Mary Katherine Embraces the Mess

If you’re in the market for a new internet best friend, Mary Katherine Backstrom is your girl. She’s real, she’s honest, and she’s unapologetically messy.

Those moments in life we all have when we’ve spilled something on our shirt before a meeting, or accidentally ordered the wrong thing from Amazon, or our zippered purse rips our dress up the front in the middle of the store… She’s accomplished all those things and shares them regularly, hilariously, with hundreds of thousands daily, live online.

Mary Katherine has made a whole career of being relatable on social media. And the Alabama-born-and-raised blogger encourages her audience every day to live life on life’s terms and to embrace the messiness that comes with it, all while keeping her faith in the forefront.

MK, as she’s known to friends and family, lives in Hunstville, Alabama, with her ER doctor husband, Ian, and their two kids, Holland and Ben. She created the popular blog Mom Babble, has written for the Today Show, landed on Ellen for hugging a complete stranger due to “Christmas spirit,” and has roughly 120 million views on Facebook alone.

In addition to all that, she’s just coming off a book tour of her new release Holy Hot Mess: Finding God in the Details of this Weird and Wonderful Life, in which she shares her successes and failures, fears and faith.

“My writing developed when I became a stay at home mom and I was unable to work,” she says. Years ago, suffering from depression, she started a blog that connected her to others and gave her a feeling of community. “That was the first time I considered my writing a true gift because it did something positive for me. And from there I started dreaming about everything that was possible with writing.”

MK, who has struggled with her relationship to religion, strives to use her writing, blogging, and videos to change the perspective and to open up conversations. “What I’m hoping to do is show that there’s a type of Christian, a type of person of faith, who loves people exactly where they are and doesn’t expect them to change in order to be loved. I’m still working through a lot of the ‘church hurt’ that I experienced growing up, but I want people to see me and they see love and they see Jesus. I am trying to figure out how to get that message out there. That you can come and you can hear about my faith and not be afraid that I’m going to condemn you for being different and not being on the same journey as me.”

Anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses are discussed frequently on MK’s pages. She says that the church she grew up in didn’t see mental illness as something needing to be seen by a physician. “I believe in the power of prayer,” she assures, “but I also believe that God sends miracles to our planet in the form of physicians and nurses and medicine.”

Recently, MK went live on Facebook, in the middle of the week, in the midst of excited posts promoting her new book, to cry and talk to her followers candidly about her struggle with depression. “I think it’s so important for people to know the truth behind social media that instead of a whole slew of highlight reels, there’s an actual person who has struggles and success. Because it’s so easy to buy into this narrative that everything is better for somebody else.”

“I have to remind myself that if all people are seeing is my highlight reel, then I’m contributing to that lie” she adds, “so I push back against it, and sometimes I have to check myself.”

The “Lie of Curation” she refers to in her book is something she battles constantly. Mary Katherine follows many other “hot mess mom” blogs, and she occasionally finds herself questioning them, and herself, in their authenticity. “It’s something that we all get caught up in. It’s like, at this point are we all just pretending to be messes? What about this is real?”

Her first “messy” viral video was three years ago. “I just opened up my makeup bag that’s just full of busted blush containers, eyeshadow that’s like three years old, melted lipstick, and it was just relatable; and that’s when I realized that people aren’t just looking to be entertained. They’re looking for relatable stories. And I loved that. It became an easy way to tell a story. If I didn’t have time to write, then I could just hop online and share it in five or ten minutes. And my audience appreciated it. It was a fun way to connect.”

“I struggle with anxiety which feeds into self doubt, so the nature of viral posts is good and bad,” she says. “It feeds the ego. You love it, and you love that success, but on the other hand you think, ‘This is it. I’ll never be funny again.’”

These days, her videos go viral every couple of weeks and she’s grateful for the exposure, though it can be tiring. “It’s almost like I feel like I have to carry that momentum in order to keep moving at all. You do it once or twice, and then you feel the pressure to keep it up. At first it was so much fun, and now I try not to look at the numbers because they stress me out,” she laughs. “I get in my head a lot about it, but that’s just my anxiety that I deal with. I talk about it candidly on my page.”

MK shoots a majority of her videos in the car. “Oh, yes,” she laughs. “I hide from my children in the car. Sometimes I’m just in the driveway and I’m not even coming or going! I do actually have an office. Before it was like, ‘I’m going to take a trip to Target, but also since I’m an influencer and this is my job now, I should probably do a video and connect with my audience, but where am I going to do that?’ If I’m inside doing anything, they’re going to be a part of it. There is a level of authenticity that I’m ok with, but my child pulling down his pants or yelling at me or me trying to discipline in a gentle and kind way is not something I want to do on live tv. I’m not a Kardashian. The car is just so quiet, and the lighting is so good because there’s so much sun.”

(I should mention that during our interview, MK’s children were in and out of the room asking her for things and needing her hugs. So very on brand, MK.)

She’s never liked the “influencer” term and admits that it makes her a bit uncomfortable, but she’s embraced it and hopes to use it in a positive way. “I am an influencer, but I hope that I’m an outlier.”

Ultimately, she says, she’ll be happy when her internet fame runs its course. “I won’t be sad when my ability to make money on Facebook goes away. I’m benefitting from it, but the whole culture is not good for us as a society. If it means losing my income for the whole thing to go away, I’ll be ok with it. Hopefully, I’ll establish myself as an author and a speaker and I can continue to work, but if not, I was happy as a mom when this thing started, and I’ll be happy as a mom when it’s over.”

MK has another book, focused on joy and rejecting comparison culture, in the works that’s set to release next year. Learn more about Mary Katherine on her website

“Mary Katherine poured her heart into this book, just like she does with everything else. She has a tremendous love of life, love of others, and love of Jesus that shines in everything she does.”

~Blogger Amy Weatherly