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How the Internet made, and then broke, Heather Armstrong, the Queen of Mummy Bloggers.

The word ‘blog’ is small and ugly. A bit silly, even. It sounds like something that might come out of your nose. Or excrement.

Heather Armstrong, who began her Dooce blog in 2001 and who died this week at just 47 would have been the first person to agree. Because Heather was never precious about what she did. That was her great gift to us. She taught a generation of women like me that if you were honest and vulnerable about your life, you could make other women feel normal. Not just normal but good about the fact that raising children and being a wife and woman in the world is bloody hard and often funny and always exhausting and sometimes incredible.

Through her blog, Heather taught me the value of sharing incredibly personal, complicated things and that out there someone has a wound in the shape of your words. She taught me that the sanitised way the world packages up what it looks like to be a mother is bullshit and a trap.

She taught me that even at the bleakest times – and especially then – there can be laughter. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. You may not have heard of Heather or Dooce and you may not understand why her death feels like such a gut-punch to the millions of women whose lives Heather impacted without her ever knowing us. 

So it feels important to explain why she mattered so much, despite the tragedy of her life ending far too early at just 47.

Blog may be an objectively ridiculous word but it changed my life and it’s responsible not just for Mamamia, the media company that began as a blog in 2008, but for an entire wave of feminism.


Because blogging was the way women could find an audience without any man standing in our way as gate-keeper. This was revolutionary and Heather was one of the first women on the front line of that revolution.

In the early 2000s, blogging platforms like Wordpress and Typepad meant that for the first time, anyone could express themselves at scale. All you needed was an Internet connection and something to say. It turns out women had a lot to say. And we no longer needed a media outlet to give us permission to say it.

Watch: Why the word mummy blogger needs to be reclaimed. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia. 

This was a time before social media. Before Facebook groups and group chats and even before texting. Back then, the only place you could find content by and about women was in magazines. But those mags were either glossy or trashy, they cost money and they followed a formula. Paparazzi photos. Celebrity gossip. Sealed sections. Stories about beauty.  Images of skinny, white, young models air-brushed to oblivion. Any first-person pieces they published tended to be extreme or sensationalist. “I had a threesome with my boss” or “My husband left me for another man”.


No shade, though. I was there. I was part of it. Just like with any media, magazines were a business and needed to be profitable in order to employ people like me. It also meant they had to appeal to advertisers for their survival by selling physical copies. With a limited number of pages in each issue, it’s no wonder magazine content flattened the female experience into small, easily-digestible chunks. The nuance of women’s lives and experiences just wasn’t enough to get people to hand over $7.50.

When Heather Armstrong started blogging in 2001, she was working as a web developer and graphic designer in LA during the dot-com boom and she started Dooce on the side as a lark. A way to express herself and be creative. It wasn’t a side-hustle because that word didn’t exist then and how on earth could you make money from the Internet? Dooce was simply a hobby.

Blogging humorously about her life, Heather sometimes mentioned her work and when her bosses found out, she was fired.

Along with her new husband, Jon Armstrong, in 2002, Heather moved back to Salt Lake City where she had been brought up in a strict Mormon family before becoming disenchanted with its teachings and leaving the church. Soon after moving home, Heather had a daughter, Leta and that’s when Dooce took off. 

Heather wrote about motherhood in a way that nobody ever had before. Honestly. Hilariously. Prolifically. With unflinching candour and a total lack of pretence. She was a brilliant writer. Her words sparked off the screen. Like this post about breast-feeding with shingles.
Parenting websites had just begun to populate the Internet but the stories they published were all very sanitised and glossy. Top Tips For Busy Mums!  5 Fun Snacks To Make For Your Toddler! 


The kind of inane, dumbed-down content that flattens the experience of motherhood into simple, homogenous cheese. Heather called bullshit on all that. She told the truth about her life in a way that was fearless and funny and not at all self-conscious. Not at first.

Dooce was the birth-place of ‘mummy blogging’ and Heather Armstrong was the OG. She wrote about her post-partum depression. About how looking after a child is a discombobulating cocktail of boredom, frustration, confusion and the deepest joy you’ve ever felt.  About the effect a baby has on a marriage. About the need every mother has for a village when we had no village, leaving most of us bewildered and overwhelmed.

Mummy blogger is a term I loathe. It drips with condescension and has always been used to demean, disparage and dismiss women who write about parenting on the Internet.

