Monday, May 11, 2015

Just be honest

An interesting-ish thing happened last week. I wrote a post about being a more honest blogger. I linked a blogger whose posts were the impetus for my post. She came around and called herself a "scapegoat," which surprised me and I shared the post to a couple groups in which I participate. I had thought that I would receive, if not a standing ovation, then at least some hearty agreement, but what happened was a LOT of disagreement. It made me sad really, and I had to remove the link from one group in particular because the dissenters called me things like "cruel" and said I "attacked" another blogger. They also went on to say how "brave" blogging is and since she was "not hurting" me, why did I have to hurt well as a bunch of other hyperbole.

First of all, let's be really clear that criticism is not cruelty and it is certainly not an attack. It's also not abusive or mean. In fact, ladies, we have got to start using language appropriate for the situation at hand. We (as in all the ladies I know and like) are trying to fight for our equality. We're trying to create venues where we can express ourselves. We're trying to create communities where we can come together and support each other. But even within these communities, we might disagree or even criticize each other. What we're not doing is raping, assaulting, threatening, cajoling, or attacking each other. Disagreement is not abuse. Criticism is not assault. So, just get your language right. Disagree respectfully and without exaggeration. It's incorrect and it's belittling.

Secondly, let's also be clear that writing a blog about fashion or lifestyle is not brave. It's a free hobby that sometimes becomes a well-paid job or even just a little side money. It is not a dangerous or forced activity. You can stop blogging at any time. You can delete comments from your blog. You can block followers on every social media platform and make your comments moderated so that no one else has to see trolls, even if you happen to see a few. You're not on the front lines of anything by posting pictures about your vacation and talking about your scrapbooking. ESPECIALLY if you write a "curated" blog that creates a shiny and happy and fake image of your mythical life. Skirting any honesty and avoiding any vulnerability is NOT BRAVE. It's just not. Some blogs are brave. Blogs that outline mental illness, rape, miscarriage, struggles with chronic illness, feminist blogs, even blogs that center around a person's faith. Those blogs are vulnerable and honest and difficult and brave and necessary. Writing about your clothes just isn't.

What surprised me the most about the reactions to my post were how people wanted to take my words and turn them into something else. People said it was hard to be "raw" or that sharing "deeply personal details" of their lives was difficult. But see, I never said be raw or to outline, in detail, your entire personal life. I simply said be honest. Admit you have struggles. Tell us how you face them. I do not think it is necessary to write your rape story, your miscarriage story, the story of your difficulty in labor or your premature labor. I do not believe you have to outline your faith or your political believes, especially if they are controversial or in the extreme minority. I do not think you need to write about your family, your children, your spouse or partner. What I'm saying is, let us know when you're having a bad day, why you're having a bad day, and what you did about it. Let us know it's not all sunshine and cute outfits. Because when you "curate" your life, then you lie about it. Also, when you bring up vague issues and then dismiss them in one paragraph without any information at all, you're implying that whatever you're facing should be shamed away.

But reality is good days and bad days, for any number of reasons. A bad day could be a C when you know you deserved an A, or a car repair you can't afford, or the anniversary of the death of a loved one. A bad day can come from silly things like wishing you had enough money to paint your bedroom or even to afford a new skirt and you're bummed because you're broke. A bad day could be because you're in the hospital struggling with a chronic illness or simply that it rained on a day when you wanted to go swimming. When we avoid writing about bad days, then we avoid the reality of life and we create an unattainable standard.

You know, the overwhelming reaction to my post was that, it's not a big deal. But the thing is, it's totally a big deal. If I were writing about the beauty myth perpetuated by Hollywood, with quantifiable damages to young women in the U.S. If I were writing about how this beauty myth creates self-esteem issues in girls starting at an alarming young age and continues with perpetuating eating disorders in young women. If I were writing about the millions that American women spend on weight loss treatments and anti-aging treatments because of this beauty myth created by mainstream media, no one would argue with me. In fact, I don't have to cite it anymore. This is common knowledge. The problem with these lifestyle myths created by bloggers is much the same as the beauty myth, but no one really understands it yet. But you know, young women are spending hundreds and even thousands of dollars trying to learn how to create a blog. They're giving their money to established bloggers because they are so desperate for the same validation those bloggers receive. Every day in a social media outlet, some young woman complains about how hard it is to write content that is good as the other bloggers she sees. Because women are comparing their own lives to the lives of other women. But if these women were comparing their bodies, we would all stop, shut them down, and encourage them to love their bodies as they are because we are each beautiful. Because we KNOW that the beauty myth in Hollywood is just that, a myth. But we fail to see the myth in blogging. We fail to see the damage it does to the self-image of those reading. And we explain it away because we've decided that blogging is some insurmountable obstacle and anyone who achieves it should be revered.

It's not ok. Young women need an outlet, and they are using blogging to do it. There are so many blogs out there, giving voice to those who need it. I want to encourage all of them to have that voice. But I want to encourage them to have that voice in a way that is real and honest and vulnerable and not in a way that is fake and discourages them from the get go because they feel they can never really have the right kind of voice. This is my call for honesty from every party involved. Stop creating celebrities out of real women. Stop pretending that writing a blog is difficult and brave. Stop perpetuating a mythical lifestyle of endless happiness and constant good days. Don't dismiss your own feelings. Don't belittle yourself. Don't shame away your problems. Just be real, acknowledge that life isn't always perfect. Talk about your struggles. Let your readers know you are a real human being with a real life and real problems and then tell them how you worked through them. Lead by example, because you already are. You are either sending out a message that your life is perfect and easy or you are sending out a message that you are an honest, flawed person who struggles just like anyone else.

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