Sunday, 10 March 2013

Truth in blogvertising

It's been a supremely lazy Sunday.  It is apparently 10 whole degrees outside, however I wouldn't know since I haven't opened the front door.  For that matter, I haven't taken off my cozy morning lounge wear or gotten a shower either.  This is probably partially in rebellion for the cleaning binge that I went on yesterday in preparation for my mom's impending visit.  But it's also due to the fact that I fell down a bit of a rabbit-hole while surfing the net after breakfast and have spent an inordinate amount of time reading snarky forum chats and having my eyes opened to artificiality of the world of professional blogging.

Let's backtrack.  Probably about a year or so ago (yeah, I'm slow) I discovered the world of personal style/lifestyle blogging.  I think I was looking for fashion tips (I am also spectacularly un-trendy) and happened across a couple of websites where women with very cool senses of personal style were posting pictures of themselves in their daily outfits.  I was smitten!  As someone who has absolutely no individual creativity when it comes to dressing myself, I was always put off by fashion magazines because I couldn't see any way to translate what I saw in their pages to workable outfits for my everyday life.  While my wardrobe wasn't bad per se, it was certainly pretty bland and unoriginal.  Put it this way: I only discovered the structured jacket (that isn't part of a suit and doesn't have to match your pants) about five years ago thanks to Stacy and Clinton and What Not To Wear

Personal style blogs helped me to elevate my closet to another level.  I immediately bookmarked a bunch of them and even though the authors were mostly about 10 years younger than me and hence could pull off much shorter skirts than either my age or 9 to 5 office job would allow.  I got some great tips on accessorizing and how to convert high-fashion trends into an everyday look.  But I didn't stop there.  A lot of these bloggers also featured lifestyle tips like recipes and design ideas that I loved to browse or try myself.  I also discovered whole blogs devoted to living healthy lifestyles, where normal women with normal lives (not professional trainers or celebrities whose job it is to be skinny) posted about their daily workouts and healthy food tips.  As someone who has struggled to maintain a balanced perspective when it comes to food and exercise, I was hooked.

As time passed, I started to find myself noticing little things about these blogs that aggravated me.  Like the personal style blogger who seemed to not own a single pair of flats, but instead looked to be out running errands in her high-end designer pumps on a regular basis.  Obviously I knew that posting photos of herself in her sneakers and sweats was unlikely to generate high page views, but I still wondered how someone whose wardrobe consisted primarily of JCrew or H&M clothing was even able to afford Prada heels?  I also started to find myself becoming bothered by some of my favourite healthy lifestyle bloggers.  They never seemed to feel lazy or unmotivated, or to skip a day at the gym out of pure sloth.  They would routinely post pictures of huge treat-laden tables at family meals, and then a subsequent photo of their tiny plate with a pile of fruit and one tiny cookie perched delicately on the side.  Who has this kind of self control?  I wondered.  Why can't I be like that?

I started to develop a bit of a love/hate relationship with the lifestyle blogs.  I started finding them less and less helpful or relatable, and more and more irritating.  Part of me figured that I must be just jealous that these women could afford clothes and shoes that I couldn't, or that they never seemed to struggle with diet and exercise like I did.  But as I watched fashion bloggers get invites and free swag from events like New York Fashion Week (NYFW), and healthy living bloggers get wined and dined (ok,  coconut-watered and apple-sliced) by fitness brands like Reebok, I started to realize that for most of these bloggers, what had started out as a hobby had become a profession.  A lot of them had quit their previous jobs to blog full-time.  As a result, what had begun as their lives had turned into a brand.  And like any brand, there was marketing involved.

Of course, marketing involves making your product (in this case, the bloggers themselves) as attractive as possible to customers.  But in this case, the customers aren't the blog readers.  We don't pay the bills or dole out the free stuff.  Instead, the bloggers are marketing themselves to the companies that generate income, whether it's by sending them on conferences or publicity trips, donating baskets of free makeup or fitness gear to give away on their blogs, or just plain old paying them for advertising.  I don't particularly have an issue with this from the point of view of disclosure, since most bloggers are pretty open about when they're wearing something gifted or have been given free products in exchange for a review or publicity.  What bothers me is how this affects the bloggers themselves.  They become less real and more varnished.  More practiced and perfect.  Sure, they'll still post pictures of their weddings or their dogs or their sweaty post-workout faces.  They'll try to make you feel like you're getting a glimpse at their real lives.  But you're not.  What you're seeing is a carefully crafted persona that never curses or swears, never gets sick (or if she does, certainly doesn't post pictures of it or talk about it until after she's recovered), never fights with her spouse, never second-guesses herself and certainly never fails at anything she does.  Which in the end, makes her incredibly uninteresting.

I'm certainly not saying that any of these women are obliged to share the nitty gritty details of their lives with their readers.  That's their choice.  But it helps me to understand why, over time, my own readership of blogs has shifted away from picture-perfect lifestyle and fashion bloggers.  Part of it is of course due to the fact that infertility is now a huge part of my life, and as a result it's something I read and think about a lot more than I did a year ago.  But I like to think that another part of it is because infertility blogs are fundamentally different than all those other blogs.  

