Monday, October 08, 2012


One of my favorite bloggers has returned for a moment, to express her dislike of the phenomenon of women posting a photo of their kid - not of themselves - on their Facebook profiles. I'll have a post about a Facebook grievance of my own soon, maybe, but today and tomorrow are oral diagnostics, which means full days of teaching/office hours, so profundity here will be lacking. I'll just say that a) I hope a relational identity based around a fluffy pet and/or a Honda Civic wheel isn't anti-feminist, b) my own problem with a kid-as-photo is more that maybe the kid doesn't want his photo out there, but at the same time, this is different from holding forth about your C-student son in the Atlantic or whatever, and c) I will not make sense until I've visited a certain establishment named Bagel Bob's.

But I'm not sure I'm totally with Amber on this. Yes, people with kids have hats other than "mom," but sometimes that is the career, for the time being, at least, and while stay-at-home dads exist, this remains the exception. And the parent - male or female - of a young child may not have time for much in the way of hobbies, movie-going. Many of the old conversation topics may fall flat. I mean, it's true that babies and baby-stuff are rarely fascinating to non-parents, yet apparently endlessly so to people with young children and to some with older/grown ones, which is why friendships, I've heard, tend to drift and reshuffle a bit once people have kids.

And yet. Women, relational identity, I do hear this. There's the competing pressure to be the wife of, the mother of, and to be one's own damn self. Different audiences make different requests. My bias is towards own-damn-self, but not if this is embraced out of (perceived) intimidation.


Flavia said...

I'm with Amber on this one, though I think such reactions are necessarily idiosyncratic (based on both the reactor and the reactee, and perhaps the nature of the photo itself--e.g., I don't mind a mom + baby photo at all, but I do mind the just-baby photo). So I'd be hesitant make a general rule about what is/isn't acceptable.

Speaking for myself, I don't generally mind other non-identifiable profile photos (of pets, pieces of furniture, goofy celebrities), since those don't read to me as asserting functional equivalence (I AM my child) or implicitly bragging about one's life or life choices. But I have to say that I do dislike it when people make a lovey-dovey couple photo their profile picture (unless it's temporarily, for an anniversary celebration, or someone's birthday, or something), or when they have their own huge face as both their cover image and their profile picture.

On the other hand, I'm not bothered at all when people have cover images that reflect, say, some enviable vacation they took to an interesting or exotic locale. So my sense of what amounts to "bragging," or of what it's inappropriate to derive one's identity from is, as I say, pretty idiosyncratic.

Flavia said...

Okay, you know what? I just looked through my Fb friends' photos, and the few who have child-only photos (seems there are many fewer now than there once were) don't bother me at all. Maybe because I like those particular people AND their posts are not monomaniacally focused on their children.

So new rule: people who piss me off for other reasons have photos I find obnoxious. People who don't can have whatever photos they please.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Oh, I definitely agree that these reactions are idiosyncratic (as I'll discuss more in my post about my own idiosyncratic grievance). So much depends on a) if you have a kid, b) if you don't but want one, c) if you don't have or want kids, d) how you felt about this person a decade before she reproduced, etc. (Which I now see you've noted!)

Just scanned my own list and saw no such photos. Some baby-and-self, some self-as-baby. No just-own-baby.

But I guess I can see how the baby-instead-of-self photo could be off-putting in a more general sense - it's like, my life is over, the next generation has begun. This is a feminist complaint, insofar as it involves mothers but not fathers doing this. But it's also kind of a mortality complaint - is one no longer alive once one has had a kid?

But overall, I guess Facebook can irritate in two ways - it can highlight neuroses, and it can rub people/behaviors you never much liked in your, well, face. What fascinates me is when the two somehow merge, which is making me think I'd better get on that post...

Jeff said...

My anecdotal observation is that just as many men as women have a profile pic of their child instead of themselves.

But that would hardly inspire feminism threads on blogs.

Kayla said...

An acquaintance of mine who dropped out of college to have an illegitimate child ("Bobby") had a profile that read:

Taking care of Bobby



Favorite quotations:

Bobby: "Mama!"

She had purged everything non-motherhood-related from her profile.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


File this under things with different significance when done by men as vs. women. (Also, your impression may not tell us who does what most often. What if, say, most of your Facebook friends are men?) When men refer to a child, or a wife/girlfriend, they're revealing themselves to be upstanding citizens. When women do so, this is read as an announcement that they've resigned from professional life.


