If you’re a mother with an Instagram account, chances are you’ve come across Marcia Leone – or Not So Mumsy, as you may know her. With nearly a quarter of a million followers watching her every move, the mum-of-two built an online empire almost by accident. As a lifestyle journalist who cut her teeth in magazines, newspapers and events, she eventually transitioned into Marketing and Events before motherhood saw her searching for something else. She started an Instagram account while the platform was in its infancy, and Not So Mumsy was born.
“I remember being at a Coldplay concert at the SCG and my husband said ‘look at all these people in the stadium – you know 5 times the amount of people here follow you on Instagram’”, she tells us. “It completely freaked me out…all of a sudden I saw these numbers being replaced with real people and for the first time it really hit me that so many people knew so much personal information about me. About my fertility. My mental health. My kids.”
Daunting as that realisation was, Marcia felt that there was something powerful and important happening online. “Every time I thought ‘I’m not sure I want to keep sharing so much’, I would get emails or messages or people coming up to me and thanking them for getting them through their miscarriage or IVF or for sharing that motherhood can be really bloody hard. And that’s why I continued.”
Choosing to continue sharing didn’t come without its challenges. It’s no secret that social media can be a vicious place, and criticism behind the veil of anonymity can be particularly harsh. Marcia is no stranger to that. “When I am attacked or do get criticised, it does really upset me because it’s so personal. It will be about my parenting choices or how I look”, she explains. “I’ve been criticised for my motives in leaving my kids to work overseas, breastfeeding into toddlerhood, co-sleeping, my child having a dummy, my body shape…(but) I’m so passionate about creating a non-judgemental space with the message that we all do it differently and that’s OK.”
It’s a calling she feels so keenly that this week sees the release of Marcia’s book, Not So Mumsy. It’s part-memoir, part mothers group – and the culmination of her 7 years in the parenting space. Sharing contributions from experts and other mothers, as well as some of Marcia’s most thought-provoking posts, new content, and everything from style to fertility and beyond, it’s something she “always knew” she would do.
And with Not So Mumsy growing as fast as her kids – her husband has now come onboard and together they’ve launched a fashion label – we could all take a leaf out of Marcia’s book.
Image: Carmen Yeats
Photography: David Allison
You started Not So Mumsy because you felt that the world of motherhood at the time didn't really reflect you. How do you think the motherhood 'market' has changed?
It really has become a ‘market’ now – especially in the realm of social media. Over the past 7 years we’ve seen this incredible rise of the ‘insta-mum’, and of online communities speaking to every type of mother. We’ve seen an explosion in the business of motherhood too. Brands want to work with mums and mums have so many more options in how they work.
When we started we were celebrating the beauty, power and new mood of modern motherhood, but along the way we’ve seen a shift where we want to go deeper behind the façade; sharing our vulnerabilities and the challenges too. For me, I’m at the place where I navigate between the two.
Your platform really boomed with the rise of Instagram. What was that like?
It was a steady build for the first few years until I was half way through my pregnancy with my daughter and out of nowhere it just exploded. My posts started getting picked up by the algorithm and going on the explore page which meant I was growing 5-10k new followers a week for a while there. I went from 70k to 200k in a year. It was a little overwhelming to be honest, especially as I share so many vulnerable, personal moments. It did make me second- guess and filter some of my content for a time.
I remember being at a Coldplay concert at the SCG and my husband said “look at all these people in the stadium – you know 5 times the amount of people here follow you on Instagram”. It completely freaked me out. I was always the shy girl (still am), the one that couldn’t stand up and talk in front of people and all of a sudden I saw these numbers being replaced with real people and for the first time it really hit me that so many people knew so much personal information about me. About my fertility. My mental health. My kids. When I envisaged building an online community Instagram was in its infancy, so I didn’t understand that 90% of followers would be silent observers. I thought it would be more of a two-way exchange where we got to know each other. So for me to be able to continue sharing, I couldn’t focus on the number up the top, I had to focus on the active community and the conversation. I continued to write like I was talking to the people who regularly engaged. Every time I thought ‘I’m not sure I want to keep sharing so much’, I would get emails or messages or people coming up to me and thanking them for getting them through their miscarriage or IVF or for sharing that motherhood can be really bloody hard. And that’s why I continued.
As a mummy blogger and influencer, you must deal with trolling and criticism. The motherhood judgement is hard enough without an online profile - how do you deal with trolls?
