Growing up, it was all about fiction for me. I loved vicariously visiting new places and gaining insight into how others live and might think. These days, I don’t have time for novels, but I do have Vanity Fair profiles.
VF’s recent profile of Instagram influencer Courtney Adamo and her murfer (a.k.a. surfer mom) friends in Byron Bay, Australia, caught my attention. At first, I marveled at how different Adamo’s life is from my own.
After all, Adamo’s Instagram feed looks like a photo shoot for Ethan Allen’s beach houses, populated by J. Crew and Ralph Lauren models. You know, everything is tasteful and curated, and everyone is bronzed, but ever so slightly mussed. Adamo’s vibe is very much Park Slope visits the shore. And, well, I’m a conservative who lives in North America’s most famous swamp.
But the more I read this meticulously detailed piece about Adamo, the more I thought about her quarter-million Instagram followers and why they follow her. VF chalks up Adamo’s appeal to the long-time search for Utopia:
Some people follow the dream to distant lands, secure compounds, or intentional communities. Others just follow people on social media and live vicariously through them. Byron Bay, which has long been an actual hippie-surfer-wellness alterna-lifestyle destination, has lately emerged as a kind of virtual utopia as well — thanks, in part, to all the ethical, organic, sustainable, conscious fashion labels to come out of there in recent years. Also, Chris Hemsworth lives there. Also, influencers.
The American-born Adamo is clearly one of those highly successful influencers. It’s why the ever-chic Vanity Fair wanted to profile her. But amidst an absurd amount of linen and earth tones, what are viewers actually seeing?
Vanity Fair notes that Adamo’s living a “slower,” hippie lifestyle, and it’s true. The pace of her life sounds much more manageable than it would be in New York City. Who are the 259,000 followers asking how she keeps her house sparkling and what products she uses in her hair, though?
More importantly, to tease out Vanity Fair’s central question and then my own: Are the murfers of Byron Bay really “living the dream,” and is the dream they’re portraying really a liberal one? Let’s take those subjects in turn, second question first.
The Counterculture Choice to Have Children
What’s perhaps most countercultural about Adamo, an heiress who can afford to live as she pleases, is how much her life reflects traditionally conservative ideals about family life. The most conspicuous thing about Adamo’s curated images is her children, as in the five children Adamo and her mister started having when she was a ripe old 23. Vanity Fair refers to the children as “modern-day Von Trapps.” But let’s be honest, in the 21st century, nearly all von Trapp-size families in the West are more religious and socially conservative than average.
As for a point of reference of how much the world’s changed, “The Sound of Music” was released in 1965. According to the World Bank, the number of children American women were having in 1965 was already declining, from an average of 3.65 in 1960 to 2.91 in 1965.
If we look ahead to 1976, a mere 11 years later, 40 percent of American women ages 40-44 had four or more children, according to Pew Research, whereas only 15 percent of that age cohort had four or more children in 2016. Dicing the data to include only women, like Adamo, with five or more children would render the number even smaller.
This is all to say, Adamo’s not living a statistically typical life, especially for someone who does not appear overtly religious. However, she’s not the only one; the other members of Adamo’s posse also have multiple children, and they’ve built their lives to accommodate their broods.
The Art of Work-Life Balance
Rather than commuting long distances to offices to work long hours away from their children, these women appear to be living with a semblance of work-life balance. They’ve found ways to work from home — even with family — by monetizing artsy passion projects such as Instagramming and modeling clothes they adore (Adamo) or making handmade soap (one of her friends). It’s the “Etsy Earner” dream realized.
The murfers’ lifestyle is family friendly, enabling mothers with young children to work flexible hours. There needn’t be anything partisan about this instinct. In fact, it looks fairly universal when you consider that only 17 percent of married mothers with children age 3 or younger prefer to work full time. Yet the family policies proposed by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and other Democrats running for president clearly stem from the erroneous assumption that, given a choice, new mothers would prefer to stay in the workforce full time and continuously.
If we assume Vanity Fair’s readers primarily live on the coasts, skew liberal, and have relatively small families (primarily by choice as opposed to fertility challenges), why are these same people so fascinated by the murfers? It’s an interesting contrast.
A Secret Formula for True Happiness
As for Vanity Fair’s question about whether Adamo’s Instagram account amounts to “fakebooking” or reflects her having found the secret formula for true happiness, that seems like a more complicated question. If Adamo is blissfully happy, then I’d posit it has something to do with the fundamentally traditional trappings of her life that exist even in the absence of traditional religion.
Consider that beyond Adamo marrying and remaining married to the father of her children and embracing motherhood, she’s also developed a local, tight-knit community of mothers that gathers regularly. Face-to-face connections are rarer in the era of social media, yet they remain highly important if we want to know and feel known, if we want to have a true support network for when tough things inevitably happen in life. It’s our relationships that are the building blocks of true joy.
If Adamo’s life has some dark clouds, as some hate-clickers seem to hope, that’d be normal. We, the general public, have no right to know everything that goes on in the life of a stranger, even one who puts herself forward as a social media influencer. So, even if Adamo’s not photographing dirty diapers or dishes, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. With a 2-year-old in the house, they likely do — which brings me to my biggest doubt about the whole enterprise.
Give Up the Perfectionist Pressure
If there’s one “secret” mothers with large broods could model that might help all families, it’s this: Stop chasing perfection. Eliminating that perpetual pressure, whether online or offline, could maximize happiness in and of itself.
In that regard, it’s odd that Adamo has become a poster child for living beautifully and even immaculately. Speaking as the mother of four, that’s the most fantastical piece of the whole story. Real life, especially with children, isn’t tidy. (Adamo’s housekeeper deserves a raise.) Yet a more honest portrait of a family home likely doesn’t attract the same level of gawkers and monetization opportunities.
All of that said, loving one’s family radiates its own beauty, and that’s something American society could spend more time praising and supporting. Adamo embodies that in her own way, and experiencing community and familial love is a basic human need. For those who have it, it’s warm and welcoming, and for those who don’t, even the vicarious experience may be appealing. So maybe that’s what explains Adamo’s popularity, and it really has nothing to do with the overabundant linen.