Amazing! I've found things kind of like that when for whatever reason in the friends-of-friends-of-friends procrastination mode. Too few of my Facebook friends (and none of my close real-life friends) have kids for me to have witnessed this more often. But let me repeat: amazing. I'm curious, though, what it was that she replaced - career? hobbies? partying?

PG said...

I don't mind a mom + baby photo at all, but I do mind the just-baby photo

This. Also, for the last couple of days I've been having to stop myself from posting the McSweeney's Anne Geddes essays to friends who have put up photos (including as mom's profile pic) of their new baby dressed as a ladybug and put into a kind of wicker nest; with just a pink bow in a cloud of pink god-knows-what in a wicker basket; etc. I think what makes it particularly hard to resist is that the dad is so much the kind of person who would have laughed at the essays if I'd posted them 5 years ago on someone else's FB, but now I'm not sure he wouldn't be annoyed/ offended. Sigh.

Moebius Stripper said...

Phoebe, did you ever have the pleasure of reading the baby blogs that were an unfortunate trend back in the early years of blogging - 12-14 years ago or thereabouts? (Maybe they're still around; I can't bring myself to check.) I'm talking about the first-person accounts of baby-/toddlerhoood, with the parent (usually the mother, but I do recall at least one dad who jumped on the bandwagon) literally speaking for the kid. As in, "Potty-training is going well: I made three pees and a poo in the potty yesterday and today mummy let me wear my big-boy pants to the park! But then I had an accident on the swing: P-U! Maybe next time!" In other words, wanton disregard not only for the kid's privacy, but also for his or her very *agency*. And I think that the baby blogs, and to a lesser extent the baby-only Facebook profile pictures, are a natural consequence of parents (mothers) turning their focus 100% toward their kids: if there's only one thing in your life, you'd better have 100% control over it, and it's negligent parenting to let "its" personality get in the way of your plans for it.

(As an aside, I did wonder about the narrators of those blogs. All toddlers I know who's reached potty-training age can talk, often in sentences, and what comes out of their mouths is invariably both cuter and more interesting than what these parents put into their kids'.)

caryatis said...

Phoebe, if only I had preserved a record of her pre-Bobby Facebook profile. I didn't know her well, but I remember she was interested in alternative medicine and thought you could cure cancer through eating more fruit or something along those lines. Now she's going to be a doctor!

Amber said...

Yes, people with kids have hats other than "mom," but sometimes that is the career, for the time being, at least

I find it sad when someone identifies completely, and to the exclusion of all other interests, with their career, no matter what it is. If every single post from one of my friends was about his all-consuming career as an attorney, with no mention of significant others, culture, sports, or the day-to-day, it would be equally off-putting.

It's not love of children I object to, it's self annihilation/abnegation so profound that it overtakes even something that should be the last refuge of one's former networks, interests, and connections, i.e. a Facebook profile. And contrary to others' experience, I find the baby-pic-as-profile-photo far more common with women (especially with women I know from high school, which was in Texas, so... sampling, y'all).

The people in my comments section who are flogging this as a good thing---as testament to the fact that you should be honored to serve your child in a manner that supersedes any obligation to maintain an identity independent of them---make me want to barf. Also, what do they expect to do when their kids grow up? You just spent the last two decades ostentatiously refusing to be a well-rounded person. Have fun in the empty nest.

Miss Self-Important said...

I haven't had to apply to college for 10 years and I still have to pretend that I am "well-rounded" for public approval? Blech.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


If she got it together to go to med school, her whole life isn't her kid, presumably? Or is this some kind of "doctor"?

PG, Moebius, Amber,

Your comments all lead me to the same general conclusions about this phenomenon, which are that a) if you haven't seen it yourself, in your news feed, it's hard to tap into exactly why it's unnerving, and b) my own list is even less representative of my age group than I'd have imagined (few marriages, fewer kids, very few kids out-of-wedlock). So I just can't work up any visceral reaction to the occasional baby-stuff in my news feed.


I agree that anyone totally wrapped up in one thing and holding forth is dull, but my impression from your post (and your comment?) is that you find all-baby-all-the-time worse than the career equivalent. Which does seem fair, btw.

"Also, what do they expect to do when their kids grow up?"

