Jo Piazza’s most recent novel Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win garnered spots on countless must-read lists and even caught Hollywood’s attention. Yet off the page, the author found herself exasperated and exhausted as a mom to two kids under three, looking for any semblance of calm. And so began her fascination with mom influencers, the glossy bloggers and Instagram stars who exude a pristine parenting foreign to most with sticky-fingered toddlers.
Glamour talked to Piazza about her new podcast Under the Influence, which explores the origins of the mom influencer industry and the big money behind it—as well as her own (unsuccessful) attempt to join their perfectly poised ranks.
Glamour: How did you first get sucked into the world of mom influencers on Instagram?
Jo Piazza: Around the time I had my second baby [in 2019], my husband had just started a new job and was up in New York for the entire week, so I had both kids and never slept. I tried to do something productive, like rewatch the first season of “The West Wing,” but I couldn’t even do that. I could, with one hand while the baby was asleep on my nipple, scroll through Instagram. I was getting served more and more mom influencers’ posts, and I just scrolled their lives. I got pretty addicted to it. I was like, “I want to know everything about this world. I want to know who these women are. I want to know if any of this is real.”
Why do you think so many people view this industry or these women as frivolous?
The internet loves to take down women, and we hold moms to a ridiculous standard. We have this myth about motherhood that mothers should be doing all of this out of the goodness of their own hearts. They should not be making money off any of this and they’re sullying the purity of motherhood by broadcasting it. It’s those myths of motherhood that I think make it very easy to tear these women down. And once I started thinking about [the criticisms] that way, I was like, “I won’t participate in this.”
How do the influencers you talked to handle consent, since their children are often too young to really understand or agree to having their lives documented online?
We cover that topic in episode six. Consent. Legal issues around what it means for children to work and if there are laws protecting them; for instance, there are laws in France that limit what parents can post of their children. And we interview dozens of mothers about how they set boundaries. There are laws protecting child actors, that parents have to create trust funds for the money they make. But there’s nothing protecting the children of influencers, despite those children, in many cases, acting as performers.
The parents that I talk to—and I don’t think that I was being bullshitted—were thoughtful about this. Whether or not that thoughtfulness is enough when it comes to protecting children and what we’re doing online, who knows? Because this is still the Wild West.
How diverse is the mom influencer phenomenon?
There’s a fucking lot of white mom influencers on Instagram, but if you say that there are no mom influencers of color, you’re not looking. They’re there and they are successful. I did a great interview with Tina Meeks [@herlifesparkles] yesterday. She quit her job as an insurance adjuster making $50,000, and made $300,000 as a mom influencer last year. And Bethanie Garcia [@thegarciadiaries] was a teen mom who got off food stamps and supports her entire family of seven as a mom influencer.
That said, there has long been a pay gap between what a lot of those influencers make and what their white counterparts make. In episode seven, we’re really diving deep into that pay gap and why that happened, what it means, and how influencers’ being really transparent about what they’re paid can force brands to pay influencers of color the same as they have been paying white influencers. Tina told me she got paid $850 for a campaign that a white woman was getting paid $2,000 for. [That disparity] wasn’t based on follower numbers, but on what those companies thought was more appealing.
Last month there was a call to boycott the Taking Cara Babies account after followers learned creator Cara Dumaplin donated to the Trump campaign. What did your reporting uncover about how the moms’ political views or religious identities shape their brands?
The majority of mom influencers try very hard to be politically neutral in their posts. If they are religious, it’s often in their profile bio, but there’s not a lot of Jesus-speak in their actual posts. They’re neutral in the way that a national magazine is—or was until more recently. The mom influencers are trying not to offend anyone because they’re a business. While we think we’re seeing everything in someone’s life, we’re not. There is a lot that these people keep private.
Who are your favorite mom influencers to follow and what products have such accounts gotten you to buy?
I followed Naomi Davis for a long time, and Courtney Adamo, who is on the podcast. And Eva Amurri, who is Susan Sarandon’s daughter. Product-wise: I painted my whole house Simply White by Benjamin Moore. I bought a ton of Everyday Oil. I bought a rug from Ruggable. I got Comotomo products. I bought all-natural rubber pacifiers that promise that your kid will never get cancer and metal feeding bowls that look like dog bowls because, again, the mom influencers were telling me that plastic was bad for my kid. I got, like, three different kinds of baby slings. I bought the Solly baby wrap. These things make motherhood look beautiful, right? And I’m like, “I just want to look beautiful again.”
I wouldn’t remember a lot of it either. A package would arrive and I’d be like, “I didn’t order this. Someone is sending things.” Most moms will understand this: Being awake in the middle of the night with a screaming baby is kind of like being blackout drunk.
You’ve published multiple best-selling books, your latest novel is coming out this fall, and you’re the creator of another successful podcast, Committed. Many find your résumé totally envy-inducing, yet you mention in Under the Influence that mom-influencing originally appealed to you as a potential career. Why?
I’m very cognizant of the privilege that I occupy as an author and a content creator, but I still see a precariousness in this career path. I have to hustle so hard to be able to maintain what I’m doing right now. That’s terrifying to me as someone who very much does, in conjunction with my husband, support my family financially. When I realized how much money was involved in the mom-influencer industry, I was like, “Why am I not trying this?” I hired a professional photographer to shoot a month of content in a single day. My kids didn’t behave. My husband didn’t behave. No one wanted to do this. And frankly, by the time I switched outfits three times in front of everyone in my house, I was just like, “I’m tired.” There’s a talent there that I don’t have.
Has your reporting of this world inspired any future fiction projects?
I’ll put this out into the world: I have thought about a half-hour comedy where a perfectly okay mediocre mother like me loses her job and needs to support her family, so she tries to create a fake life on Instagram. Somehow it blows up, and she becomes this incredible mom influencer by completely faking it. Everyone in her real life knows she’s a farce and it’s ridiculous, but online she’s this picture-perfect mother. She has to figure out how to keep that going. Because it’s a sitcom, it will take us into this mom-influencer world with all of the craziness, some of it good, some of it bad, and really play with these ideas of motherhood that are hilarious—and also dark as fuck.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.