of posts for the next study.”

But even videos can cause some mothers to spiral into a world of self-comparison and self-doubt.

“In some ways, there might be things that idealization is making worse for new moms. I have lots of examples of postpartum moms showing off their ‘must-haves’ — a $1,000 bassinet or a $300 bottle washer, these really expensive things — and that likely creates pressure on moms. Or the ‘typical day’ videos that show a postpartum mom meal planning or cleaning their house every night. That just feeds into the pressure.”

Another study found similar results.

Determining who may be more vulnerable to the negative impacts of social media will allow experts to intervene before the negative impacts begin. Getty Images/iStockphoto
Determining who may be more vulnerable to the negative impacts of social media will allow experts to intervene before the negative impacts begin. Getty Images/iStockphoto

A survey of 2,000 moms found that a third feel like they’re a “bad mom” sometimes with more than three-quarters claiming that social media puts pressure on moms to look or act a certain way (77%).

The survey also found that a majority of American moms who have heard of momfluencers, social media influencers who cater to moms, watch their content (83%), but 65% of these respondents feel more insecure after watching this content and one in seven don’t think that momfluencers realistically portray motherhood.

The negative mental health impacts of social media are nothing new and impact more than just moms entering motherhood for the first time.

The surgeon general has warned that social media is triggering a teen mental health crisis and experts have flagged that “selfie culture” is driving people to get plastic surgery so they look like filtered photos.