It’s not that I deal with it a lot, but when I am attacked or get criticised it does really upset me because it’s so personal. It will be about my parenting choices or how I look. Imagine someone coming up to you on the street and saying “go and eat a burger” or “as if your work trip was for your kids…” Even though 99% of comments are positive, I would still focus on that one negative.
One great piece of advice I received was to go and answer every single positive comment first, and if it still bothers you then answer the troll. That being said I do call it out sometimes – not to give it air time but to hopefully be a lesson for all of us to think before we type – to show there is a real person on the other side.
What issues that you've raised or shared about have been the most controversial? Did any surprise you?
I feel like most the controversy comes from the ‘competition’ of motherhood and mums judging mums. The working versus stay at home mum, breast versus bottle, routine versus attachment – it seems so dated, but it is still happening.
I’ve been criticised for my motives in leaving my kids to work overseas (despite sharing how difficult it was for me), breastfeeding into toddlerhood, co-sleeping, my child having a dummy, my body shape.
Breastfeeding used to be such a controversial issue on social media. Instagram itself used to take down pictures of nursing mothers and we had to campaign to get them to understand it wasn’t the same as pornography. I think we can all see the shift now where it’s mostly celebrated. The normalising of breastfeeding is one of the positive outcomes of social media, but on the flipside, some mothers that don’t or can’t breastfeed now feel they are on the outer – and that’s not fair either. I actually got attacked for not feeding long enough when I started weaning my daughter at 20 months, because I didn’t reach the full 2 years recommended by the World Health Organisation. After years of being subjected to so many negative comments for feeding past one, I found this really surprising to be attacked from both sides.
This is why I’m so passionate about creating a non-judgemental space with the message that we all do it differently and that’s OK.
Congratulations on the launch of your book! Was a book always in your vision for the future?
Thank you. It was a process! I always knew I would write a book. I studied journalism and always loved writing, but I would never have guessed it would be in the parenting space. Even after creating and growing a platform around motherhood, it wasn’t part of the strategy for Not So Mumsy – it was always something I thought I would do ‘later’. In fact, when I was approached by my publisher, I didn’t even respond to the emails. I just didn’t think I could add it to my load. I’m glad she sent a follow up all those months later.
I really had to step away and think about what I wanted to say and make sure it was something I felt would add value to the parenting space. I’m so glad I said yes, because as it turns out this book is the culmination of almost 7 years in the online motherhood space, so to have something tangible as a memory or a summary of that time is really special, especially as I transition out of the early motherhood stage myself. I’m also happy that I could include a part of my own mother’s story. It’s the most incredible motherhood story I have ever heard, and for years she has asked me to share it, so I’m glad I could incorporate that into this book.
In the introduction to your book, you explain "I didn't write this book just because I was offered a book deal. I wrote it because I had something to say." What was that - and what did you feel was missing from all the pregnancy and motherhood books out there?
A lot of books that I’ve been exposed to in the parenting space either focus on the child’s development or share a particular style of parenting – a how-to or a humorous ‘how hard’ parenting manual (which I love). I really felt a calling to write a support, rather than an advice book, because after 6 years sharing motherhood stories, I’ve learnt that we don’t need to be told what to do, we need to be told we are doing a good job. I wanted to write a book that focused not only on the transition from woman to mother, but focused on the woman behind the mother – as the cover says: “Yes you are a mum, but you are still you.” I wanted to celebrate the beauty of motherhood, with honesty and vulnerability. I wanted it to essentially be a supportive mothers group in a book – one that shows through shared real stories that that we all do it differently and that’s ok.
Your book is visually beautiful, and reads almost like a magazine, with articles, lists, opinion pieces, and excerpts from experts. Did you intend for it to be dipped in and out of, or read cover to cover?
I wanted readers to be able to do both. It does read like a complete story, but you can also use it as a reference book as you navigate the various stages. There are sections on relationships, back to work, travel – so even if you read it cover to cover at first, you may like to revisit later. Also a lot of new mums don’t have time or patience to read a book cover to cover, so it’s good to be able to dip in and out.
One of your mottos is 'pretty pictures, honest words'. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I started Not So Mumsy as a celebration of motherhood and style, and my aesthetic very much reflects this, but I also started it to facilitate meaningful, honest conversations around motherhood. Social media is a funny space and everyone uses it differently. I follow and love some very raw and real mum accounts alongside some perfectly stylised and curated mum accounts – and I love them both. For me I feel I have organically combined the two. As I began sharing my own story, and became quite vulnerable, I felt like I was able to do that without sharing images of my children having tantrums, spaghetti on the floor, or me actually in tears. A lot of my posts are reflective, so I don’t think to whip out a camera when I’m in the midst of something challenging, but I may share it through words at a later date. So I guess it’s a disclaimer of sorts so if people stop by my profile they know what my page is about. I’m not saying this is the ‘right way’ but for the most part it’s how I feel comfortable sharing as well as keeping that creative aesthetic.
