At least once a week, I get the opportunity to write a snarky blog post about a celebrity mom who uses her birth announcement to promote her new shoe line or a former boy band dad plastering his child’s face on a collection of lullabies he’s shilling. Sometimes, I refer to these bits of celeb parent branding as a form of exploitation, because moms and dads are using their children to further their career and market their business. Invariably, someone in the comments well say, “You write mommy blogs. You do the same thing.” And here’s how I would like to respond to those comments.
First of all, touche! It’s a valid point. And it’s an issue that I’ve wrestled with as a writer for quite some time now. I constantly worry about how much information I should share about my daughter. I get a voice in the back of my head yelling, “Hypocrite!” at me whenever I use a cute anecdote about my child to make a post more interesting or enjoyable. I realize that moms who write about parenthood have a large incentive to share as much private information about their families as possible so that readers become invested in their stories and opinions.
All of that being said, I still think that there is a degree of separation between working in a media outlet that covers parenting, and sometimes volunteering personal stories to demonstrate a point or share an idea, and building a brand with which to promote products and advance your career around your entity as a parent.
Here’s how I square the whole thing in my head.
First of all, my daughter still has a degree of anonymity. The name that appears at the top of my posts is not my legal name. (I’m so sorry to break it to you all.) And while I have talked about my small Midwestern city before, this place still has more than 200,000 people. It’s not as simple as walking down Main Street and inquiring about the writer lady with a daughter in pre-k. Aside from a brief segment on Good Morning America a year ago, I don’t use her picture to illustrate my posts. The only people who would read my stories and actually know the child they apply to are people who I have specifically informed of my writing: family and friends.
There is always the argument about what happens when a story you put out on the internet gets picked up by larger media outlets and thrusts you into the spotlight. This is a chance that bloggers take. It’s one that I took after writing about my daughter and make-up. I saw what happened when that story made it to a morning show and swirled around the internet for a while. And honestly, as my daughter gets older, I plan on sharing less and less of her adorableness with the world.
Still, I do not believe that the size and scope of the exposure are the only things that separate my work from that of celebrities who are profiting off of their wombs. And wowzers are these ladies profiting. My job, as much as it can involve my daughter, does not depend on me exposing ever more details about our private life to gain attention. My job doesn’t even depend upon my being a mother (unlike Jessica Simpson, Jessica Alba, and Beyonce who have made second careers out of lifestyle mommy brands). Our amazing editor Koa Beck has shown that you can contribute to the parenting conversation whether you have children of your own or not. If I never type my daughter’s name again, I will still have a job.
But even when I do bring up my little girl, it is not the reader’s interest in her as a person that’s bringing attention to the story. No one reads about her messy room or her response to the loss of a loved one because they care specifically about my daughter’s life. They read and comment on these stories because they illustrate a point about parenting — not bottom lines. I write these stories not to discuss my child with the world, but to connect with other parents who are going through similar experiences. I like to think that I’m contributing to important, informative, or fun conversations that we’re all having.
The majority of celebrities who use their children to expand their business enterprises aren’t trying to connect with parents as much as they are trying to ingratiate themselves with a new audience or connect with parents’ pocketbooks. They are harnessing the public’s interest in their child to sell us something, whether it be a maternity line, a new song, or a new season of their reality show. Unlike Rosie Pope, the public’s interest in my own kid could never be fashioned into me live-tweeting my delivery as a plug for my own reality show.
I do not believe that all celebrity parents are exploiting their kids. And I think that there are some famous moms out there who are getting involved in the mommy world in a very real and constructive way, not just using their new parent status to gain publicity. Mayim Bialik, who is a vocal supporter of attachment parenting and extremely involved in discussions on motherhood, comes to mind. I also believe that some mommy bloggers veer into exploitative tendencies by focusing more on the cuteness of their kid than on the conversation they claim to be invested in.
However, I personally make a conscience effort to keep my daughter’s involvement in my career in perspective. I try to make sure that I shield her when necessary. And I try to contribute more to the parenting blogosphere than just cute stories about my kid. This is how I work to avoid earning those comparisons to Tori Spelling.
And I guess there’s one more way that I’m nothing like these celebrities. The pay scale is drastically different. So ya know, there’s that.