Heather Armstrong, a pioneering blogger who transformed women’s media and altered the public perception of motherhood, has died at the age of 47.
Armstrong, who also went by her maiden name, Heather Hamilton, died by suicide, according to her boyfriend, Pete Ashdown, who told the Associated Press that he found her Tuesday night at their Salt Lake City home. Ashdown said that Armstrong had recently relapsed into alcoholism after remaining sober for more than 18 months.
Armstrong was born on July 19, 1975, and grew up in Memphis, before majoring in English at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She graduated in 1997 and moved to Los Angeles for work before marrying a web designer named Jon Armstrong and returning to Salt Lake City.
She founded the blog Dooce in 2001. It quickly amassed a dedicated following of young mothers who found Heather Armstrong’s candid and deeply personal posts about the realities of motherhood captivating.
“She was a transformative figure not just in the parenting and family space, but in what we now take for granted in terms of the digital ecosystem,” said Catherine Connors, the senior vice president of creator experiences at the marketing firm Raptive and a former blogger. “She was one of the first well-known bloggers in any category, and had an absolutely radical impact when she began writing honestly about motherhood and her mental health issues.”
Armstrong detailed her struggles with postpartum depression, her conflicted emotions about parenting, her battles with alcoholism, her marriage and eventual divorce. She broke taboos about religion, detailing her choice to leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her death was announced on her Instagram page Wednesday.
Armstrong is credited by many with upending a women’s media world that until the early 2000s largely portrayed an idealized version of motherhood, a time when home life was considered private, and issues related to family and children were deemed too personal to discuss publicly.
Mommy bloggers, most notably Armstrong, changed that, said Connors. In the pre-blogging era, she said: “You got really sanitized parenting magazines and baby books and things that did not tell you the truth about the experience of motherhood. … The whole domain of media around parenting was male-dominated, and when it focused on women it was sanitized. … [Armstrong] used her platform to completely destigmatize issues like postpartum depression, divorce and all these things we totally take for granted now.”
The term “mommy blogger” that was bestowed on Armstrong and many other women bloggers at the time was fraught, with many women feeling like it was misogynistic and pejorative. But Armstrong shattered those perceptions. Blogging gave women a space where they could speak for themselves and build audiences outside corporate media.
When Armstrong decided to run ads on her blog in 2004, she became one of the first to monetize a personal brand on the internet, paving the way for generations of influencers to follow.
“It was empowering,” she told Vox in 2019, “because I realized I didn’t need some male executive in New York to tell me that my story’s important enough to publish because I can just do it myself.”
In 2009, Armstrong wrote a book called, “It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita.” That year, she appeared as a guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and was named the most influential woman in media by Forbes. In 2012, she released her second book titled “Dear Daughter.”
At one point, Armstrong’s blog was reportedly attracting more than 8 million viewers a month, and her earnings from it totaled $30,000 to $50,000 a month.
“Every influencer, every family channel, every monetized site trying to maintain an existence as a form of independent media can trace its history back to Dooce,” the blogger known as SB Sarah wrote Wednesday. “She was more famous than the biggest channels on TikTok, more famous than the YouTubers with the most subscribers, more relevant at the time than any Instagrammer — without any of those forms of social media to build her audience and her community.”
Armstrong and her mommy blogging peers built the foundation for what is now known as the creator economy.
“She shaped the internet as we know it today — and launched a million storytellers with her willingness to write boldly and unapologetically about the struggles of being human,” the blogger Rebecca Woolf, another pioneering motherhood blogger, wrote of Armstrong’s passing Wednesday.
Kathryn Jezer-Morton, a writer who chronicles motherhood and the online world, said that Armstrong’s impact on the modern internet is “hard to overstate.” “She was saying things no one had said out loud before,” Jezer-Morton said. “She was really honest about who she was, and we hadn’t seen that before from a suburban mom — it was unprecedented.”
The prominence of Armstrong’s blog also kicked off what would become a national discussion on the role of children in parenting content online.
“There was one time when she wrote about when I was sick and it kind of embarrassed me and I talked to her about it and she was like, ‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you,’” her then-14-year-old daughter, Leta Elise Armstrong, told Slate in 2018. Her daughter said she was given veto power over certain things appearing on Dooce.com.
Heather Armstrong wrote extensively about her struggles with depression and alcohol addiction in her 2019 book, “The Valedictorian of Being Dead.” The book details her experience undergoing a clinical trial for a treatment for depression that subjected her to 10 sessions in which doctors used propofol anesthesia to reduce her brain activity to zero before raising it again.
Following the treatment and the publication of her book, she began blogging more regularly on Dooce.com. Her final post, dated April 6, 2023, talks about her struggles with sobriety and depression. “Early sobriety resembles living life as a clam without its shell,” she wrote.
She is survived by her two children, Leta Elise, now 19, and Marlo Iris Armstrong, 14.