As your children get older, do you think you'll continue including them in your content? If they decide not to participate, what do you see for the future of Not So Mumsy?
The short answer is no. My son has rarely featured on my social media the past couple of years. When he started school I started phasing him out. He was too busy with school and sport to take pics with mum – and rightly so. I also turn down any sponsored opportunities for him, (even though the money would go in his account) because he doesn’t want to take the pictures and I respect that. I see the same thing happening for my daughter. This page is very much about my motherhood journey, I don’t want it to be specifically about my children. They are part of it of course, and while they are happy to take cute snaps with mum and for me to share positive stories – it’s great, but as they grow it’s important to respect their privacy. With babies and toddlers, the themes are universal, but as the children grow issues become more personal. It’s something I’m very aware of and I’m constantly discussing the boundaries with my husband. But the short answer is no.
The future of Not So Mumsy will be more focused on the brand rather than me as an individual. Our label is doing amazingly well and has grown so much in the last year as my husband has come on board. We are looking to wholesale globally in key department stores and have Not So Mumsy pop ups. The website will continue and evolve and we may add other platforms, a podcast and so on. As for my Instagram, this will change as I do – there will likely be more focus on the working mum and entrepreneurial side. Maybe as we buy and hopefully renovate our home there will be more of an interiors focus. I don’t see myself sharing everything for years to come, so I think in a couple of years it will evolve naturally and look quite different to now.
Has your platform ever caused any friction with your husband? How do you approach working together and parenting together in the public eye?
At first the amount of time I had to spend on my phone caused friction. It took a while for my husband to understand that Instagram was in fact ‘work’. Even just commenting and connecting is technically ‘work’ when you are building an online community.
It took a bit of adjustment for both of us to figure out how to separate work and life when work is my life and life is my work. It’s still a work in progress to be honest. He is very supportive and I always discuss any upcoming posts if they are personal, about us or the kids, before posting. We have great open communication.
Time management is probably the trickiest thing we navigate as we work and parent together. I think that is a universal theme for most parents. I don’t feel that we are really parenting in the public eye as it’s a very conscious decision what I choose to share – and to be fair 90% of our life is private. We don’t really discuss how we parent or challenges we have with our children – other than universal themes – siblings argue etc. My profile is more focused on my experience as a mother.
Do your followers approach you when they see you out and about?
Funnily enough more so overseas than locally. I’ve had people come up to me in cafes in London, in the ocean on a remote island in Greece, on the street in NYC and sight seeing in Rome and Puglia. Very rarely do I have people come up to me at home – although I did have someone call out their car window today in my own suburb, which felt a bit strange! Most of the time I will just get a message saying “I saw you today”, and I immediately think ‘oh gosh I hope I wasn’t arguing with my husband or yelling at the kids!”
“ Most of the time I will just get a message saying “I saw you today”, and I immediately think ‘oh gosh I hope I wasn’t arguing with my husband or yelling at the kids!” ”
Lots of parents in Sydney struggle with the rising costs of childcare and living. Do you see yourself staying put?
We are so lucky in that we can work from anywhere so I’m always asking my husband why we live in Sydney. I would love to move to the countryside or the ocean, but we’re in the thick of schooling and sports now so I feel some resistance from the boys. I grew up in the country on 400 acres and would love a similar upbringing for my kids. Hopefully we can make the escape sooner rather than later.
What are some of the challenges of working for yourself?
I started this job so I could work around my kids, but like any self-employed mum will tell you, you end up working more. There is no clock off time. Thankfully I can work around my family’s schedules, and I am so grateful to love what I do, but the time pressures are intense. I often work until midnight most nights just to get through my workload. So I guess the challenge is the same old work-life/mum-life juggle that we all struggle with. Also the nature of what I do means carving out time offline has become so important.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
Trust the timing of your life. This gets me through any challenges that may come my way. There is a bigger plan and I trust I’m exactly where I need to be right now.
What are you loving at the moment?
- Married At First Sight dinner parties – I’m a reality TV tragic.
- Mummy and mini ballet classes with my daughter
- Magnum white chocolate ice cream tubs
- My Fluid Form at home pilates to balance out the above!