If you’re on Instagram, there is a fair chance you follow someone who is “insta-famous.” That is, they have lots of followers, take great pictures, and are always well-styled. Many of the people behind these accounts started with blogs and grew an audience that has followed their lives for years. Natalie Holbrook started her blogging career as a “Mormon Mommy Blogger” with her former blog “Hey, Natalie Jean.” She became extremely successful in NYC, and many people started to relate to her life and style. Eventually, she started to question her faith in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and went from being a Mormon mommy blogger to a blogger focusing on fashion, style and parenting. She quit blogging altogether earlier this year and not only that, she has gone from being a NYC blogger to a Moscow housewife.
When Holbrook agreed to sit down with me, I got really nervous. Natalie is cool — that “yeah, I have 54,000 followers on Instagram, wrote a book, managed an uber-successful blog, but can still eat pizza with some random girl from Clarkston and be really nice and sweet about it” kind of cool. I was nervous because while I’m one of those 54,000 followers, I’ve only peeked at her world through a computer screen or her book, “Hey Natalie Jean: Advice, Musings and Inspirations on Marriage, Motherhood and Style.” Her world is so much different than mine, I thought, but that thought quickly disappeared. This girl’s favorite food is meatloaf, and she loves Anne Shirley of “Anne of Green Gables.” Solid.
Natalie, 33, lives in Moscow with her husband Brandon, 38, and son Huck, 6. They moved here in 2015, but Moscow isn’t new to them. Brandon earned his law degree from the University of Idaho and his MBA from Washington State University.
RP: When did you start blogging?
NH: I started blogging in Brooklyn. My mom had a 6-year-old and back then you had all these cellphone minutes. I had all these stupid ideas I wanted to tell her and cool stories that had happened and she said, ‘I need you to write these down because I just don’t have time to listen.’ Then we moved here for law school and I thought, ‘What’s the point?!’ and things just stopped. I decided to pick it back up because I needed a creative outlet. It’s a good way to say, ‘This was a good part of my day.’ By the time we moved back to New York, blogs were just starting to take off and making money.
RP: You talk about being a Mormon housewife …
NH: What’s funny is that I never wanted to be a Mormon housewife. I hated that label, and I wanted to aspire to something different. Not better or more, just different because I’m an ornery son-of-a … But once I realized I couldn’t get pregnant and I was able to picture what it would be like if I could have children and how wonderful it would be, that’s when I decided I really did want to be a Mormon housewife, minus the religion part. That part never quite jibed with me. But going into that role of housewife and mom, to me, is a dream come true. (Natalie struggled with infertility, a topic that made its way into her blog often. But eventually, they got pregnant with their son, Huck.)
RP: You moved back to New York and your blog got super popular. When do you think you became the blogger?
NH: I don’t know exactly when it happened on my end. When we were living in New York City and Huck was just a few months old, a girl did an article in ‘Salon’ about how she considered herself this highly educated and ambitious woman but she couldn’t stop reading Mormon housewife blogs and how conflicted she felt. It was a funny article at the time because all the way through blogging I was put in this mommy blogger role that I was grateful to be in but that had nothing to do with me, really, so I would self-identify with that girl with the degree who thought, ‘I dunno. I like these mommy blogs even though I don’t know why,’ and here I was running one of them. I thought, ‘You are my people. I get you guys.’ I was like an outsider on the inside, scoping it out.
RP: What experience did you have thanks to your blog that stands out in your mind?
NH: I have been so fortunate. I got to meet Martha Stewart a couple times, I got to travel to New Orleans. The lows were so low, but the highs were so great. Huck has had experiences that have been really cool.
RP: You were a Mormon blogger, but by the end of your blogging career, your thoughts on your faith had shifted.
NP: It was actually the blog that pushed me to make the decision to stop attending church and stop making that a part of my life. The church leaders had come out and they were giving these talks at General Conference. One in particular was talking about gay marriage issues. I watched Brandon, who has really great friends who are gay … and he is conservative … and … he was having a hard time coming to terms with it. And I thought that I didn’t feel right having my name attached to this. I’m not the kind of person whose name matters at all but I’d get emails from girls. I got an email from a girl who was going to school at (Brigham Young University) and she was a cutter. She was so depressed and was having trouble with bullying and she had found my blog. She wrote to me and said that finding my blog and realizing there were people like her doing these things and having this life and experiencing the same exact issues … it gave her so much hope. … Her therapy was more effective. She stopped cutting herself. She was able to see a future for herself that she didn’t see before. That’s why I kept blogging for so long when I was sick and tired of it. I’d get those emails. So when the church was making these decisions I thought, ‘I have these girls. They look to me … I have people I want to be an example for.’ It was that big sister instinct.
The ‘Square Peg’ post (in which she questions aspects of her Mormon faith), I wanted to write it and I couldn’t. I felt like it was too much. You know, too controversial or whatever. … I called a couple of my blogger friends and they were all like, ‘Ya know, I would never do it. But you should do it.’ I got my husband’s OK and I sat down and I had the whole thing written in under five minutes. It just fell out of my fingers. It’s one of those blog posts that people say resonates with them. It was a big blog post.
RP: Do you regret closing down your blog?
NH: No. Not for a minute. I let it go a little longer than I should have.
RP: You were a fashion blogger and with that comes pretty great perks, lots of those perks now being sold at The Storm Cellar in Moscow. What’s it like being given free stuff left and right?
NH: I have not been blogging or Instagramming for a few months now and I get the same amount of emails and number of pitches from companies. I get three or four a day. At first I said, ‘I’m no longer blogging. Thank you so much, take me off of your lists,’ but they just keep doing it. They say the same things, ‘We are loving your feed lately. Your blog is so … whatever … ’ I’m like, ‘My blog doesn’t exist anymore.’ So all these people who want to become insta-famous or think we’re special, we are just cattle. It goes to show that receiving free product … it doesn’t mean what it used to mean. It used to be, ‘I’m getting free product, look at me,’ and people would really dislike you if you presented (their products) the wrong way. Nowadays, they don’t even care. They don’t pay attention. They say, ‘We loved it,’ but they don’t even know. It’s a machine.
RP: What do you do in your downtime?
NH: I’ll do paint by numbers. Paint by numbers are the best. But they take a lot of focus. A paint by numbers weekend is a big deal. I love crosswords and weaving on my loom.
RP: Would you like to write another book?
NH: I would. I have some ideas. But I like the idea of writing a chapter book for kids not quite chapter book-ready but above and beyond picture books. I want to write a collection of stories about my chickens. There’s a part of me that wants to write confessions of a ‘Former Mormon Mommy Blogger’ — FoMoMoBlo. I don’t want to write anything negative, I don’t like those feelings in myself, but at the same time it’s a fascinating story. I don’t want to drag anyone’s name through the mud. I might just write it for myself and delete it.
RP: You’re someone who others look to for style tips and curating a space. If you had to buy one thing that was both beautiful and useful, what would you buy?
NH: Oh! Beautiful glass jars. Things you can empty your pasta and beans and cereal into. Buy an old-school label maker, the kind that is white and raised, and go around and label everything yourself. Anything looks pretty in a glass jar.
RP: Let’s end on a really serious note. What’s your staple outfit for fall?
NH: I’m a T-shirt-and-jeans girl all the way. I’ll be wearing my Clark Wallabees a lot, my favorite shoe ever. They look like grandma nurse shoes. I’m looking for a really awesome pair of Tevas. I think Moscow has gotten into my blood. I’m thinking about Tevas.
Prasil is a Clarkston mom to six. She survives on stale goldfish crackers, spontaneous adventures, happy hour and Bravo programming. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org