It’s also a label that can be impossibly hard to shake. Just ask Glennon Doyle and Constance Hall, who both began their careers by blogging about motherhood before using that as a springboard to become best-selling authors and extremely successful entrepreneurs.

Heather was never able to make that transition. She came so close though.

When I first discovered Dooce, around 2003, it was a revelation to me. I was still working in magazines but I didn’t want to read them anymore. I wanted to read blogs. I wanted to read unfiltered, glossy content from women like Heather. I followed her life via Dooce and waited eagerly for her to post which she did every few days. Her writing sparked with wit, she was a gifted storyteller and whether she was describing the punishing drudgery of having to prepare meals for toddlers who threw them on the floor, dealing with a house-hold overrun by gastro or the torture of trying to organise to have a broken washing machine replaced after returning home from the hospital with a newborn, it was rivetting and so well-crafted and it always, always made me marvel at how she could speak the unspoken thought. It’s a gift that connects you to women because it makes them feel normal. Like you understand. It creates a deep connection and out of that connection sprang a community of women who loved Heather, loved Dooce and became a little obsessed with her. I was one of them. Today, we call it the “para-social” relationship; when you think you know someone because of what they share online even though you don’t actually.


Heather’s blog went viral at a time when it was almost impossible to go viral because there was no social media via which to share content. Women just told other women about Dooce and word spread and a community sprang up in the comments under each of her posts. Sometimes there would be thousands of us, talking to her, talking to each other, sharing our own experiences of whatever she’d written about. 

In 2004, Heather monetised Dooce by starting to run banner ads at the top of the homepage. This was something most bloggers could only dream of because you need a huge audience to make any money from banner ads. Unlike the rest of us back then, Dooce had that huge audience. She started making bank.


By 2009 Heather had 8.5 million sets of eyes on Dooce and was reportedly making US$100,000 per year. She appeared on Oprah and was featured by Forbes magazine on its list of "The Most Influential Women In Media" for 2009.

It was a time when blogs were starting to explode in popularity and I was part of that explosion. In the early 2000s, I was still working in magazines but I could hear the clock ticking. For years I tried to warn my bosses that the magazine business model was heading for extinction – why would people pay $7.50 to read what Cosmo wanted to publish when they could read whatever content they wanted online for free? But those men had a different idea of what women wanted so I decided to leave. 

Dooce had crystalised my view that the future of women’s content was online so I started my own blog in 2008. Heather was a big influence on me but I didn’t want to be her. As much as I loved reading Heather’s blog – and the blogs of other women around the same time – I knew I didn’t want Mamamia to be a personal blog like Dooce was.

I’d been in the public eye during my years as an editor and I had already experienced the ugly side. The lack of privacy, the exposure of your kids to haters and the disorienting feeling of having so many people ‘know’ you when you don’t know them. 

So from the first day, Mamamia was always going to look outwards into the world rather than back into my own life. That isn’t to say I was better than anyone writing about their personal life, just that it felt like a lot of pressure. Also, my life was boring and I knew how much skill it took to take the everyday and turn it into the quality of work Heather produced. 


Blogging took up so much time for no money. Literally, no money. 

There used to be a joke among bloggers back then that starting a blog was a great way to earn enough money to buy a packet of chewing gum or a single stamp. If you were lucky.

I ran Mamamia as a blog for more than two years without making a single cent despite working 18 hours a day, seven days a week. But Heather had turned her blog into a business so maybe I somehow could too? She gave me hope.

It was around this time, during the period of her greatest professional success – Oprah! Forbes! Money! – that things turned for Heather. 

Her marriage ended. For anyone, that’s a huge deal but when your job is writing in detail about your life, it’s catastrophic and utterly impossible to navigate.

I remember reading that brief post she did about her split and being as shocked as when I heard Tom and Nicole were getting divorced. Or Brad and Jen. More shocked, actually, because I felt an intimate connection with Heather that you could ever have with an A-list celebrity. The para-social relationship is quite different to fame. When you’re famous, people know who you are but they don’t necessarily feel like they know you as a person. Reality TV, social media and the Internet has created a type of celebrity who can feel like a friend because of the access they give you to their life - not while singing a song or acting in a role but by being themselves. The standard celebrity request in every divorce announcement to ‘please respect our privacy’ is easier to understand when we didn’t know much about their relationship in the first place. Heather never had that luxury. Her income depended on her writing about her life. And her audience expected it. That’s what we came for. And when she refused to deliver, things soured.


