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  • Writer's pictureellencdonker


Peeking behind the Instagram curtain

If you type my name into Instagram, what you’ll be presented with are many little colorful squares filled with enticing food checkered with well-lit selfies and photos of two very cute blonde babies. But what you don’t see is what I think is more interesting.

At least once a day I receive a direct message on social media or a query from a fellow mom IRL (that’s what the kids call in real life) asking, in so many words, how it’s possible I can be cooking that much, with that level of quality, while raising two babies. It often comes in the form of, “Do you cook Every. Single. Day. ???” or “When do u sleep?” And I get it! Because when I observe other mothers that always have a perfectly clean home or their kids are always in coordinated clean clothing, I want to know exactly the same thing: “How? And why isn’t it like that for me?”

Social media brings a new element to parenting. My grandmothers, mother, aunts, or women older and wiser than I did not and could not have given me advice when I was pregnant about how to handle what I like to call “the mom comparison game.” I’m sure even without the internet, women have been comparing themselves to each other for millennia. But social media takes it to a whole new level for my generation.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, repeatedly seeing what is strategically curated to appear “perfect” has an effect. I am the first to admit it. I’m affected by it as a woman and a mother, but I also have a bit of a brand on social media that needs to be upheld. I do my best to keep it somewhat real in what I present to the world, but the nature of my work as a food stylist and recipe developer is showing people beautiful food, and lots of it.

In response to all the questions about how I fit everything into 24 hours, I often take a minute to shed some light on the massive amount of scaffolding holding up my lifestyle and work, which the grid of pretty pictures does not show.

Right off the bat, cooking is my job. I make money from cooking. My family often reaps the benefits of eating that food, but between photo shoots, recipe development assignments and my weekly newsletter, the overwhelming majority of what I cook makes me a living. Second, and crucially, my children attend the most wonderful, loving, local daycare. The women there are the reason I am able to go to work and do what I do. I have a very involved dad (a.k.a. “Poppy”) who is often at our home helping out. My husband works very hard and has a salary job at a big corporation, which allows me to have a freelance job that offers no benefits and no job security but does creatively fulfill me. I am in bed by 9:30 p.m., which is the least fun of all the tactics but absolutely necessary to pull it all off.

Food Stylist
Raising these two boys and working as a recipe developer and food stylist requires a large support system.

There’s a reason why all my photos of food on social media are taken very close up: Surrounding me is a kitchen that looks as though a bomb has been set off. Working in a field where the main goal is to produce images of food and drink that look perfect, I can wholeheartedly advise you never to trust a photo.

If you find yourself pausing on the profile of a mommy blogger, food account, or even a supermodel and feeling down about your own state of parenting and being, please check yourself. It’s not all what it seems to be, and you sitting, being present with your child while you spoon feed them boxed macaroni and cheese is the ultimate expression of love.

All of this goes to say that those little photo squares show about 8 degrees of the whole 360.

Olivia Mack McCool is a recipe developer, cookbook author, food stylist and mom who lives in Maplewood. For a peek into her admittedly curated slice of life follow along on Instagram @oliviamackmccool and for her work making food look perfect check out


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