She Was Called the ‘Queen of the Mommy Bloggers.’ But She Was So Much More Than That
Parenting is like planning a drama-free threesome: under the very best of circumstances, even if everything goes exactly according to plan, it’s still a near-impossible task. Throw in additional complications — postpartum depression, divorce, substance abuse — and it’s like a threesome where two of the parties get in a massive argument while the third drunkenly shits on the bed: a catastrophe of epic proportions.
The vulgarity of this comparison is something that Heather Armstrong, the blogger and memoirist who died by suicide on May 9 at the age of 47, would probably have appreciated. Armstrong, who was well-known for blogging under the handle Dooce, was frank, funny, and often extremely profane. It belied her upbringing as a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and also tended to get her into hot water with snarky online commenters, who would frequently use her crass style as ammunition to attack her parenting. She was also not averse to a good poop joke, like when she blogged about reminding her daughter, Marlo, that she had made number 26 on Forbes’ Most Influential Women in Media list in 2009: “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM, KID?” she wrote. “YOU’VE GOT NUMBER TWENTY-SIX WIPING YOUR BUTT.”
One thing Armstrong was not, however, was cutesy, cloying, or sparing about the difficulties of parenting. She paved the way for a type of no-holds-barred candor that has become the currency of social media influencers to this day. And though she was colloquially known as the “Queen of the Mommy Bloggers” — a demeaning sobriquet that stemmed largely from the fact that she was a mom who also blogged — her influence can be felt in virtually every corner of the digital media ecosystem.
Armstrong began blogging as Dooce in 2001, pivoting to writing primarily about her parenting journey when she had her first daughter, Leta, in 2004. She was brutally honest about her struggles with parenting — at one point, she compared breastfeeding to a man “lay[ing] out his naked penis on a chopping block, plac[ing] a manual stapler on the sacred helmut head, and bang[ing] in a couple hundred staples” — but also with alcoholism and suicidality (to the degree that, in 2016, she participated in a clinical trial for depression treatment that involved her being placed in minutes-long comas for a few times per week). Her irreverence and candor made her both hugely popular — at her peak, she earned $40,000 a month on banner ads for her blog alone — and a target for opprobrium, particularly on the website Get Off My Internet (GOMI), a sort of 4chan precursor for female influencers.
Over time, blogging fell out of favor, and so-called “mom blogs” were ghettoized to a dusty corner of internet content, as the issues of women — particularly women who have reproduced — were largely considered marginal. Armstrong’s persona also took a hit when she divorced her husband in 2012, which readers viewed as a personal affront, a precursor to the parasocial relationships that define the influencer/consumer relationship today. Of course, those who felt betrayed by the dissolution of her marriage totally missed the point; Armstrong was never anything but unsparingly honest about her foibles and weaknesses, paving the way for a specific brand of oversharing that characterizes the 1,200-word Instagram captions and Notes app apologies of today.
Struggling with her mental health (“I was a heap of nothingness,” she told Vox in 2019) and the constant onslaught of haters, Armstrong took a brief hiatus from blogging, returning in 2017 to rebrand herself largely as a mental health advocate. For years, she battled demon after demon, documenting her struggles with suicidality and her rigorous treatment in the unflinching 2019 memoir The Valedictorian of Being Dead. The past few years appear to have been difficult for her: she relapsed 18 months ago, according to the AP, and her behavior was viewed by many of her longtime followers as erratic, with many (rightfully) calling her out for a post last year that they viewed as transphobic.
In life, Armstrong was never taken seriously as an author and memoirist, her labors diminished as most efforts of mothers are, simply because she chose herself and her parenthood journey as her primary subject matter. But her impact on the general influencer ecosystem, in all of its brutal, messy, crude, oversharing, glory, cannot be overstated. She was far more than a mommy blogger. She was a mother who blogged, beautifully and compulsively and often painfully, about the overwhelming obstacles of being human.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also reach out to the Crisis Text Line, a free, 24/7 confidential text messaging service that provides support to people in crisis when they text 741741.