Earlier today, Mitt Romney's official Twitter account linked to his wife Ann's profile on the social network everyone is talking about, Pinterest. Ann Romney is now the most famous Mormon on Pinterest—but far from the first. Pinterest is so popular with Mormons it's practically the Utah of social networks. Why? Let's investigate.
On one level, it's not surprising that Pinterest, the social bookmarking service where users curate images by 'pinning' them with links and commentary to themed boards, is a hit with Mormons. Its first rule is "Be nice." Pinterest is the most inoffensive, white-bread place on the internet, a gated community of perfectly curated boards sprinkled with Etsy-made children's toys and food blog recipes, sheltered from the blasted racist hellscape of the rest of the web.
But Mormons are not typically thought of as early adopters of technology. Long before Pinterest became the subject of fascination and derision by the culture at large, it was the talk of the Mormon blogosphere. You may have started to see a torrent of Pinterest notifications in your Facebook timeline in the last few weeks, but way back in September 2011 a writer at the Mormon Women's blog The Exponent was talking about her "whole mess of friends who absolutely love Pinterest." (Mary Romney, Mitt's daughter-in-law, apparently joined Pinterest in September.) Among the earliest coverage by a mainstream media outlet was a post the Salt Lake City Deseret News' MormonTimes blog.
"[Mormons] were a group I noticed the most in the beginning," said longtime Pinterest user Gillian Lanyon, who curates the Pinterest board I am Fascinated by Mormons. Pinterest features a page for popular images posted by users, and in the early days of Pinterest, "you would even see quotes from Church leaders (poster-style, and in beautiful typefaces of course) in the top rankings for pins," Lanyon said. (Lanyon isn't Mormon, just fascinated by them.) You can see the continuing popularity of these Mormon memes by searching Pinterest for, say, Mormon leader Dieter Uchtdorf.
"I actually found out about Pinterest a couple of months ago from my sister in-law (who is also a Mormon)," said Kae Fisher, a 25 year-old Mormon Pinterest user from Sacramento, who took the time to email with me even though her 14 month-old girl is "sick and SUPER whiney."
"After awhile, I started noticing my other Mormon friends on Facebook talking about the site and posting pictures of things that they've learned and made from Pinterest," she said.
"I don't know how to block/remove them," she wrote. "Of course, there's the obvious—post something offensive and they'll remove themselves—but I don't want it to get back to my mother."
One reason for Pinterest's Mormon base is simply demographic. Pinterest's demographic sweet spot is young new mothers, which includes a lot of Mormon women, as they get pregnant early and often. Mommy bloggers blew up Pinterest like early Pitchfork blew up the Arcade Fire, and a number of powerhouse mommy blogs, like Taza and Husband, are run by Mormons. (They're also big on Pinterest).
The focus on homemaking means Mormon women are also more inclined to pursing crafts and cooking, two of the more popular topics on Pinterest. One of Ann Romney's first boards includes recipes of low-fat turkey burgers and a "Gluten-free desert pizza" that looks too gross to post on the internet, much less eat. Kae Fisher cites her involvement in the Mormon women's organization the Relief Society as teaching her the skills she uses Pinterest to foster.
"I know of so many women who are so talented in areas such as sewing, knitting, scrapbooking, baking., etc. largely due to this program," she said. "The creative side of me came from learning from others in this program. Pinterest is like the head websites the Mormons turn to for creativity, I think."
But there's also a cultural drive among Mormons to cultivate and share an image of domestic bliss—and Pinterest is the perfect packaging vehicle for that aim. Pinterest traffics in that relentless, almost eerie perfection that has made Mormon Mommy blogs popular even among non-Mormons, and Mitt Romney barely popular with Republicans. Mitt Romney's daughter-in-law, Mary, had one such blog, until she took it down today amid media attention.
"I think what we're thinking is that our whole dogma is called the Plan of Happiness, and our blogs kind of reflect that drive and appeal to happiness," Mormon mommy blogger Courtney Kendrick told BuzzFeed earlier today. Mormons have taken to social media to share their happiness with special zeal; there's a whole page dedicated to "Sharing the Gospel Online" on the Church of Latter-Day-Saint's site.
But Mormons have not embraced Pinterest whole-heartedly. Even the small bits of the web's incivility that seep in trouble some of them. Back in September, when Pinterest was probably even nicer than it is today, the Exponent blogger was disturbed by the "slut-shaming, body-hate and other symptoms of misogyny" she saw there. "Sure there isn't a *ton* of this sort of negative content, but I find myself continually surprised at it's prevalence," she wrote.
Self-fashioning in full view of others, free from the constraints that discipline our desires in the real world, can become an exercise in prideful status-seeking. A recipe for oreo-wrapped-in-cookie-dough-covered-in-brownie-batter may be a crime against good taste and cardiovascularity, but my mocking re-pin is the sin. The Pinterest-self is a self on display, not a self in relation, and therein lies the vice. Therein, too, lies insecurity and crippling anxiety, because an identity based entirely on the display of images—actual images or metaphorical "image"—is inherently fragile, vulnerable to attack from every corner.
Image by Jim Cooke.