Infertility blogs are real.  They're dirty and messy and sloppy.  We talk about vaginas and semen and sex; we talk about hope and grief and despair.  We bitch about drugs, money and partners.  We get depressed.  We curse.  We cry.  We write posts while crying.  Then we haul ourselves out of it.  Instead, imagine how insufferable an infertility blogger would be if she was making money from a clinic.  Imagine if all she talked about was how great her clinic was, and never expressed doubt that her treatment might work.  Never talked about the fact that she and her husband weren't on the same page, or that her fertile friends were behaving insufferably.  Wouldn't happen.  Not here.  Not in this world.

None of this is to say that I don't still visit lifestyle and fitness blogs from time to time.  Everyone likes to look at pretty things once in a while.  But I think there's a lot to be said for honesty in blogging, and not painting a picture of yourself that is unrealistically perfect.  Imperfection is what makes us real, and vulnerability is what makes us likeable.

That said, if anyone wants to send me a pair of Prada heels, I take size 8.

11 comments:

  1. I feel like this could be a column in the New York Times! So well written and SO true! As I was reading, all I could think is that the authors of those lifestyle blogs are probably moms... Who only had to have sex to get pregnant! Jerks!!

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  2. Great post!! I couldn't agree more. I find us infertility bloggers real. When others complain about things that happened at their clinics, or bad days it makes me feel less alone. I'm fairly new to the blogging world and I've never really been interested in those "lifestyle" bloggers. I mostly read IVF/adoption and cooking blogs. and by the way, your blog is one of my favs!!

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  3. It's so true. I never really got into any blogs before infertility blogs. I would come across them from time to time but they always seemed so polished and full of product placement that they weren't that interesting to me. Maybe it's the nature of what IF bloggers are talking about that make it impossible to fall victim to marketing and advertising like lifestyle blogs.

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  4. Very interesting. The only blogs I've really followed closely before all this infertility stuff came along were crafting blogs - and while there are certainly company-sponsored crafting blogs, it's also a world where bloggers are more apt to let the seams show, so to speak. But during my brief period of looking at wedding blogs, I remember thinking how artificially perfect everything seemed. Of course, that's weddings for ya...

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  5. Nicely written words, my friend! I've never really been a reader of lifestyle blogs. Truth be told, aside from some recipe blogs, I didn't enter this world until I happened across an infertility blog during one of my marathon googling events after my miscarriage. But, since finding this small corner of the blogosphere, I've started to brand into others a bit. And you're right. Lifestyle blogs appear to be interesting, but they are certainly not REAL. They're lacking life. They're a empty. I like to look at pretty pictures as much as the next person, though. But I don't actually read anything. I just scroll through, looking at the pictures. So, I've realized that I use my brief visits to lifestyle blogs as a form of porn. Fashion porn. Food porn. Fitness porn. I get my kicks and move on. ;)

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  6. So true! I haven't really ever read lifestyle blogs, although I do have a thing for anywhere drool-inducing recipes are posted, and those aren't always healthy. But all the reasons you list about those lifestyle blogs being irritating are also why I left facebook and never particularly got into social media at all. People seem to post only the shiny happy (artificial) images of their highly packaged lives. In contrast, I love - and am so grateful for - the messy, real, tearful, angry, hopeful world of ALI blogging. I don't honestly know where I'd be without you all! Feeling much less sane, and more alone, for sure.

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  7. LOVE this! It's definitely difficult to see "perfect" all the time. I am so glad to be perfectly IMperfect!!

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  8. Very true... I don't actually read a lot of blogs, so I think I surprised myself when I became so addicted to the infertility ones, but I imagine this has something to do with it. You should know, too, that you're not alone in having this reaction to supposedly "perfect" lifestyle bloggers -- I once did this year-long eco-challenge that involved making hundreds of changes to my life to help the environment, and I was blogging about it every day. Well, about halfway through, I wrote a post about all the times I'd cheated on my pledges or slipped up and ordered take-out from a fast-food joint instead of preparing my own local, organic meal from scratch -- and that turned out to be my most popular post! Rather than criticize me for being a hypocrite or whatever, all these people commented that this finally made me seem like a real, vulnerable person who was relatable and imperfect.

    So yeah... now that I've complained about my anal bleeding to the entire Internet, I think I've gone FAR beyond mere imperfection and into crazy-lady territory. But hey, I still have readers!

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  9. Your observations are so spot-on! It's so true...after so many years in the IF blog-world, the phoniness and 'life is so squeeeee!!!!'-ness of most lifestyle bloggers is simply eye-roll-inducing. Like, for real? That's your life? Ha. Bless your little Gucci-clad heart. Anyway, thanks for sharing!!

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  10. Amen to that!

    I used to follow thepioneerwoman.com. I liked her because she was unpolished and funny. But then she got picked up by a publishing company, and a food network show. Now, I don't ever even think of that site. I still love reading recipes and learning about photography (among other things), but it's no longer from her.

    Thank you my "real" bloggy friend!

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  11. Yes! SO true! We are very messy women, but I love reading the "realness" that comes from IF blogs. I like food blogs, but I really only read the recipes so I guess that doesn't count.

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I'm needy and your comments validate me. Help a sister out!