thoughts on Kelle Hampton

I've been thinking lately about the whole Kelle Hampton thing. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, consider yourself lucky and just skip this post. But if you must know, here's a quick summary: she's a mommy blogger (three young children of her own, one of whom has Down Syndrome, plus two teenaged stepsons) who is the subject of discussion ad nauseum on GOMI. She shot to internet fame when she published a post about the surprise, postnatal Ds diagnosis of her daughter Nella, subsequently wrote a book about it, and has since built a huge (and it seems, fiercely loyal) readership. Her blog is called Enjoying The Small Things (I choose not to link to it for reasons made apparent below).

I follow the discussion about Kelle more closely than I follow her blog itself, since a) I'm much more interested in the larger implications and ramifications of mommy blogging than in any particular mommy blogger, and b) I don't particularly enjoy Kelle's writing. (And if I'm being honest, that's partly because I'm terrified I share her proclivity for saccharine, cheesy metaphors and pat endings. I think I'm scared that if I read too much of her writing, I'll start to sound more like her than I fear I already do.)

Kelle's Instagram is a hotbed of drama, thanks in part to her father, who often jumps in to defend her against increasingly vocal critics. These back-and-forths can get pretty heated - and are often deleted summarily, presumably by Kelle herself, who has a popular brand (48k IG followers) and some major corporate sponsor relationships to protect. But if you get a glimpse of these comments before they disappear, you'll see they tend to say pretty much the same thing: give your kids a break already, and quit it with the obviously staged, materialism-heavy posts. The consensus among her critics is that her children often look exhausted, annoyed, and overly costumed in Kelle's efforts to present a twee lifestyle - one that is barely challenged (if not enhanced) by her youngest daughter's disability. 

For the record, I completely agree. And it makes me sad to see so many of those kids' intimate family moments splashed across the internet - not because they're not beautiful moments that might be worth sharing - but because they are done so with an eye to earn money from them.

Enjoying The Small Things is a monetized, sponsored brand, whose primary appeal isn't Kelle, or her husband, or her marriage - it's her school-age and infant children. They're what her fans clamor for and ooh and ahh over, day after day after day. I find this deeply problematical and disturbing, to think that kids who aren't even old enough to understand the concept of sales are being used to sell things. The first time I saw the [Target Partner] disclaimer on one of Kelle's Instagram posts, I felt a little sick. What at first glance appeared to be a sweet picture of her older daughter's Thanksgiving craft was in fact an advertisement. For napkins.

Of course, that's just one person's opinion. And someone could easily take me to task for it, saying Ah, but Ellie, you share some intensely personal moments on your blog too, no? Yes. Yes, I absolutely do. And while I'd argue back that these are the stories of consenting adults on a non-monetized personal blog, I'd do so weakly, because there is a parallel, and the point stands.

In any case, I was thinking how so much of the controversy she generates centers around the endless dressing up and photographing of her children. And I was wondering if she scaled back on that, and focused more on writing about them, wouldn't that be a win for everyone involved? But then I realized how wrong I was. It would only be a win for the kids, who'd reclaim some of their privacy. The win I was thinking Kelle would get from that plan - the chance to focus more on the skill of storytelling, without the shortcut of photos - doesn't, after all, strike me as something Kelle would consider a win. She is a photographer first; a blogger, second.

And Target and the other sponsors? No win there. Stories don't sell napkins, no matter how well they're told.

Reflecting on this, it's a short step to musing on the bigger picture - the bigger questions: What do we want to reward? Are we actually okay with monetizing our memories? Are we ready to erase the line between sharing and selling? Is there even any escape if we're not? Now that Instagram includes ads in our feeds, we're all a part of the larger system, whether we like it or not. 

I don't have a solution. I struggle with my own dueling impulses, where this blog and my social media presence are concerned. I'm not always sure that what I write is purely entertaining, and never exploitive of the people I love, or the strangers I meet. Every time I hit publish, I'm making a choice both for myself and anyone else featured in my post, and I have to live with those consequences - which haven't always been good. 

But I do know that what I see Kelle Hampton choosing feels wrong to me. And I wish she'd slow down and think about what she's doing, because she's taking liberties I don't believe she has the right to take. Her children are individuals, little people in their own right - not property for her to do with as she wishes. I cringe every time I read someone say something along the lines of "They're her kids to do with as she pleases!", as if children are so much chattel. 

I have more questions than answers, I guess. I just wish this subject was getting more play in more places, that's all.