Moms on Instagram: How Photo Sharing Made Me See My Mom Through a Whole New Filter
Editor’s note: Because one day just isn’t enough, Bustle will be posting essays every day this week about our mothers. Hey, it’s the least we can do. Happy Mother’s Week!
My mom has 925 Instagram followers. Now, in the grand spectrum of Instagram feeds — one that includes James Franco and Korean pop stars — 925 is not a huge amount. But I think we can all agree that for your average mom (one who I might add is not a professional photographer), that’s an impressive haul. Of the people that I personally know, she is the most popular Instagrammer in my feed.
Busy with her United Nations of friends, my mom doesn’t have that much Insta-time for me anymore. (Considering most of my subjects are punny church signs or American Beauty-styled plastic bags, that's probably to her benefit.)
But first things first. Here's what I'm not going to talk about:
- How my mom got to that number (I'm saving this story for a This American Life investigative report)
- How cool my mom is ("cool moms" are of course overrated, as Mean Girls has taught us)
- What a genius photographer my mom is (she's very good, but she's no Ansel Adams. Sorry mom.)
- Baby boomer victory in a Millennial-dominated medium
Nor is this about how Instagram has brought us closer as mother and son. My mom and I don’t comment on each other’s photos that much, and we’re both critical enough that blanket likes are off the table.
But here's what Instagram has done: It's helped me see my mom as ... well, someone other than my mom.
Some of my earliest memories are of my dad becoming so animated watching the Boston Celtics that my mom would jokingly threaten divorce. In her eyes, he was too focused, too invested in a relationship that amounted to unrequited love. My mom couldn't understand why a grown man would devote so much of his time and attention to green-uniformed giants running back and forth across an RCA set.
Fast forward 20 years to the present day. Every night at 11:30pm, after my dad has fallen asleep, my mom launches Instagram from her iPhone 4 (it’s a badge of honor for her that she hasn't yet upgraded) and begins her own involved routine of posting, liking, and commenting on the photos of the many Instagrammers in her friend circle.
Unlike my dad’s relationship with Larry Bird, what she’s found on Instagram is a two-way street of support.
Since well before I came along, Leslie has been a creative force. She was a studio art major in college, cut her interior design teeth at John Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia, and served as the head of our town’s “Art Goes to School” program. In what I believe to be her greatest artistic achievement, she designed and painted my Halloween '94 costume: a Ken Griffey Jr. baseball card. (I wish I had a picture.)
But each of those efforts was so localized that I think they felt more to her like itches being scratched. Now, connected on Instagram to hundreds of people just like her around the world, she's got an international canvas on which to paint. In the three years since my mom joined Instagram, she's built friendships with IGers in "every continent except Antarctica," she tells me. And she nurtures those friendships daily.
None of Leslie's friends know her as my mom, or even as a substitute teacher and interior designer. To them, she's simply the American photographer with the expansive emoji vocabulary. The one with whom they share running, (very specific) jokes. They wish each other happy birthday, and bon weekend (le ugh). My mom, already a died-in-the-wool Anglophile, has picked up more British expressions than could ever be considered appropriate.
The Instagrammers she's connected to are young, old, and diverse in every way, but it's the quality of their photos — and their subsequent comment threads — that make them all friends.
Growing up, you make certain assumptions about your parents. That they’ve never killed anyone (a generally safe bet), and that their sole purpose on this earth is wrapped up entirely in you and your happiness (hopefully not). One day, you realize: Oh shit, they're people too.
Busy with her United Nations of friends, my mom doesn’t have that much Insta-time for me anymore. (Considering most of my subjects are punny church signs or American Beauty-styled plastic bags, that's probably to her benefit.) But whatever mild envy I feel is blanketed entirely by pride.
The time comes for every kid, I think, where you begin to think of your parents less as monolithic authority figures and more as wise friends. That's bound to happen with or without the nudging of a digital photo sharing service, but Instagram has thrown that transition into sharp (Lux'ed) relief. @LeslieFog and @HenningFog share the same last name and genetic code, but online, we're just two independent people trying to share our particular view of the world.
Yes, my mom is an internationally active IGer. And a really, really great one, I might add.