By now, almost everyone has heard of the adorable McClure twins, the identical twin sisters who captured our hearts about three months ago in a viral video. The adorable girls are in matching outfits down to their Banku knot hairstyles as they react to the shocking revelation that while they were born on the same day, one is, naturally, older than the other.
Fast forward to TV appearances, endorsement deals, and hundreds of thousands subscribers and followers later – the McClure twins are what social media dreams are made of.
The McClure twins, whose public accounts are run exclusively by their parents, are a part of a growing new trend of parents positioning their children for social viewing and/or promotion. Prior to social media, parents who wanted to promote their child’s likeness had to work with modeling agencies to negotiate and ultimately book print or TV opportunities. Naturally, this process limits the pool of available children, especially children of color, who are willing to endure this lengthy and expensive process.
YouTube was among the first platforms to really challenge the conventional path to stardom. Now anyone around the world could create a channel and audience. Yet, YouTube does have its limitations. Crafting a YouTube video worth public consumption takes time. From ideation and execution of filming to edits, the process could take days or even weeks. Also, the path to going viral is much harder on a platform like YouTube because it is clustered with movies, music videos, educational tools, and thousands of channels on topics from children’s games to cooking, to DIY projects. While opportunities widened under YouTube, there were still barriers that kept more novice parents from utilizing the tool for social promotion.
This all changed when Instagram was created in the fall of 2010. Instagram’s simple interface, few restrictions, and emphasis on still shots made it the perfect platform for self-promotion. Now those same novice social media users who would not have thought of creating a YouTube channel, or attending a casting call, jumped at the opportunity to join Instagram.
Turn to Instagram now, and there thousands, if not millions, of pages dedicated to promoting aspiring child models, actors, athletes, etc. All are managed by their parents, who carefully craft pictures and portraits, with just the right amount of candid shots to tell a story of a happy and thriving child. The desire to become Instafamous reaches all the way to newborn babies.
The rise of the momager (and dadager) is real.
Yet, much like every other social media platform, Instagram doesn’t get the benefit of escaping the ills of mainstream culture. Facebook is currently combating fake news, Twitter has bullies, Snapchat increases risky behavior, and Instagram perpetuates dominant mainstream standards of beauty and reinforces narrowly defined cultural norms.
As cute as the McClure twins are, they benefit from colorism and natural hair bias. Scroll a few popular children’s hashtags on Instagram, and themes quickly start to emerge about the ‘type’ of black kids that receive the most likes. They are often light to medium brown skin with 3C or 4A curly hair patterns. In fact, there are entire Instagram pages and hashtags dedicated to biracial kids, often with one of the races being black. Searches for the top Insta-kids often yield black kids that fit the aforementioned depictions.
The selective appropriation of what is desirable within and outside the Instagram community can have a major impact on the actual kids in the pictures and the parents who manage their pages and lives off of social media. Aside from offering flawed perceptions of reality, kids are starting to connect self-worth with their social media likeness. The more likes they receive, the more favorable they view themselves and their abilities. Parents who create social media accounts for their babies and young kids could, if not communicated, be speeding up the process of connecting likes with self-esteem and monetary value. Parents must be able to separate, and at appropriate ages, explain to their children the many layers of social media from casual user to brand influencer and everything in between.
Children are not the only ones affected by all the likes and double taps. Increasingly parents are feeling more conscious and subconscious pressure to present themselves in ‘picture perfect’ fashion. New moms are especially prone to social media anxiety. It’s not hard to see why. Instagram generally only presents the best of a moment, event, person, or family. Blowout diapers, tantrums in grocery stores, and working 12-hour shifts are typically not Instagram’s top trending photos. Yet, that is the reality many parents face on a daily basis.
For black parents, especially those of the woke variety, there may actually be even more pressure to prove your “Black is Beautiful.” The desire to provide adequate social media representation must be balanced with proper expectations of your audience or followers’ behaviors. Even casual social media users must navigate in a world where the Joneses are not a neighborhood or local community, but an entire global network – virtually connected through statuses, pictures, and 140 characters.
There is nothing wrong with social promotion, social media entrepreneurship, or even positioning your children or yourself to earn money for their likeness. America perfected capitalism for a reason. However, for every #melaninkids post or picture you see, double tap, or scroll past, there are real and implied implications and assumptions being made about the content and yourself.
Victoria Graham is a Houston-based urban education advocate by day, and Blackish Mom by night. When she is not empowering families to become advocates for their students’ academic success, she is writing at The Blackish Mom blog, providing an authentic voice for Black millennial moms. Join the conversation on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.