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Parenting is easy! Stock photo satire gives hope to new moms
If all you had to go on was stock photography and advertising, then being a parent would seem like the easiest job in the world. Forget the temper tantrums and restless nights you’ve heard about, life after pregnancy can be all smiles, sunshine and those scrumptious salads we all love so much.
If that’s not your experience, then you’re probably just doing it wrong…right? Clearly this isn’t the case, but tired of seeing unrealistic depictions of parenthood dominate the media, mother and teacher Sara Given set up a satirical Tumblr blog to vent her frustrations. We’ve had some fun laughing at the sillier end of stock photography ourselves, and while Given has a knack for finding the funny side, her blog is also part of a fightback against misrepresentation, and an inspiration for struggling parents.
We caught up with Given to learn more about her blog, her upcoming book and a possible future as a baby naming consultant.
How did you first come up with the concept for It’s Like They Know Us?
I was in the Facebook group for The Longest Shortest Time podcast and one of the members posted a ridiculous stock photo of this drop-dead gorgeous, hair-and-make-up-done mom with a breast pump and asked if anyone else had unrealistic advertising imagery to share. I started captioning the photos and adding my own, and they told me to run with it!
Was the blog an instant hit? Or was there a catalyst that sent it viral?
The first few days “It’s Like They Know Us” existed, it gained about 20 followers and I thought it was so cool. Then, after the first week it was up, I came out of work one day and it had gained 5,000! There wasn’t any specific catalyst in the beginning, it just circulated well and was posted on a lot of parenting sites. Once I did The Today Show appearance, it went through the roof.
There is one really old post, the first in the “muted pastel” series, where the dad is saying to his family,” and then I said, ‘Look, if you don’t carry it in a muted pastel, then I’m not interested!” There is also a call-back post later where the same family are looking at the computer and he is exclaiming, “Oh, I guess they DO have it in a muted pastel. Well, that’s embarrassing.”
The first post has something like 110,000 notes on Tumblr and the second isn’t too far behind that. Those have taken on a life of their own. I’m kind of terrified when I check on them, it’s like they belong to the internet now.
A lot of the posts on ILTKU are my very public coping mechanism for things we are struggling with in our house. The “Toddler Tooth Brushing” post was one I wrote immediately after having that experience with my daughter. A lot of the breastfeeding posts and sleep deprivation posts are also coming directly from what I am experiencing at the time.
Were you surprised by the blog’s success? Why do you think it’s so popular?
I was shocked. The internet is a huge place and what are the odds that your thing becomes “a thing?” I think “It’s Like They Know Us” hit at a time where new moms especially are inundated with these images and information online, and we’re all kind of floundering around, trying to grab onto something with which we can identify.
What sort of feedback have you had?
I’ve received a lot of really lovely emails from people saying that ILTKU has helped them laugh at the end of a really bad day. A lot of people say they wish they had thought of it themselves.
How damaging do you think these unrealistic stock photos can be?
On one hand, I understand that photographers and advertisers can’t sell a breast pump with a picture of an exhausted woman hooked up to it worrying about how she will feed her baby. On the other hand, if you are that woman, it can feel like your struggles are solely your own if what you constantly see around you makes it look easy.
Growing up, we all became aware at some point that advertisements depict an idealized life. But, with parenting imagery, a lot of us are looking at it, (or paying attention to it) for the first time. Add doubt and inexperience on top of the sleep deprivation, hormones, and physical recovery and you have a perfect storm. It’s hard not to wonder, “Are other people’s babies sleeping all of the time, never crying, and nursing perfectly? Should that be us? Am I the worst at this?”
Conversely, how important are blogs like yours for raising awareness?
There are a lot of great parenting resources/blogs that aim to be realistic, reassuring, and funny. Scary Mommy, Reasons My Son is Crying and Pregnant Chicken are a few that I personally spend a lot of time on. The message is no different; “this is really hard, and that’s okay.” But having more voices saying it is what matters. I hope that I am reminding people that even the really hard stuff can be funny.
You’ve got a book coming out later this year – what’s going to be in it?
The book has been a lot of fun because it gave me a chance to branch out a little. There are a few of the most popular Tumblr posts included, as well as a ton of new photos/captions. I also had a chance to do a little more writing with satirical “How-To” and “Advice Columns” modeled off of some of the stuff you’d read in an upbeat, chirpy parenting magazine.
Who are your own internet heroes?
I really admire Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party. It is encouraging to see that kind of positivity online, especially for young women. I teach middle and high school, and my students regularly bring up articles they have read there (Facebook / Tumblr / Twitter). Smart Girls shows them how they can fit into the world and make a positive impact, even before graduation.
Aside from the book, have you any other future plans for the project?
I love making up the names for the children’s characters who inhabit “It’s Like They Know Us.” All of them are kind of poking fun at absurd naming trends. Some of the most popular are, “Celery,” “Ottoman,” and “Sternum.” I want to branch out and start acting as a baby naming consultant. I think the world needs more boys named “Bannister.”