Less than a week ago, a blogger named Cristina Toff posted a detailed description of her son’s first-birthday party along with photos. Toff is a good photographer, and it’s clear that she put a lot of effort into staging the pictures of her invitations, decorations, and cake, all of which reinforced the party’s theme — an unexpected pop-culture reference that required a great deal of craftiness and effort. Said theme would have played well on Etsy, Pinterest, or Instagram, but when pictures of the party appeared on Twitter, all hell broke loose. “I want to throat-punch them,” one person wrote.
The theme of the Toffs’ son’s first-birthday party? Wes Anderson’s film Moonrise Kingdom. In the eyes of judgmental strangers on Twitter, the Toffs — and Anderson, for that matter — are a little too hipster, a little too twee. They’re trying too hard. And Twitter is not a place that takes kindly to people who visibly try too hard. Especially mothers.
Toff’s blog, the Home and the Heart, documents her life at home, with aesthetically pleasing photos of the baby alongside descriptions of what he’s eating and how he’s feeling. Everything looks calm and well-organized in the Toff home. In the tradition of many “mommy bloggers” before her, Toff is putting in a lot of effort. She’s applying herself, in what are likely very limited spare moments: New mothers are generally pressed for time.
Toff didn’t tell me how many people read her blog, but says she has a “devoted following,” especially on Instagram, where she has more than 2,000 followers. That’s not a huge number, but it’s a lot for a woman taking photos of her kid, and her posts tend to get comments and generate discussions. The blog is, she says, “her safe space” — she knows it’s public, but in practice, only a few thousand people are looking or even know her work exists.
So, some growing pains were probably to be expected, and they came shortly after she posted about the birthday party on the 15th of August. The problem — though it didn’t initially look like one — was that Hunter Walk, an internet acquaintance of both Cristina and her Google-employed husband, Jason, tweeted about the post: “My friends @jasontoff & @cristinatoff designed MoonriseKingdom-themed 1st BDparty & it’s WOW.”
He included a link to Toff’s post as well as the group photo of the family in costume. In practice, the costumes are pretty tame: Cristina has a pair of binoculars around her neck, the baby had on khakis, Jason is wearing the raccoon hat and a whistle around his neck. It’s silly, sure, but so is any first-birthday party. My daughter’s first-birthday cake had Katy Perry on it. It was just as lost on her as the Toffs’ theme was on their son.
Hunter Walk, unlike Cristina or Jason Toff, however, has a huge following — more than 100,000 people. In the first few minutes after he posted the tweet, there were a bunch of responses like “soooooo cute” and “oh my gosh, too adorable,” but soon after, the critics rolled in. A lot of the harshest tweets have now been deleted, but the Toffs watched, sort of horrified, they say, as people piled on to make fun of them, and more importantly, to criticize Cristina’s parenting.
“It started with one comment on my blog,” Cristina said, “but a comment that linked to Twitter,” where she found that a lot of people were having a laugh at their expense. They weren’t random, anonymous trolls, either: A lot of them worked in tech and media, and though some of them didn’t know it, they indirectly knew Cristina through her husband.
“It definitely seemed like they didn’t know it was a real person they were making fun of, or they didn’t think of it that way. They didn’t know she was my wife,” Jason says.
He began tweeting directly at some of the people making fun of her, and to their credit, many felt bad once they were confronted. “I’ve said things without thinking on Twitter before,” Jason says. “I get it.”
Acknowledging that your feelings are hurt is unusual on Twitter, but it seemed to work: Many of the worst tweets have now disappeared, though a few choice remarks remain. “This kid is going to be a serial killer or a Hitler or a Justin Bieber,” one person wrote. “I really really really hate Noam and his mom,” wrote another.
One person who tweeted about the post several times disparaged Cristina for posting “affiliate links” in the article, essentially, he said, “making money” off of her child’s birthday party. Though Cristina told me that she was not making any money in the article, simply posting links to the sources where she found everything, that criticism in particular is grating for historical reasons. When people reference “mommy blogging,” they almost never mean it kindly. It is said with a wink, a sneer, as if making a living through blogging about motherhood is somehow both especially dumb and slightly evil.
If writing about women’s issues has long been looked at as a lesser form of journalism, then no writing has been so looked down upon as writing about motherhood. And “mommy blogging” in particular has been laughed at even as its most successful purveyors have created businesses and drawn in thousands of dedicated readers. There is a huge audience of (mostly) women who want to read about children’s birthday parties, and decorations, and breast-feeding struggles, and baby-food making, and for over a decade now, some women (and a few men, but daddy bloggers are rare) have been speaking directly to them, sometimes with great success. Some might even call the best examples, well, profound and beautiful.
Recently, new media has taken notice and begun to hire mothers to write full-time. But that audience of moms is still more easily reached on a platform like Pinterest than on Twitter, where being a woman — let alone a mom, let alone one with a side-hustle in making cute things — is considered reason enough for abuse. Though nothing about the Toff pile-on seems like it infringed on Twitter’s notoriously nebulous rules for abuse of the platform, it was still unpleasant. No one likes seeing their 1-year-old compared to Hitler.
Once they were confronted by Twitter dad Jason Toff, many of the haters deleted their tweets. Most of those that remain seem to have been written by men. In the past few days, the discussion has floated over to Facebook, where the critique is equally ugly, but wildly different in substance — critics, many of them mothers, judging Toff for putting in too much effort toward “making her life seem perfect.” The references to throat-punching are less abundant, but mothers judging other mothers about matters this inconsequential is never a good look — especially knowing the pressure most of them are under.
All of this was, of course, to be expected to some degree. Name your kid on the internet or put a family photo up on your blog, and eventually someone is going to gleefully inform you that you’re too fat, or too skinny, or too ugly, or too “hipster,” or just plain ridiculous. The Toffs are easy to mock if you’re a certain kind of hater. They’re happy white people living what appears to be a pretty comfortable life. And their privilege isn’t lost on them: “We’re very aware that we’re insanely lucky to be able to spend time on planning such an extravagant and silly party for a baby,” Jason said. But that’s not the same as saying that they invited the criticism or that they deserve it.
This probably won’t be a landmark episode in anyone’s life. The conversation will move on; the Toffs will get over it in a week or so. Anyone who has ever been made fun of on the playground knows as much. Of course, it was all adults making fun of this family, not children, and none of the jokes were very funny. Hopefully Cristina will blog about it.