When Heather announced her divorce and explained that she wouldn’t be sharing details about it to protect the privacy of her former husband and their two young children, people lost their shit.

They were incensed that the access tap was being turned off. They felt they had the ‘right’ to know all the details. The why. The how. They believed they had invested emotional energy and time into Heather’s story and they demanded answers.
Except her life wasn’t a story. It was her life. Honestly? I remember feeling exactly like this. I wanted details. An explanation. And when she wouldn’t elaborate, it felt like a close friend slamming the door in your face.

That’s when a tsunami of Heather-haters arrived, joining the ones who had already been outraged by the fact that a woman – a mother! – had dared to make money from her work.

Vile forums sprung up in dark corners of the Internet dedicated to writing nasty things about her. She was exploiting her children for money. She was a terrible mother, a terrible wife, a terrible person. She was ugly and stupid and sick and she should be ashamed of herself and no wonder her marriage ended. She should die.


There is a time in the life of every woman who becomes Internet-famous where she has to make a choice: do I read the comments?

Heather made the wrong choice 15 years ago and it would come to shape everything she wrote. She was forever in an angry, defensive crouch and I understand exactly why, more than most, and it was upsetting to watch.

It’s easy for me to say ‘don’t read the comments’ because wisdom is simple in hindsight. It’s human nature to want to know what people are saying about you. But the Internet has contorted our instinct to bitch about someone into performance art and virtue signalling in a way that is unspeakably cruel and can irrevocably damage the person who is reading about themselves. In my case, I had people around me to guide me away from reading those forums and I quickly learned not to base my self-worth or my success on what other people thought about me. Because that way lies madness. 

I don’t say that lightly.

Listen to the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues after podcast.

It is frankly impossible to retain your equilibrium and sanity if you are swimming in lies and cruelty about your appearance, your character, your relationships and your work. It is quite literally dehumanising. The toll it takes on your mental health is profound.

Things got worse.

As Heather struggled to write content about her life without revealing much about...her life, social media had begun to take off and the Internet’s business model for writers changed in a way that would decimate blogs forever. Banner ads that once sold for $12 were suddenly worth 15c.


Instead of just running their ads around content on blogs like Dooce, advertisers suddenly wanted bloggers to make their ads into the content. And since the advertisers were paying for it, understandably they would dictate a bunch of parameters and have copy-approval before the post was published.

For someone like Heather, whose content was successful due to her irreverent refusal to sanitise the way she wrote about her experiences, it became an impossible ask.

A huge fashion retailer went ballistic after she used the word “hairy vagina” in a brilliant post about going on a camping trip wearing their clothes. It was not on brand and she was not prepared to change it. Meanwhile, her children were getting older. They didn’t want to be part of Heather’s content anymore and she understood and respected that.
The combination of all these things – absorbing the troll commentary and injecting life into it by constantly responding, along with the financial collapse of her blog – took a horrible toll. Essentially, she quit blogging.

Heather had always been open in her writing about her struggles with depression. She was one of the first women I ever knew who was. As the Internet moved on from bloggers to influencers, she never seemed to regain her balance. In recent years she battled various chronic health conditions and in 2021 she wrote about the role addiction had played throughout her life. Eighteen months ago, she got sober. She would post regularly about her sobriety milestones along with rambling posts, poetry and selfies that showcased the frailty of her physical and mental health. It was clear she was unwell.


I would go to her Instagram or her website every few months in the way you might check in on an old friend and I always left feeling profoundly sad.
Her last post on Dooce was about achieving 18 months of sobriety. It was long and beautiful and complicated and profound.

Today, hearing that she had died, I felt shocked but not surprised. Of course, I feel devastated for her loved ones. Leta and Marlo….her children who Dooce readers watched grow up. The knot of grief left behind by someone who takes their life is one that is impossible to untangle. What was clear to everyone who ever read her work is that Heather loved her girls with a fierceness that could never be captured in words. Not even by her, as uncommonly gifted with words as she was.

Vale, Dooce. You’re with your beloved dogs now. Chuck and Coco. I hope you knew that you meant something to millions of us. You made a difference in the way we thought about our lives and ourselves. I am so grateful to have known you from afar. You were brave and strong and just so fucking funny. 

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Image: Mamamia + Getty.