This gets back to what I responded to PG at your blog, but basically, all relational identity is precarious. Any all-eggs-in-one-basket identity is. But I think Facebook choices and life choices, as much as they overlap, aren't identical. The women screwed over once their time as full-time mom is done might be the ones with this approach to social media, but often enough (and I admit I have less anecdotal evidence!) the all-baby approach is something someone will do if the baby is the highlight of their current life, whether or not they are in fact employed outside the home.

Which gets to another question - are we under a moral obligation to use Facebook thoroughly, to represent our full selves? Or, conversely, is it fair to judge people on the basis of omission? (Putting wild party pics means wild partying - but no party pics doesn't mean no partying.)


Interesting point.

Miss Self-Important said...

One more counter-suggestion: do you all also find it weird or unnerving when someone runs an entire blog dedicated to his one consuming interest (be that politics, cooking, law, shoes, justin bieber, WoW, whatever)? I assume that's a pretty acceptable undertaking, and well-done topical blogs can generate huge audiences w/o most people asking, "Why are you such a loser that you spend all your time on this lame thing? Are you not well-rounded?" Needless to say, running a topical blog is WAY more time-consuming than posting photos of your kid to Facebook. In fact, concentrated topical blogs are usually more successful than the fluttery blogs of people who write about whatever has their attention at the moment because unless those people are celebrities, no one really cares about all the random stuff they're into. So not all monomaniacal internet identities are a problem, are they? Only the relational ones? But is it really a lot more commendable or human to see oneself primarily in light of patent law than in light of one's family?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

PG wrote, Blogger ate:


Having had both a personal "everything that interests me" blog and a law-focused group blog, I don't think the latter is *meant* to be very self-representative. The law blog is a semi-professional face; I've seen other people cite posts from it in law review articles. Now that I've stopped blogging, I do the same thing on Twitter: there's a personal account and a more professional one oriented toward other people in my field of interest.

But I've never thought of doing that kind of double account with Facebook because I don't think it makes sense. FB isn't really set up as a professional networking or information/opinion-spreading thing. (LinkedIn is the place for that, and I only have one LinkedIn account. There's some overlap between FB friends and LinkedIn connections, but I generally refuse a LinkedIn invite from someone who's not at all in my professional field, and refuse FB invites from people who are purely professional connections.)

Several states are passing laws against employers' and schools' demanding that you turn over your social media passwords -- with the headlines about Facebook, not LinkedIn or blogs -- because people think Facebook shouldn't have to be public-facing. While of course some people and entities have a professional presence on Facebook, it's not really what the base of the format is about.

Also, blogs are obviously pretty different from Facebook in their place in our social lives. I never expected my family or offline friends to read my blogs (one friend actively forbade his family from commenting on his), whereas my family and friends are very active with "likes" and comments on my FB profile, as am I on theirs. FB is treated as a kind of extension/ documentation of offline life, hence all the tools for inviting people to events, tagging them in photos, etc. The FB network in itself is oriented toward showing multiple parts of your life: here's family, there's high school friends, college friends, grad school friends, work friends, etc. I love that FB has brought back the word "acquaintance" into normal people's vocabularies (despite the unfortunate default of referring to everyone on FB as a "friend"). That's not really how blogs or even Twitter is set up; they're more like broadcasting media, designed for self-expression to some public.

So to wind up this very long comment, I don't think Facebook and blogs are comparable in whether one would expect to see multiple facets of a person on them.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


My latest post addresses this. Basically, no, Facebook isn't a blog, but that doesn't mean people who don't use Facebook to its full potential are boring/one-dimensional in real life, or even online but not on Facebook.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Amber wrote, Blogger ate:

There's a reason one of the taglines for my blog is "a caricature of Goffmanian anxiety." Identity is performative. If someone chooses to only put baby photos (or dog photos, or droning analyses of Supreme Court cases) on a site which purports to be a venue for performance of one's total identity, then that person is making a statement about the kind of identity they wish to convey to their Facebook friends. In the realm of Facebook, one can only interact with what someone else puts out there to interact with. I can only judge the performance I see. If you're saying with your every action that you are interested in nothing but babies---that your personal identity revolves around being a parent---then I will assume that identity reflects what you want me to think. (Apparently you want me to think that you are boring.)

