For many “mom lifestyle” influencers, there are content hallmarks that their audiences expect to see: workout clothes, kale smoothies, anti–aging moisturizers, and a cute toddler roaming around the back of the frame. For some mommy bloggers, their child is the centerpiece of a marketing machine; however, for others, their kids are only an add–on to a pre–established aesthetic.
It has been widely discussed how mommy bloggers exploit their children to grow their online presence and cash in on sponsorship checks. But another aspect of this exploitation is how some moms seem more interested in using their babies to cultivate their own brand than to have their child enjoy the limelight as the star of the show. Just like “millennial pink” became the backdrop for an era of social media content, adorable children are now supplemental components of moms’ brands and curated aesthetics.
One TikTok mom, Camille Munday (who was also a player in the Utah Mormon MomTok scandal), uses her one–year–old daughter Lennon as an accessory in her content. Prior to Lennon's birth, much of Munday’s TikTok presence were clips of her hanging out with other Utah MomTokers like Taylor Paul and Miranda McWhorter or videos in which Munday dances while responding to negative comments about being a young stepmom to her husband’s two kids. Now, Munday has Lennon act as her background dancer. In “day of my life” vlogs, Lennon's a recurring guest star in Munday’s daily tasks.
On Instagram, Munday and Paul specifically dress and post their children primarily in neutral tones that perfectly fit their feeds, like furniture or artwork in a home. They’re always happy, smiley, and posing perfectly for photos, likely without the knowledge that their smiles are being monetized and shown to hundreds of thousands of people. Their matching outfits maintain the clean 2020s aesthetic that these moms are aiming for, and by using their kids, they can expand their audience from just lifestyle or fitness bloggers into the mommy blogger space. Through posting their children online, these influencers are diversifying their portfolio and therefore expanding their opportunities for brand deals and their avenues for income.
Mommy influencer and The Bachelor alum Lauren Luyendyk also uses her three children as accessories in her online content. Her children, despite being all under the age of four, have their own, active Instagram accounts. Luyendyk’s oldest, three–year–old Alessi, has 320,000 followers on Instagram, with her parents writing witty captions for her posts in the voice of Alessi. One of Alessi in a dinosaur costume is captioned: “i came. i saur. i conquered.” A picture of her with a huge snow cone reads “cute pic, right? 2 seconds later I dumped it all over the table.” Alessi’s account even includes business partnerships, with one of her posts being sponsored by the brand Plum Print. Commenters follow along with the rouse, with one writing, “This is such a great idea! Thank you Alessi!!” Of course, the money made from these sponsorship deals goes to Luyendyk and her husband Arie, not Alessi; she's just an asset of the Luyendyk influencer brand.
By refusing to make their children the focal point of their content, these mommy influencers can escape some of the harsher critiques that other, more exploitative moms do. If your child is purposefully standing in the corner of your TikToks as opposed to being the star, that makes it more ethical, right? And if Alessi Luyendyk’s account is run by her parents to help boost the overall “family brand,” then it’s all in good fun? The answers to these questions seem to be more complicated than many of these mommy bloggers are prepared to admit.
It’s not a crime to post pictures of your children on Instagram. Part of being a successful influencer is giving followers a peek into one’s lifestyle, and for these influencers, their lifestyles are shaped by their roles as mothers.
That said, it's particularly slimy—to say the least—to use kids in the same way they would use a pet dog or a nicely decorated room in their house, almost as if to say, “Look how cute this coffee table is—buy it!” Is that not the same as saying, “Look how cute my kid is—buy the shirt he’s wearing!” They’re not putting their kids to work, but instead, they are using their daily lives as branded content.
And almost always, these kids are too young to understand what a brand is, much less that they are a part of one. If these mommy bloggers’ kids can’t say “spon–con,” maybe they should focus on the ABCs before being forced to become pint–sized influencers.