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Heather Armstrong was the 'queen of the mommy bloggers.' She also 'shaped the internet as we know it today.'

(Photo) Liliana Penagos for Yahoo / Photo: Getty Images)
Heather Armstrong, founder of "mommy blog" Dooce died on Tuesday. (Photo: Liliana Penagos for Yahoo / Photo: Getty Images)

Heather Armstrong, a pioneer of so-called "mommy blogging," died on Tuesday at age 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 resident wrote candidly about the challenges of motherhood and life with depression. Her site became a business empire and one of the first successful influencer-run enterprises.

Armstrong's boyfriend, Pete Ashdown, announced the influencer's death on Instagram. Ashdown later told the Associated Press that Armstrong died by suicide at their home. He said she had recently relapsed after 18 months of sobriety.

Who was Heather Armstrong?

When Armstrong first launched Dooce, she skewered her job at a tech company, which eventually got her fired. She reclaimed the narrative in a blog post, transforming "dooced" into a verb that describes the act of losing a job over something posted online.

After becoming a parent, Armstrong's blog changed — but she didn't glamorize motherhood in the way her peers did, or in the way society expected of new mothers. She opened up about subjects then considered taboo and private, like the messier side of parenting. She wrote extensively about substance use disorder, her eventual divorce and her departure from Mormonism.

Armstrong's uniquely open manner transformed Dooce into a massive hit. She was one of the first influencers to ever monetize her blog through advertisements. Though the term "mommy blogger" has been used to dismiss women who create parenting content as trivial and boring, Armstrong built an empire, ushering in an era of women speaking the truth about their home lives.

"It was empowering," she told Vox in a 2019 profile. "I realized I didn't need some male executive in New York to tell me that my story's important enough to publish because I can just do it myself."

Armstrong was also one of the first influencers to reckon with the ethics of sharing a child's life online. She has two children, now 19 and 14, whose lives she chronicled in unsparing detail for years. As they grew up, she granted them veto power over her posts. Her eldest child spoke with Slate in 2018 about the "embarrassing" secondhand 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 decreased substantially in the last year — she went from posting daily in September 2022 to posting only once in all of 2023. She faced backlash for some of her last posts in which she shared anti-trans ideals.

In her final post in April 2023, she compared early sobriety to "life as a clam without its shell."

In her 2019 book, The Valedictorian of Being Dead, Armstrong detailed her depression and alcohol addiction. She wrote about undergoing a clinical trial for depression, which involved having her brain activity reduced to zero by doctors before raising it again over 10 different sessions.

"When you are that desperate, you will try anything," Armstrong told Vox about the treatment. "I thought my kids deserved to have a happy, healthy mother, and I needed to know that I had tried all options to be that for them."

Reactions

Lisa Belkin, who once profiled Armstrong for Yahoo News and crowned her the "queen of the mommy bloggers," says "I started to read 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 just how influential she was to the blogosphere,” tweeted author Roxane Gay.

Rebecca Woolf, another mommy blogger from 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 eulogized her for the New York Times, says she wouldn't even consider her to be an influencer — she was whatever came before that. Armstrong laid the groundwork for present-day influencers who post on social media to earn money, but her priority was always the writing.

"There were no limits back then on what you could post or how much," she said. "Women like [Armstrong] were writing about their frustrations with the domestic sphere and figuring it out together. That's gone now."

To 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 because of Armstrong's talent and popularity, she was able to turn her writing into a product, which has been copied and expanded upon through a new generation of parenting influencers.

Living her life so openly online opened doors for countless other women to take control of their own narratives. Armstrong was not without shortcomings, 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 groundwork for a major part 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 addiction, contact Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357)

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