It's not deformity in the sense of being the result of preexisting character; the conveyance of one sole identity, to the exclusion of and abandonment of all else, is itself the process by which your previous identity is deformed. I assume this deformation is a deliberate choice, or at least the product of unconscious choices driven by your values.

PG wrote, Blogger ate:

On the new thread, but responding to a comment from old thread:

Basically, no, Facebook isn't a blog, but that doesn't mean people who don't use Facebook to its full potential are boring/one-dimensional in real life, or even online but not on Facebook.

Sure, I'm just puzzled as to why someone would use FB to depict only a single dimension of herself when the medium itself encourages handing over lots of info. The people who are troubled by that usually don't join in the first place.

I can hypothesize a person who was basically forced onto FB by family and friends demanding that she join so she could post baby pictures (or wedding/ travel/ etc. pictures), but that wouldn't address Amber's dislike of a person who previously was reasonably multi-dimensional on FB and then post-procreation began posting about only one dimension.

i" wrote, Blogger ate:

I have a bit of a split reaction to this phenomenon. Theoretically, I find it awful -- I swore I would never do it before I had a kid, and in fact quit facebook soon after getting married and did not post any pictures of *that* online either. Don't know why, the obviousness of that narrative -- even if it's a narrative I happen to have followed to the letter in the past few years -- grates on me.

In practice, the people I know who have replaced their profile pics with those of their kids (and mind, this is a few years back) are either men, or women whom I know to be tough as balls, so I don't worry so much. I mean, if Hillary Clinton had a picture of Chelsea up on her FB profile for a while, I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Plus the babies are cute.

Now that I'm actually a parent, I have a closed Picasa site I update with pictures of the kid. I send the link out to any friends who ask for pictures, but I do not email people when it is updated. They can check if they're interested. I would never put the baby pic as my profile pic. But it's still so hard to live up to my pre-baby, STFUparents-reading standards. For example: the hubby is totally into privacy, even more so than I am, and so refuses to allow me to put any videos of our kid on YouTube, despite my newfound conviction that the baby's ridiculous adorableness will go viral.

(It took about half a year, but whatever those hormones are that make mothers think their babies are God's gift to humankind have finally hit me. I'm starting to think that whole Jesus in a Manger story is a myth for the ultimate maternal fantasy: finally the world bows down and recognizes your kid as the most amazing thing that has ever happened on the planet.)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Not sure why Blogger is doing this, but thanks for reposting.

Agreed that the assumptions are a problem whether or not the person assuming comes at this from a feminist perspective. My only caveat would be that the profile photo is maybe a bit its own thing. Maybe. Even if you're not fully obedient of Mark Zuckerberg, the obvious choice there is a photo of yourself. But I'm not totally convinced by my own counterargument, in part because I've put silly photos as my own profile picture...

Which brings me to one part of my response to Amber and PG - people use the site in different ways, and while this tells you something about a person, it's not everything. Moreover, not everyone is serious with their postings. There's a great deal of humor, irony, etc. It's not always literal. If I put a picture of my dog and only my dog as my profile picture, I'd like to think people would not assume that I'd become a canine, or abandoned all pursuits other than dog-rearing. Which leads me to...


I agree that all you can go on is what people present. (It's kind of like Sartre, existentialism, we are the sum of our actions, no?) But why are we starting and ending with Facebook? These choices say something, but not everything.


I don't think this is as much of a stretch as all that: people use Facebook for a wide range of reasons, and the reason may change over time. Depending one's life stage, it can be bare-bones who-I-am-professionally, demographically, or a blog-like list of links and commentary, or party photos, etc. What I use it for now isn't the same as what I used it for when I was 20 and it was new. The site used to have different functions, wasn't about article recommendations, etc.

Someone (Amber's beef) who used to use Facebook for this and that and it's now all-baby all-the-time may well simply have lost interest in putting the rest on Facebook, and may have become someone who uses Facebook just for family updates, which doesn't necessarily mean someone who has no life beyond said infant.

My response to you and to Amber on this really still is that I don't think all of us have consented to this Facebook-as-mirror scenario. It reflects something, but not all that much. I can think of too many real-life Facebook-person and real-life person discrepancies for that to make sense to me anecdotally.


As long as a baby/child isn't being discussed publicly as in a "Slate" article about toilet-training, pre-algebra failings, etc., I don't see the harm. And interesting interpretation of Christianity!