Naturally beautiful with long blonde hair and a wardrobe of floral dresses and skirts, she gave off a modern Little House on the Prairie vibe, if Ma was gorgeous and not constantly starving through the winter. Her life looked idyllic despite its obvious challenges (running a farm, all those kids) and she was rarely without a smile on her face.

The only time followers would ever see her not in her normal wardrobe were when she indulged in what seemed to be a family hobby: competing in pageants. Along with her older sister (Neeleman is one of nine siblings), Neeleman has been on the pageant circuit for years, competing in the Miss New York pageant as a young college student and moving onto the Mrs. American pageant (a pageant for married women) as she got older. After winning Mrs. Utah in 2021, Neeleman was crowned Mrs. American this year (she competed as Mrs. South Dakota, which is a whole other thing).

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it happened, but around the time she competed as Mrs. Utah, Neeleman went from just another LDS influencer with an aspirational Instagram account to a bonafide Online Thing. There are several reasons this could have happened. The pandemic and boredom, the rise of influencer analysis both on social media and the mainstream press, or the rise of tradwife culture on TikTok, or, most likely, all of the above. But a few years ago, something changed.

For other women online, Ballerina Farm became a symbol of a certain type of mother, a certain type of influencer. She became a cipher for the collective stress, ennui, and anger of American mothers riding through a pandemic. Her soft smiles while baking bread, the way her children always seemed happy to help her and never fought, her slim figure and great skin, began to seem almost sinister, and everyone began to dig.

Because, how did Neeleman and her husband afford that big ranch anyway? Turns out, her husband’s father is David Neeleman, who founded JetBlue, among other airlines. Far from some sort of entrepreneurial bootstrappers, people began to say, the Neelemans were nothing more than trust fund enabled nepo babies cosplaying as salt of the earth. Soon, they began to pick apart everything else. Were Neeleman’s kids, all of whom are homeschooled, really happy and obedient? Was Neeleman dressing her sons in cowboy hats and her daughters in paisley not because she thought they looked cute, but because she was trying to portray a certain, completely unrealistic, image of her family as 1800s homesteaders? And, she has to have help, right? No, she definitely has nannies that she’s hiding. She has to.

Along with the discourse, Neeleman’s popularity only continued to grow. She now has 8.6 million followers on Instagram and nearly 7 million followers on TikTok, and thousands of thousands of videos of people analyzing her content, picking apart her life, and rhapsodizing on what it all means.

Many pontificators speculate that Neeleman, by virtue of what she shows online, is trying to manipulate young women into becoming tradwives themselves, or, giving up their financial autonomy to retreat into a “traditional life” of domesticity. Others say that by posting videos of her home births, her skinny waist, her obvious bliss and serene nature, Neeleman is actively harming other women. She’s making postpartum look like a breeze, they accuse, and is giving an unrealistic ideal for what motherhood is actually like.

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