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For much of 2020, content creators and their followers have been grappling with a hard question: How do we best deal with politics and current events on Instagram? On Inauguration Day, this debate came to a head in a rather unexpected way in the form of a fierce debate over the politics of an incredibly popular baby sleep expert.
Cara Dumaplin is huge on Instagram (1.3 million followers) and among millennial and Gen Z moms. If you don’t know her by name, you know her Instagram moniker, @takingcarababies. Cara is an Arizona-based neonatal nurse and mom of four. According to her origin story on her website, Cara became frustrated when, as a first-time mom, baby sleep books and methods weren’t helping her child sleep well. After researching the science behind putting your infant to sleep, she created her own plan, which she turned into a company in 2013. Parents can buy her manuals, which are intended for newborns to 24-month-olds, for about $80 each.
Her methods have won her a ton of devotees. Although Cara launched her company before her Instagram account, her online presence has made her a household name among parents. Her videos and posts are friendly, funny, and inviting. She mixes in the personality of an influencer with easily accessible tips.
Cara has also benefited from collaborating with other big, trendy Instagram parenting accounts, notably @biglittlefeelings, which helps parents deal with tantrums and toddler behavioral issues, and @feedinglittles, which is run by experts in infant and toddler nutrition.
Another fact about Cara: She has financially supported Donald Trump. According to Federal Election Commission records, she has consistently donated to the former president. Cara, who listed her business on her donations, gave to his campaign and a pro-Trump super PAC 36 times from December 2016 to December 2019.
I asked a spokesperson for Taking Cara Babies about Cara’s donations to Trump, and they gave me the following statement from her: “Taking Cara Babies is about helping babies get sleep and parents reclaiming the joy of parenthood that’s often lost due to sleep deprivation. Between 2016 and 2019, I made a series of donations (totaling $1,078) to the Trump campaign. As with many citizens, there were aspects of the Trump Administration that I agreed with and some that I disagreed with. I will continue to serve all parents by empowering them with the tools they need to help their babies sleep.”
The FEC records were always publicly available, but no one really knew Cara’s political affiliations before screenshots of her donations began to make the rounds on social media Tuesday night. I first saw the screenshots on Twitter, but they also exploded onto Instagram via creators like Jamie Grayson.
Influencers who shared the screenshots said they did so because parents had the right to know where the money spent on Cara’s programs is going. Jamie wrote on Instagram, “You cannot take cara babies if the person you’re supporting puts them in cages. … We live in a time where our money is used to support our values.”
Jamie told me people can choose to support who they want to on Instagram as well.
“Every time I get political on my page I tell people to go follow other pages if they do not agree with me. It’s that easy,” he said.
Cara soon found some allies in right-wing Instagram personalities, who painted her as the victim of woke culture run amok. Allie Beth Stuckey, a Christian author and podcaster who has appeared on Fox News and contributed to the Blaze, decried the backlash against Cara as “cancel culture,” calling Jamie and others judgmental hypocrites. She told me she decided to write about it because she often comments on instances of conservatives “getting canceled for who they voted for.” Bethany Beal, one half of Christian YouTube duo Girl Defined, called the situation “insane” and urged her fans to go follow Cara as a show of support, she didn’t return my request for comment.
This news blew up all the parenting corners of every social media platform, and the debate was hot and emotional. When I posted about it on my Instagram grid, I received a ton of comments. Several women wrote that they could no longer in good conscience financially support Cara. Others said they didn’t think Cara’s support of the former president should matter, as she had never discussed her politics on her page, and baby sleep tips are apolitical. Some felt hopelessly conflicted.
Everyone was also curious what Cara’s IG collaborators had to say about it all, and they delivered, although neither explicitly mentioned Cara by name.
@BigLittleFeelings released a long statement on its Instagram story on Wednesday, writing that it decided to unfollow the "high profile influencer" being discussed over her political beliefs. (The account didn’t return a request for comment, but did unfollow @takingcarababies.) The women behind the account, Deena Margolin and Kristin Gallant, wrote that they were “disheartened by the news” and do not stand behind “these donations.”
“If you see something in your feed that is misaligned with your values, create your feed with what you feel is best,” they wrote. “For us that meant unfollowing.”
In a follow-up Instagram story on Thursday, they wrote that their position is not to condone “cancel culture” or “harassment” of people with different views.
Judy Delaware and Megan McNamee, the duo behind @feedinglittles, posted on their Instagram story around the same time. (They also didn’t return a request for comment.) They said the account in question has helped them “significantly both personally and professionally” and reiterated that they believe in Black Lives Matter, equality of all people, and anti-racism. But they didn’t go as far as Deena and Kristin.
“We don’t really know what to do or say. We love our friend,” they wrote. “That’s all we are going to say.”
Cara’s donations are part of a public record, and her clients have the right to decide whether they want to support her company based on the information. But why have the political donations from a nonpolitical Instagram account caused this controversy? I think this is a microcosm of what many people are experiencing in their personal lives across the country.
Nearly half of America voted for Trump, and our country is deeply, deeply divided. Most of us know someone who fiercely believes the opposite of what we do. In particular, many people are struggling with how best to deal with the fact that the owner of a business they support, a friend, or a family member voted for someone they fundamentally disagree with on extremely important issues.
This drama with Cara is just a public symptom of this larger anxiety. And I bet she won’t be the last public figure to inspire this much debate.