When Words Attack

It seems, recently, the fashion-internet-atmosphere is electro-charged with debates about race, cultural theft and appropriation; vilifying both fat and skinny girls; whether or not the idea of “nude” colors in photo spreads feeds covert racism … the list goes on.  Squeezed in between outrage inducing posts we find our fair share of trolls tearing apart both authors and commenters for liking or disliking an author’s content.  I’ll admit, I’ve felt the need to talk about certain topics for my edification – and my readers have responded.  Some have had nothing but positive input and others have called me “delusional”.  I get to spend my day wondering just how helpful these posts are towards changing anything.  I worry that my thoughts on any matter are going to elicit the screams of trolls who have, at hand, a multitude of insults ranging from name calling to visions of self grandeur.  And one question begs answer – why are you coming here if you’re only coming to hate?  Why even bother?


When it comes down to expressing your view on the internet, you’re preaching to a choir who already has an opinion, doesn’t care about much else, and has a list of mean-spirited reasons at-ready to tear you down with – including that set of outfit pictures you meticulously posed for.   I know you’re shaking your head in disbelief, but this Slate article hit the nail right on top of its pretty little head:

It’s a prime example of the feminist blogosphere’s tendency to tap into the market force of what I’ve come to think of as “outrage world”—the regularly occurring firestorms stirred up on mainstream, for-profit, woman-targeted blogs … They’re ignited by writers who are pushing readers to feel what the writers claim is righteously indignant rage but which is actually just petty jealousy, cleverly marketed as feminism. These firestorms are great for page-view-pimping bloggy business. But they promote the exact opposite of progressive thought and rational discourse, and the comment wars they elicit almost inevitably devolve into didactic one-upsmanship and faux-feminist cliché. The vibe is less sisterhood-is-powerful than middle-school clique in-fight, with anyone who dares to step outside of chalk-drawn lines delimiting what’s “empowering” and “anti-feminist” inevitably getting flamed and shamed to bits. Paradoxically, in the midst of all the deeply felt concern about women’s sexual and professional freedom to look and be however they want, it’s considered de rigueur to criticize anyone… who dares to seem to want to sexually attract men.

I sit, reading that and recall several posts where, for example, fashion bloggers are torn down for choices, for outfits, and for the ever-increasing hot topics cropping up in the fashion world. (A good post on that?  Check out Fashion Blogger Bashing on Grechen Blogs).  Example: I’ve seen multiple comments about one certain blog – a prime example of jealous rage (for a great read on that – click here), stemming from insecurity and a sense of self righteousness.  And no offense to Sister Wolf, here – who is often poignant or funny, this post just exemplifies my point about that one blog that often comes under fire.

… Instead of mimicking the old directly anxiety-making model—for example, by posting weight-loss tips and photos of impossibly thin models like a traditional women’s magazine—Jezebel and the Slate and Salon “lady-blogs” [among others - Birdie's emphasis...] post a critique of a rail-thin model’s physique, explaining how her attractiveness hurts women. The end result is the same as the old formula—women’s insecurities sell ads. The only difference is the level of doublespeak and manipulation that it takes to produce that result…

Oh yeah – being a small person, I get to read all those articles on how even naturally well-proportioned, beautiful models’ “attractiveness  hurts other women” or that “Curves are In” and my body type isn’t.  I happen to have been built small.  I realize that real-life women are not necessarily angry at me because of my size, and that many women in reality could care less about the contents of my closet – but many “feminist” blogs play on this faux-outrage and women (including yours truly) sometimes fall for it.  What’s worse are the bands of trolls who hop into the fray, with slurs of eating disorders, anorexia, illness, pretentiousness, selfishness, show-off; all vile words of hatred.

Evil words pontificate outrage on how an author is the bad guy for everything from being small, to wearing interesting looks others can’t afford, or liking ultra-high robo-geisha shoes.  I’m supposed to be outraged at how people hate me.  Readers are supposed to be outraged at how I don’t want to be hated – how I want to be me.  The cycle begins, and pageviews soar.

It’s certainly important to have honest, open conversations about the issues that reliably rake in comments and page views—rape, underage sexuality, and the cruel tyranny of the impossible beauty standards promoted by most advertisers and magazines (except the ones canny enough to use gently lit, slightly rounder, older, or more ethnic examples of “true beauty”). But it may just be that it’s not possible to have these conversations online. On the Web, writers tend to play up the most jealousy- and insecurity-evoking aspects of controversy, and then anonymous commenters—who bear no responsibility for the effects of their statements—take the writers’ hints to any possible extreme. It’s just how the Internet works.

At the same time, many posts on these sites aren’t consciously written with the twisted mess of intentions I just described. Probably many of the writers feel that their work is helping women by exposing sexism and getting important women’s issues onto their radar. But especially for Jezebel writers, whose page-view-generating skills are a matter of public record, and whose careers are dependent on maintaining their stats, the pressure to continuously hit “outrage world” topics must be intense…

It makes me think about every time I’ve scrolled through comments on Slate, Jezebel, or any other “outrage inducing” blog post, reading the legions of comments ripping both the writer and each other to shreds.  It’s like any decency one may have goes to hell as soon as they hit the next hot-button topic on the net.  Of course, nameless and faceless makes all the more reason to speak out, right?  And each outrage-inducing post plays into our dire need for self validation.

