Friday 9 December 2016

Boobs, babies and Mormons: how this mum became a superstar blogger

Caitriona Palmer talks to Heather Armstrong, who has six million readers a month

Published 24/06/2011 | 09:55

Heather Armstrong with her youngest daughter Marlo
Heather Armstrong with her youngest daughter Marlo
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 07: Author Ree Drummond attends a signing for her book "The Pioneer Woman" at Barnes & Noble Booksellers at The Grove on February 7, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

Like a lot of young mothers across America, Heather Armstrong knows a lot about poop. And saggy breasts. And haemorrhoids. And the interminably long afternoons with a crying baby that make you want to either run for the hills or pitch a saucer at the head of your husband who has once again forgotten to unload the dishwasher.

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Many of them just aren't ready to talk about it in public, which is what has made Heather Armstrong -- the author of the outrageously successful blog Dooce.com -- so unique and so shockingly successful.

In a country with millions of blogs, Armstrong (35), suburban mother of two and ex-Mormon in training, stands out as the most successful personal blogger in America.

From her home in Utah, Armstrong writes about her children, her husband, her pets, her crippling post-partum depression, and her struggles with abandoning the Mormon church which for so long dominated her life.

"I have nothing to hide and I will talk about anything," Armstrong told the Irish Independent. "I think a lot of people feel a catharsis because I will say things that a lot of people are uncomfortable about saying."

Every day over 100,000 people across the world log on to read Armstrong's irreverent and often profane musings about life and motherhood, and to browse pictures of her dogs, her kids or her latest style obsession. Her 'in your face' writing style and subsequent ad revenue has been so lucrative that she is estimated to bring in between $30,000-$50,000 a month.

This success has allowed her husband Jon (45) to give up his job to work for his wife in their fancy new headquarters on the third floor of their cul-de-sac home. They have hired an assistant, John LaCaze, whose attempts to keep Armstrong on track have earned him the moniker, 'Tyrant', on the website.

Armstrong won't confirm how much she makes -- "we are a privately held company and we do not disclose our financial statements," she told the Irish Independent apologetically -- but The New York Times recently estimated that blogs such as Dooce.com (rhymes with 'loose') can bring in over a million dollars a year.

When Armstrong first began to blog back in February 2001 her initial audience was "for about a dozen or so of my friends across the country," she said. Living in Los Angeles, far from her family, Armstrong wrote about dating, sex and the joys of imbibing the forbidden fruits of the Mormon church -- alcohol and caffeine.

"I thought that I was in a vacuum and I really did not think that (my family) were ever going to see it," she said.

But then the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred and Armstrong drank one too many martinis and took to the web to write "a scathing anti-Mormon diatribe" that slammed organised religion. The same day, for no particular reason, her brother Googled her name and stumbled on the post. Suddenly, all hell broke loose.

"I got a call from my Mom and she was already in tears, and it really was as if a bomb had gone off in my family," she said. "(My father) didn't speak to me for probably six months."

Lesson learned, Armstrong swore off writing about her family. But still thinking that her audience spanned to only a dozen or so friends, she instead began to vent about her colleagues at the web design company where she worked.

There was Armstrong's boss, referred to on the blog as "Her Heinousness".

"She would come to work from her Botox appointments and cancel meetings because she couldn't talk," said Armstrong. "I thought, 'This has to be written about'."

When an anonymous email alerted Armstrong's management to her blog, she was immediately fired. Urban Dictionary now lists the term 'dooced', which means "getting fired because of something that you wrote in your weblog".

Armstrong eloped with Jon, moved back to Utah and in 2003 became pregnant. "I thought that when I gave birth, I was going to end the website," she said.

But following the birth of her daughter, Leta, in February 2004, Armstrong's urge to write only became stronger. Home alone and mired in a deep post-partum depression, the blogger hit rock bottom.

"One morning in August I said to my husband that, 'If you leave for work today I will not be here when you get back'," she said. "'I will have killed myself.'"

That afternoon, Armstrong's husband drove her to a psychiatric hospital where she checked herself in. It took four days to get the right combination of drugs to make her feel human again.

During that time, Armstrong furiously wrote messages to her fans in longhand and had Jon update her blog. Her readership, remembers Armstrong, "went through the roof".

Looking back on that time, Armstrong credits her blog and her readers with saving her life. "When I came home there was a renewed vigour for sharing my life," she said. "Now I could share the good parts and feel the good parts."

Now more than six million people visit her site every month, and over one and a half million follow her on Twitter. Fans show up at the postal office in Salt Lake City where she keeps a mailbox in the hopes of catching a glimpse. She gets recognised in the supermarket and mobbed at speaking engagements.

She has won numerous awards and this year was listed No 26 on Forbes magazine's list of Most Influential Women in Media. She recently signed with a top talent agency in Los Angeles and says there is a "lot of stuff on the horizon".

In an indication of where Armstrong is taking her blog, this week the blogger arrived in Bangladesh as a guest of former supermodel Christy Turlington to view maternal health clinics with Turlington's charity, Every Mother Counts. "Mind sufficiently blown," Armstrong tweeted after visiting a clinic last Saturday.

Armstrong's success has also reaped other benefits she never thought possible. Her parents -- who still have to close their eyes at some of what she writes -- now read her blog on a regular basis and "are actually very proud of me", she said. And not once has anybody suggested that she get a "real job".

Blogging is a precarious world and Armstrong knows that her readers may come and go. But no matter what the future may hold, Armstrong says her blog -- boob and poop references included -- will serve as a living, breathing treasure trove of memories that the two loves of her life, Leta (7) and Marlo (2), can someday look back on.

"I think they'll see, as much as my parents will see, that I do this out of the love that I have for them and that this is a gift that I want to give them," she said.



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