Who was Heather Armstrong? The Complicated Life of the Mommy Blog Queen.
Heather Armstrong, a pioneer of so-called “mommy blogging,” passed away on Tuesday at the age of 47.
Armstrong, who also went by her maiden name Heather Hamilton, launched her blog Dooce (named after a misspelling of “dude”) in 2001. For decades, the Salt Lake City, Utah native has written candidly about the challenges of motherhood and living with depression . . Her site became a business empire and one of the first successful influencer-led ventures.
Armstrong’s boyfriend, Pete Ashdown, announced the influencer’s passing on Instagram. Ashdown later told the Associated Press that Armstrong committed suicide at their home. He said she had recently relapsed after being sober for 18 months.
Who was Heather Armstrong?
When Armstrong first launched Dooce, she slashed her job at a technology company, eventually getting her fired. She retook the story in a blog post, transforming “dooced” into a verb describing losing a job because of something posted online.
After she got older, Armstrong’s blog changed — but she didn’t glorify motherhood the way her peers did, or the way society expected new moms to. She opened up about topics that were considered taboo and private at the time, like the messier side of parenting. She wrote extensively about substance use disorders, her eventual divorce, and her departure from Mormonism.
Armstrong’s unique open demeanor turned Dooce into a huge hit. She was one of the first influencers to monetize her blog through advertising. While the term “mom blogger” has been used to dismiss women who create parenting content as trivial and boring, Armstrong built an empire, ushering in an era where women spoke the truth about their family lives.
“It was empowering,” she told Vox in a 2019 profile. “I realized I didn’t need a male executive in New York to tell me that my story is important enough to publish because I can just do it myself .”
Armstrong was also one of the first influencers to consider the ethics of sharing a child’s life online. She has two children, now 19 and 14, whose lives she has chronicled in great detail for years. As they grew up, she vetoed her posts. Her eldest child spoke to Slate in 2018 about the “shameful” second-hand fame she inherited.
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, Armstrong transcended online fame to enter the mainstream. She wrote books, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and was named the most influential woman in media by Forbes.
Recently, Armstrong was perhaps best known for her writing about depression. Her posts on Dooce.com have declined significantly over the past year — she went from posting daily in September 2022 to posting just once in all of 2023. She facing backlash for some of her latest posts sharing anti-trans ideals.
In her last post in April 2023, she compared early sobriety to “living like a shell without a shell.”
In her 2019 book, Being the farewells of death, Armstrong described her depression and alcohol addiction. She wrote about undergoing a clinical trial for depression in which her brain activity was reduced to zero by doctors before being raised back up in 10 different sessions.
“When you’re that desperate, you try everything,” Armstrong told Vox of the treatment. “I felt that my children deserved to have a happy, healthy mother, and I needed to know that I had tried all options to be that for them.”
Lisa Belkin, who once profiled Armstrong for Yahoo News and crowned her “queen of mommy bloggers,” says, “I started reading her because I wanted to read her.“
Belkin was just one of many talented writers who admired and even profiled Armstrong.
“It’s hard to put into words how influential she was in the blogosphere,” tweeted author Roxane Gay.
Rebecca Woolf, another mom blogger of the same era, wrote on Instagram that Armstrong “shaped the internet as we know it today.”
“[Armstrong] launched a million storytellers with her willingness to write boldly and unapologetically about the struggles of being human,” Woolf wrote.
Lasting impact and legacy
Belkin, who closely followed Armstrong’s career and praised her for the New York Times, says she wouldn’t even consider her an influencer — she was all that came before that. Armstrong laid the groundwork for today’s influencers posting on social media to make money, but her priority has always been writing.
“There were no limits back then to what you could post or how much,” she said. “Women love [Armstrong] wrote about their frustrations with the domestic atmosphere and figured it out together. That’s gone now.”
For Belkin, Armstrong’s death marks the end of the blogging era. Sharing your life online now takes so much more work and careful packaging than it used to. But thanks to Armstrong’s talent and popularity, she was able to turn her writing into a product, which has been copied and expanded upon by a new generation of parenting influencers.
Living her life so openly online opened doors for countless other women to take control of their own stories. Armstrong wasn’t without flaws, but her willingness to post openly about the good and bad moments in her life provided a model of authenticity for influencers and laid the foundation for much of the creator economy.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline for treatment referral at 800-662-HELP (4357)
Wellness, parenting, body image and more: meet the WHO behind the how with the Yahoo Life newsletter. Register here.