Surfer mum Courtney Adamo breaks her silence
Courtney Adamo hasn't been on Instagram for over a week. Which may not sound like a long time, but it is for someone who earns an income from the social-media platform.
"I'm not vibing it right now. And if I'm not vibing it, I don't post anything," the lifestyle influencer tells Stellar as she perches on a chair at her dining-room table.
In fact, the American-British now-Byron-Bay-based entrepreneur hasn't really been vibing the site at all this year. "At Christmas I put my phone in a cupboard. And I felt so free," she says. "I've had a hard time picking it back up."
But her online success is the reason Stellar has travelled to Adamo's house in the quaint historic town of Bangalow, on NSW's North Coast.
Her immaculately styled home, as well as the residents in it (which include her husband Michael, their children Easton, 15, Quin, 13, Ivy, 11, Marlow, 7, and Wilkie, 3, and French Bulldog Nocciola) are the subject of her Instagram account, which has close to 280,000 followers.
Since 2011, Adamo has been documenting, in square pictures, her family's transition from the bustling city of London to a slower-paced existence on the beaches of Byron, amassing a cult-like following along the way.
She's detailed online how her family don't own plastic toys or a TV. Instead, they chase tides. And she writes how dinner each night is lovingly prepared with ingredients from their garden. Her life seems so dreamy that famed American magazine Vanity Fair sent a reporter across the Pacific Ocean to investigate it last year. In the subsequently scathing article, they queried the seemingly picture-perfect nature of her life.
Sitting in Adamo's kitchen and hearing about their afternoon family surf sessions, it's hard for a weary suburbanite not to see her life as idyllic.
That's not to say it's devoid of the mundane. "I'm up at 6am doing yoga before the house wakes up and then at 6.45am I'm emptying the dishwasher," the 39-year-old grins - but it does seem free from too much chaos and stress.
"I don't want to say we have a simple life because we live in a beautiful house in a beautiful place. And I don't want to downplay my privilege," she starts. "But our life is not that exciting. We chose this boring life because we love it."
Life wasn't always this slow for the former journalist who spent 12 years in London in the early 2000s, where she founded online parenting portal Babyccino while Michael worked in animation production.
"We were both working so hard," Adamo explains. "It's a cliché, but we felt like we were running on the treadmill just to keep up. That lifestyle is just not sustainable. And we wanted to spend more time together with our kids because they grow up so quickly."
The family threw caution to the wind and embarked on an 18-month gap year before finding their forever home in Byron Bay in 2015. In this life, Michael is able to work from home and cooks dinner every night, while Adamo makes money through her sold-out lifestyle e-courses as well as sponsored Instagram posts.
"I love Instagram for the connection I've made with other mothers," she says, adding that connection is furthered through the courses that detail her philosophy for pregnancy, birth and raising a family.
"Through my e-courses, I've met like-minded women who are open to sharing their vulnerabilities and advice. We've created a community of support. That's an amazing side to social media."
While many subscribe to Adamo's linen-lensed view of the world, she's no stranger to criticism from those who think there are gaping holes in her feed.
"I'm an open person. I don't have any secrets. But I understand the criticism that I only put up photos of a pretty house and well-dressed children, and everything looks sunny all the time.
"But I only think to get my phone out and take a photo when a moment is happy. I'm not thinking, 'My kids are fighting or the dog just pooed on the floor in the kitchen, I'm going to take a photo of this,'" she says. "I'm attacked for looking perfect but I'm not trying to put out a falsely perfect image.
"My life isn't perfect. My kids drive me crazy. It's not always easy, but I am really happy. I shouldn't be punished for that."
As her husband Michael tells Stellar: "When Courtney downloaded Instagram, she wanted to create an online photo album for friends and family abroad and was unaware that total strangers could view it, too.
"Though times have changed, that photo-album idea is the way we've continued to view Instagram. As with any photo album, it's mostly the highlights that make it in. What's missing are all the messes, all the moods and all the mayhem typical of most families, and more so for a family with five kids. But those are not the moments that find us reaching for a camera."
While Adamo has become used to ignoring the criticism, she couldn't ignore the attack that came from Vanity Fair in July last year. Among the many brutal conclusions drawn in the much-talked-about article, she and her "murfer" (mums who surf) friends were slammed for using sponsored posts and paid collaborations to sell a consumer-free lifestyle.
The tone of the piece came as a disappointment for Adamo and left her floored when she read it. "It was sold to us like, 'You're a bunch of mothers, you all have your businesses and it's incredible that you can use Instagram to help support each other,'" she tells Stellar, speaking about the incident for the first time.
"But we were lied to [by the magazine]. It was pretty shameful of them to put an article up that set out to perpetuate this really nasty cycle of judgement of women. It's not what the world needs.
"They had the opportunity to make an interesting story about how people can have a business in a tiny little town and reach an international audience. Or how you can combine motherhood and a career. It could have been a way to encourage other mothers. But it just didn't do that."
When the article was first published, Adamo was in America for her brother's wedding and refused to comment. Even now, a year on, she's reluctant to draw too much attention to it.
"I had friends say, 'Maybe you should be more vulnerable because people are attacking you for not being more vulnerable.' But I don't owe anybody anything. I am who I am. I didn't do anything wrong, so I don't need to defend myself," she says.
"There are always going to be people who are unhappy; who want to read a story that puts someone down so they will feel better about themselves. I don't want to be one of them."
While the article didn't change her relationship with the platform, the events of the past six months have. First it was the bushfires. Then COVID. Then Black Lives Matter.
"I started to have a bit of panic for the future and I just felt like the last thing that mattered was Instagram," Adamo says.
Last year she ran about 15 sponsored posts while this year, thus far, she's run two. She explains, "The only thing I feel comfortable promoting is something that benefits the environment."
And when she's not online, she's out trying to live her most idyllic life possible. "Everyone's idea of success is different. I feel successful because I'm really happy. I get to spend so much time with my family and we make enough money to live the lifestyle we want to live. That feels like success."