Chrissy Teigen’s accomplishments include a successful modeling career, writing a popular food blog, and publishing a best-selling cookbook. But her influence and renown mostly derives from another type of achievement, one that’s become more common in recent years with the help of social media: She is famous for being famous. This is not a criticism. Performing one’s self has become an art form, and few manage it as well as Teigen. She manages to organically blend our need for relatability and likability with our desire to gawk at the rich and the beautiful.
This skill achieves peak “just like us” in her pronouncements on motherhood. Her tweets (she has 3.18 million Twitter followers) and Instagram posts (9.3 million followers) on the subject scan as simultaneously candid, or “real,” and optimistic. Teigen is the Goldilocks of online moms, the adventurer who has forged through the extremes of, on one side, the self-abnegating mommies and, on the other side, the bad mommies, and landed in a place that is just right. This has made her the ne plus ultra of celebrity moms, the cool girl meets mom friend whose way of being is aspirational but not totally out of reach.
Nowhere is this mastery of mothering in public more evident than in her online battles with mommy shamers. During 2016, when Teigen became a first-time mom to daughter Luna, she shared a number of moments and observations on social media connected to pregnancy and new motherhood—many of which yielded critiques.
One of the first to spark controversy was her announcement that she and her husband, musician John Legend, chose to have a girl. (This choice was made possible because of the couple’s use of in-vitro fertilization combined with PGD, a process that screens embryos to make sure they are chromosomally normal. This both increases the chances of the implanted embryo making it and also reveals the gender when the egg is only a couple of days old.) The fact that Teigen could, and did, make a decision about the gender of her child didn’t go over well with those who find sex selection wrong in any circumstance. She fought back with humor and ethics: “I also picked the embryo with a taste for bacon, a knack for magic and size 7 feet so she can always find shoes,” read one tweet. “[What] is that difference though? i’ve already created embryos with a doctor. only after must it be random?” read another.
Teigen also took to Twitter to defend her plans to hire a night nurse in February, and her right to leave the house for a quick dinner with her husband a little over a week after Luna’s April birth. Again, Teigen mocked the comments, “I went to dinner. People are pissed. Good morning!” While Legend offered a more thoughtful critique: “Funny there’s no dad-shaming. When both of us go out to dinner, shame both of us so Chrissy doesn’t have to take it all. We’ll split it.”
In July, Teigen defended reality star Kristin Cavallari, who was being criticized for a photo of her sons in which, according to some online, they appeared too thin. And in October she defended herself against a critic who claimed she does not know how to hold her baby correctly—based on a single picture. “Photos are literally split-second moments in time that evolve. I despise mommy shamers. I am a proud shamer of mommy shamers,” she wrote on Twitter.
By year’s end, Teigen began to pre-emptively avenge mommy-shamers on social media. In a mid-December Instagram post showing Luna, Teigen wrote “We miss you, papa!! Can’t wait for you to come home! (Yes she has rosy eczema cheeks, yes we are taking care of it, no it’s not a gluten allergy, no it’s not our makeup, no it’s not from our perfume, yes she’s just a baby).” This received more than 18,000 responses, some from fellow moms who were upset that Teigen had to explain herself at all. “Isn’t it ridiculous that you even have to post all the extra things just to shut people up,” one read. “And you know they still will say things.”
This latest effort highlights the ways that battling the mommy-shamers has been both a curse and a blessing for Teigen. Yes, the mommy shamers are a dreadful bunch who seek to impose their rusty ideas of motherhood on everyone else. Still, if Teigen could rid the world of them with a snap of her fingers, I doubt she would. The mommy shamers give her the chance to be the anti-mommy-shamer, a role her performance over the past year proves she is well-suited for.
The secret to her success? Teigen, wisely, doesn’t over-rely on the “don’t judge” maxim that is popular in the online mom world. Instead, she’s willing to move past the snark and ad hominem attacks and attempt to explain herself, without ever seeming overly taxed by having to do so. The end result is a careful blend of lightness and sincerity, and it works every time.