Emmylou Maccarthy carved out her media career with nothing but an Instagram account and a dream. Her story is the digital equivalent of rubbing two sticks together to make fire – seemingly impossible at first, but ultimately achievable with time, dedication and the right hashtags and/or wind conditions.
The term ‘influencer’ has become somewhat of a dirty word, but in Emmylou’s case it’s simply an accurate description of how she got her start. Her audience is astoundingly engaged. If Emmylou so much as mentions a brand on social media, product sales tend to skyrocket. Her Instagram stories are a seemingly endless tangent on domestic life, with over 50 instalments a day. She might be making hummus, plaiting her daughter’s hair, waiting for an Uber, applying or removing her makeup, but the activity is irrelevant. Emmylou’s charisma is undeniable. Why else are tens of thousands of people tuning in to watch her do a fishtail braid? She’s luminous. She makes mistakes often and genuinely laughs when she does. She’s a comfort to people at home on their phones, craving connection with a real human person, with the emphasis on real.
We talked over coffee at St Ali in South Melbourne. In person, Emmylou was shorter than I’d imagined and significantly more professional. My instinct was to greet her with a hug, my bestie, the person I’d watched cooking in her pyjamas, but she held out her hand as she approached the table, establishing a boundary in the process. It was a gesture she seemed to have had some training in, a gentle reminder to people that they were, in fact, strangers.
She gets a bit of flack – for not spending enough time with her kids, not having a ‘real job,’ for not fitting the traditional moulds/straight jackets of ‘wife’ and’ mother’, you name it. The reason is obvious. She’s a self-made woman who doesn’t play by the rules. People don’t know what to make of her. I stan.
What do you say to people who question whether or not you have a ‘real job’?
You can let the opinions of others feed into how you see yourself, but at the end of the day, it’s just a career, and it’s mine. It’s driven by joy and excitement. Everything I’ve done, I’ve loved: beauty therapy, skydiving, working in hospitality, working as a receptionist. I’ve done it all with a massive smile on my face. So I just try and not let it affect me. People don’t see the emails and hundreds of DMs. I’ve got staff members now, a legal team, accounting, the whole thing. Emmylou Loves is a business, no question.
You’ve taken a lot of the unpaid invisible labour of motherhood and made it paid and visible, it’s hugely impressive, actually.
People criticise me about not spending enough time with my kids. They say: ‘Oh! Her poor husband is stuck with everything.’ And in fact, he’s not the poor husband, he’s their dad. When he did fly-in-fly-out he was away for four weeks at a time working in the mines. Four weeks! Then he’d be home for five days, and he’d be knackered because he’d have worked 12 hour days for weeks on end, and never once did I hear how lucky he was that I was doing everything at home.
How do you share the parenting load now that you’re so busy with work?
For the last six months, Aaron’s been a stay-at-home dad. He’s the primary carer. He does all the school drop-offs and pick-ups, kinder drop-offs. I often do them with him, then I’m off working every day. I’m home in time to cook dinner. We all pitch in for the housework. We wanted to have one of us as the constant figure at home, so the kids would feel more settled in a routine. It makes the most sense for us right now that Aaron is that person.
How’s that going?
It was hard at first. It doesn’t matter what your situation is, if you’re changing things, it’s not all going to click straight away. You have to give it a trial to see if it’s going to work, and to allow for the icky, uncomfortable part. With any job you have a three month trial, it’s exactly the same as changing the roles up at home. After three months have a sit-down with your boss, or partner in this case, and see how you’re both feeling. Discuss what’s working and what’s not, where the gaps are and how you can fill them.
How did you build your business while being the primary carer to three young kids?
I was pretty single minded in the beginning if I’m honest. I think I’ve got a better balance these days. I was starting late in life. I wanted to go for it, and I did, I really went for it. I put my career first for about 24 months, but man, did I see that affect my family. It impacted our happiness, my personal happiness too. Aaron and I weren’t together during that time, we were co-parenting, so that didn’t help. We were living in the same house, but we were emotionally disconnected. I was prioritising emails at the dinner table over enjoying the meal with my kids. I was so focussed on keeping the momentum going with Emmylou Loves, sometimes it felt almost like the kids were impeding on that. I had to take a good hard look at myself. Like, they’re my kids! What am I doing?
What was it like not being in a romantic relationship with Aaron, but still living in the same house?
Man, did it hurt. Did I spend a lot of time crying? Yes. Did we go long periods of time without speaking? Yes. But did we try to fill that silence with nasty hateful things? No. Sometimes couples will come upon a time in their family life where things are silent. Not much is going on. It’s a bit fucking boring. So what do we do? We get snarky, we get restless. We think, hmmm there’s not much love happening here, let’s try and get a spark going with a bit of hate. That was the one thing Aaron and I decided not to do. We didn’t fill our silence with nastiness. We were just silent for a while, and we were okay with it. I just kept pointing out that it was the hardest time in our lives.
My partner and I have two under four, and our relationship has been hanging on by a thread at various stages since becoming parents. How did you guys get it together?
We let go of expectations and the fantasy that we should still be in the honeymoon period. My advice to any couples going through a tough time is to not under any circumstances compare your relationship to anything you think you’re seeing online or in the world. Aaron and I completely understand that romance can die, and die in a scary way, where you think it’s not going to come back. Make a conscious effort to lead with respect, which is easier said than done when you’re new parents, underslept and stretched so thin.
Is it hard to stay present when so much of your life is on camera?
The camera doesn’t change how I do things. I’m the same way whether I’m being recorded or not. That’s why I muddle up my words, they’re just flying off my tongue. That said, I’ve had to work at staying present with my kids. It doesn’t come naturally to me. When they want to do a jigsaw puzzle for example, the easy part is saying yes, but I have to make a conscious effort to sit down and bloody enjoy it. My instinct is to be in 100 other places in my head, whether it’s what I’m cooking for dinner, or replying to emails, or whatever it is that needs to be done. Being present is a discipline, it’s a muscle that needs building, and I’ve had to work at that.
Describe your perfect dinner party…
Hmmm… An open alfresco area with bifold doors going inside. I don’t know much about interior design, but I know about bifold doors, because I want them. Then I could be in the kitchen cooking, but still be able to see out and hear the party going. I’d want cool beats playing in the background, hip hop or funk or something chilled out like Erykah Badu. I’d make a communal feast with some of my mates helping out. We’d bring out big bowls of gorgeous food and people would be drinking gorgeous wine. It could be anytime of year. Summer, Winter, don’t care!
What can people expect from your upcoming book Confidence in the Kitchen?
It’s a collection of really easy recipes, but tasty, with beautiful imagery. It’s a happy book, one you can flick through and smile. You don’t have to be a wiz in the kitchen to follow the recipes. The point is to give you some spunk and vibe in the kitchen. It’s food that’s meant to be enjoyed with people and that’s enjoyable to make. That’s what food is all about for me. It’s about the experience.
Activity or outing
Definitely movies. Colouring in. Nothing better than a fresh batch of play-dough. And cooking!
Sunday morning breakfast?
South Melbourne market to shop, coffee and a quick bite. Almost every Sunday we have my sister and her family over. She and I will cook up a storm while the kids play.
We’re more into date days! We’re so tired at night and we just want to watch a movie and not talk. But date-days are great. A walk, a swim, just simple things together.
Desert island album?
If I could cheat and say my Spotify playlist…. Oh my God… This is the hardest question I’ve ever been asked… Okay… breathe… okay. Mama’s Gun by Erykah Badu.
Torquay. We love love love the beach.
‘Confidence in the Kitchen’ will be available from all major retailers in June 2020. You can pre-order a copy here.