“It’s easier to fight online, because you feel more brave and in control”.

And while we’re crying outrage at a system that lets these hot-button topics and transgressions happen, while we’re out tearing each other apart instead of fostering intelligent discussion, we’ve become victims of a system that is subversively wielding our clicks and cash-flow, making money off our outrage.  We’ve become part of a system that – instead of unifying – is slowly tearing itself apart, limb-from-limb in an attempt at feeble self-validation and monetary gain.  (I have the feeling there’s going to be one person who says “This post is exactly what you’re complaining about.”  The difference?  I think pageviews are an unreliable measure of my success.)

How do we break this cycle of unintelligent criticism?  Is it as simple as not judging and just accepting, and how do you teach an entire internet movement to be so civil?  Is it worth putting our positive vibes and discussions out there?  Do we refrain from participating in “outrage-world” and it’s inherent discontent – disengage from the wash of negative media offered by authors and trolls alike?  Or is that simply “the way the Internet is” – a conscious problem to be considered, but ultimately ignored?

Body Con(scious) – Pt2

Crystal Renn's autobiography Hungry

My body is changing.  In the last year, I’ve gained an inch or two around – everywhere.  I know this because sometimes I can be a little self conscious, but if you no longer fit into any of your jeans, wouldn’t you be a little annoyed?  Besides being heavier than I’ve ever been, I’m also more out-of-shape than ever.  So in a recent conversation I mentioned a meeting with a trainer, and a friend asked me, “Like … at a gym?  Why do YOU need a trainer?  That’s silly!”  I thought about it – I want to fit into the clothes I own.  I’d also like to be able to run up a flight of stairs without gasping like a fish out of water!  From the outside this might seem like a thin-obsession, but it’s more about knowing what makes me feel good.

I asked body-positive blogger, Jessica from Tangled Up In Lace, about this phenomenon:

The whole flipping point of Body Acceptance is that NO MATTER what you decide your body’s path is, its perfect for you.   Its a matter of thinking critically about WHY you want to do what you want to do with your body.  I’m so behind self care and deciding what healthy means to you

No one ever has the right to put value on how someone handles their own body.

And Ashe from Dramatis Personae pointed out:

There hasn’t been a point in my life where my body wasn’t solely my own concern.  My parents were always worried about me being too fat as a child, when I really wasn’t more than chubby.  Instead of teaching me to eat right, they just tried to ban foods from my diet.  It wasn’t ever about health, it was about appearance.

In the past 2 months, I’ve had one close friend and one acquaintance call me fat.  And the fact is, it made me more angry than anything.  Who the hell are they to make comments on my body?  As far as I’m concerned, my weight is the concern of me, my doctor, and my partner– in that order.

The media doesn’t help– since I was a kid, magazines had covers boasting the weight loss of stars, while tabloid magazines trashed the weight gains and struggles of others.  They’ve taken women’s bodies and made them public property, free for all to make comments on, without regard to the fact that there are people inside those bodies.

Women should do, simply, what makes them feel good without being detrimental to their health.  If eating a cupcake on a bad day makes you feel better, do it!  If going on a 5 mile run makes you feel great after a fight with you best friend, do it.  Every goal I have for my own body and weight is, for the first time in my life, strictly for me.  It’s about feeling a certain way, going back to a place where I was happy, and was living a life in moderation.

My friend Carrie is undertaking a fitness/body challenge – she’s recently competed in figure competitions.  She does it because “It makes me feel strong, confident, sexy, invincible… I’ve realized that I loved the process leading up to it much more than the competition itself.  The way I feel when I take care of myself by eating right and working out is enough motivation for me now. There’s nothing better than feeling great!”

Although she does it for the best reasons, she’s still subject to body-shaming.  She adds:

It’s much easier to cut a person down or discourage them because of your own issues than be unconditionally supportive. I see this in all aspects of my life, but never moreso than going through this fitness/body transformation journey… and I STILL get it even after all this time. The comments change but story is the same, the people belittling my effort, & my goals seem threatened by it. They are happier if I’m not doing than if I am.

Honestly, the more I think about it, that whole “you’re fine just the way you are” thing really gets to me. Because if [someone] mentions a desire to change… why not improve? There shouldn’t be anything wrong with that (outside of like you said, extreme situations where there’s something else going on).  I really think it goes back to making the rest of us uncomfortable… it’s been much easier for the masses to say, “love yourself the way you are” than for ALL of us to have to take an honest look at ourselves and either accept what we know we don’t like, or … work fucking hard to make changes.  Change isn’t easy, especially when it comes to matters of eating/exercise and the discipline that involves.

I felt a little shame as I headed to my gym appointment, because obviously I love me, right?  Why should I get the side-eye, because I want to be healthier and stronger?  There’s this derisiveness towards my hitting the gym as if these people think I’m deluding myself about why I go.  I feel like we (Everybody. Women.  Ourselves.  Each other.) are so programmed to snark on women’s bodies, regardless of the situation – whether they’re curvaceous or thin or fit or waiflike or brown or purple or like cheese or whatever.  We’re totally missing the point of just caring for ourselves.

As this post titled,  The Body Count from “At War With Our Bodies” adds,

Body image should never be a battle. