Bewildered by the picture-perfect and glammed up portrayal of motherhood depicted on Instagram by lifestyle influencers, Editor-in-Chief Farah Hosny takes a closer look at life after babies for 4 of Egypt’s influencer moms to unearth what lies beneath their perceived infallibility.
Somewhere between our parents’ tradition and technological restraint, and our own millennial malaise, arose a generation of Instagram 'influencer mothers'; unicorns of motherhood if you will. Not in the sense that they were reinventing parenthood, but more that these women were using the relatively new technology at their disposal – the same tech savviness that initially shot them to social media ‘fame’ on Instagram as lifestyle bloggers or influencers – to present a sort of sparkly, pastel-filtered portrayal of motherhood, giving it a glamour it had previously been devoid of.
These women – fashion bloggers, stylists, entrepreneurs, beauty experts, etc. – who ascended to relative fame via the visual digital platform, presented a different – arguable wholly unrealistic – depiction of motherhood. It was not one of vomit-stained shirts and stretch marks and virtually no time for yourself; it was not the image that time has taught us to associate with motherhood. A precursory skim through their Instagram accounts revealed a version of motherhood that was stylish, fabulous, and editorial-esque. We saw them weeks after creating life, looking perfect to an extent that is unattainable to most non-mothers. We saw them out at restaurant openings and getting their makeup done, attending Pilates classes and frolicking in swimsuits on paradise islands.
We all watched them, with undeniable envy, and with perhaps more than a healthy dollop of judgement. Didn’t she just have a baby? When does she have time to get her hair done? How is she out at the opening of a restaurant right now? How is she just casually travelling to the Bahamas? Where is her child?? This isn’t real motherhood!
And questions arise as a natural corollary to this: is this airbrushed image of motherhood a realistic one to flaunt to the public? Does it give those who follow them false expectations of what motherhood is like? Or is it inspiring? Does it show women who refuse to let becoming a mother relegate them to little more than a Pamper-pushing caretaker?
Lina Maklad (@linamaklad), founder of Boho Gallery, and her son Hassan
“I feel like when mothers who are considered 'influencers' appear on their feeds looking glamorous - even if she has just given birth or something - and she looks gorgeous and shiny, that’s inspirational,” says Nada Kamel sincerely. The fashion blogger has amassed over 50K on her feed, which she started only a few years ago, well after her first daughter, now thirteen, was born, as well as her second child, her son Mohanad. “It gives out a sort of positive energy to those who follow you; that you don’t have to choose between being a mom and being put together and stylish. And if I’m considered an ‘influencer’ then what is my role if not to provide a good influence on the people that follow me?” she argues. Kamel’s school of thought arises from the notion that if she presents motherhood to the public, her public, as something which does not necessitate women to lose their sense of self, to proverbially ‘let go’ of themselves, then that is in and of itself an encouraging message to women.
“I think it’s a positive thing for moms to see other mothers still making an effort and still getting ‘glammed up’ after they’ve had kids,” Lina Maklad agrees. The founder of Boho Gallery, and mother of two boys, aged 6 and 2, has not let having two children before the age of 28 deter her from being a stylish woman about town, with an Instagram account strewn with stylish snaps of herself. “I honestly think that, in some ways, it can be a push – an encouraging message to mothers or mothers to be. I know a lot of moms who initially didn’t want to have children because they were worried they’d lose their looks, their body, time for themselves, and their ability to be individuals.”
Laurice Matta (@lauricematta), beautician, with her two daughters Kaya and Nala
At its core, it is perhaps not so much about the external factors; it’s not about the makeup and the blow dries and the weight loss; it transcends to something deeper. For women, it’s often that they don’t want to lose the entire sense of their old life after becoming mothers, that sense of being able to make time for yourself. A manicure may seem like a fervently frivolous thing but what it represents to a woman and a mother is that she can still retain parts of her former routine, her old life, one that she laid claim to before being a mother. “A lot of people have this notion that you can’t have kids and take care of yourself, but I don’t think that's right,” says Kamel.
“I think it’s based on each woman’s own personality,” Laurice Matta says simply as she balances her one year old Nala on her lap and simultaneously tries to make sure her three year old doesn’t jump off the table. “If they’re used to doing their hair and makeup and dressing up every day, I think the mentality is ‘okay I had a baby, but I’m not going to make this something that holds me back from looking good or just generally doing what I’ve always done.'”
But the beautician openly admits she was not able to make motherhood appear like a breeze. “I don’t think I’m one of those women though,” she says scrunching her nose in a little grimace. “It took me some time honestly, to sort of get back to who I used to be, or how I used to look, before I gave birth. I took the decision to diet and get back in shape almost two years after I’d given birth.” While Matta realises that projecting a glorified image of motherhood may be inspirational, a way of showing that, yes, women can have it all, she also readily admits it is not reality. “It is kind of an unrealistic portrayal of motherhood, to be honest, because, for me, for instance, those beautiful moments on Instagram, that's not my real life. In my real life, I have my hair in a bun, running around between the kitchen and the laundry room, and if I’m going out, most of the time, it’s to buy things for them,” she laughs.
Sarah Taha (@sarahtaha2), fashion blogger and her son Zein
But it is not that that side of motherhood does not exist for these women; it is that they choose not to share it with the world. “What we put on Instagram – it’s not real life,” Sarah Taha says simply. The fashion blogger’s 140K strong Instagram feed is an endless array of images of her looking perfectly put together, sartorially superior to us on any given day. “The thing is, there’s no such thing as a perfect life. We’re all mothers and we all go through ups and downs. I had a baby a year and a half ago, and it’s hectic. And I struggled through weight loss to get back to my old shape. I don't always have the time to get all 'glammed up' and, sometimes, I just don’t post pictures because I just don’t look nice. We’re not these always-put-together Stepford wives.”
Her explanation perhaps most succinctly encapsulates the reality; those photos are a cross section of their lives; a snippet; they are not their entire existence, but what they represent is that you can sill retain elements of your old life after becoming a mother, albeit not all of it.
“I post about 5% of what my life is on Instagram. Not even half of it makes it on there,” Maklad says. “There’s so much that people don’t see. But maybe those 'glam' moments that I post will inspire other moms?”
Nada Kamel (@nadakamel_), fashion blogger, with her daughter Rinad, and her son Mohanad
And at the end of the shoot, each one of them posts a stunningly glamorous image of herself on Instagram, where they appear perfect – but that perfection is an exception; they spent hours primping and preening for the images that will grace their feed.
The reality is, these so-called 'influencer mothers' do not live ensconced in some sort of blessed bubble. Their babies scream and cry and poop and throw tantrums just like everyone else’s. And their mothers change their diapers and discipline them and hiss ‘stop doing that. We will talk about this later,’ through gritted teeth, while plastering smiles on their faces, just like most of our mothers did throughout our entire childhoods.
The social media existence of these influencer mothers is a facade; because why not give motherhood a glamorous sheen? Why relegate it to the stereotype of an exhausted, exasperated Pamper-pushing woman who no longer has time for herself? Motherhood is hard and a constant uphill battle, and a beautiful arduous journey – for everyone. But everyone already knows that. Why not show that that’s not all is has to be?
Shoot by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions
Photography by Ahmed Najeeb
Art direction by Malak El Sawi
Makeup by Chanel Arif and Agnes
Hair by Al Sagheer Salons
Wardrobe by Amany El Cherif and models' own
Shot on location at the JW Marriott
Cinematography by Abanoub Ramsis and Youssef Emad Eldin