If a plate of food is photographed and posted on Instagram and no one “likes” it, does it still exist? Was it good? Does it still matter? Katie Bower has these same pressing questions, except the plate of food is her son.
I wish I did not know about Katie Bower. I could have happily lived out the remainder of my days in delicious ignorance of “Bower Power,” which is Katie Bower’s family brand. However, I do know of such things in this Katie Bower universe and now I am forced to square with the fact that there are thousands, maybe millions, of Katie Bowers spread throughout the world, loosely netted together like a common strain of algae bloom drifting across hemispheres. Like others in the growing fungi of “influencers” and bloggers and YouTube stars (a thing that should not be a thing, but is most definitely a thing), Katie has turned her and her family’s life into a for-profit spectacle brand. She’s made the most of our voyeuristic and materialistically craven culture by cheerfully exploiting, or “sharing” her love for lifestyle decore trends and mom blogging and DIY projects and fashion and home renovation projects and photography and healthy cooking and probably a few more things before I finish writing this sentence. Katie is a devoted wife and super busy mom to five distractingly adorable children who routinely look as if they were photoshopped out of a Pottery Barn Kids catalog. Katie is your regular Jane-next-door who also accepts endorsements and sponsorship opportunities from major corporations. And if Katie were really savvy, she’d skip the meeting with Kroger executives and head straight for Disney, Johnson and Johnson, and Smirnoff.
I am a child-free, fashion unconscious, Pinterest DIY failure, who considers a bowl of ice cream for lunch a respectable food choice because dairy and who would rather move than have to fix or repair anything. Katie Bower and I are worlds apart, but we’re both gripped by the same tech-centric seductions that guide so much of our social libidos these days—likes, hearts, retweets, shares, comments, oh my. I like to think I have a healthy handle on my web habits, but I’m not naïve enough to believe that can’t change at any moment or that the Descartean-esque “I ‘like,’ therefore I am” does not apply to me.
Katie came across my radar this week by way of one of her Instagram posts being retweeted. In her post, Katie lamented that photos of her little guy, Weston, failed to get as many Instagram “likes” as her other children. She chalks it up to Instagram’s wonky algorithm, the new heartbeat of our social media dependent culture. But then she ultimately concedes that the blame falls upon her; it was actually her “insufficiency” that “caused this statistical deficit.” Her kid, her child, her miracle, her gift, her wonderful human whittled down to a (glances at notes) data point?
I admit that I was limbering up my eyeballs as I read her post and composing my own snark-laced comment when I got to Katie’s final thoughts on the matter. She writes: “I wanted to clarify that I revealed this feeling because I know one day he will see the numbers and have to learn that his value is not in online approval. This is a hard lesson for anyone to learn and I’m thankful I’ve learned it.” Oh poodle. Read your own words; I don’t think they mean what you think they mean. And that’s what made me want to track Katie Bower down, drown her electronic devices in the toilet, sever her FiOs connection, and give her a big hug. This isn’t just self-obsession, this is a cry for help. We have failed Katie Bower.
How badly broken is our culture when we reify our intrinsic, priceless, precious self-worth through a social media platform or personal website? How deeply damaged are we as individuals when we’re eager to turn ourselves into currency, dependent upon advertisers, sponsors, and, of course, scores of anonymous “followers” and subscribers. And as I scroll through Katie’s photo gallery of images with her lovely children dressed up for Halloween or holding up sticky, cookie-dough covered fingers to the camera, I feel an even deeper sadness for how motherhood, already a simultaneous soul-crushing and life-fulfilling experience, becomes even more fraught and fractured. Be perfect, but be real, be open, but be mindful of curating your image, be accessible, but be private, be what they need you to be, but be who you are, runs the whiplash monologue threaded through this existence. All of this and math homework, too?
It’s impossible to imagine where serenity fits in this kind of model of mothering, where the immeasurable, the statistically unquantifiable, has its own place and value apart from any external factors.
No one should aspire to be or do this. No one. I don’t know if Katie Bower is a happy person or if she is truly comfortable with her choice to capitalize on her life. I don’t think those are the right questions to ask, though they are the easiest to weigh in on. There have been many opinions (read: Internet judgery) logged in the collection of hours since Katie originally posted her piece to Instagram. I suppose mine is just one more, but I’m not interested in armchair quarterbacking her life. I’m left feeling less critical of Katie and more preoccupied with figuring out how to heal what seems profoundly diseased in our modern existence, with reckoning with this reality we’ve constructed together where we’re ruled by algorithms and reduced to the sum of our stats, with making changes somewhere so that the Katie Bowers and the children they are raising see their value reflected back to them in their lives, not on their screens.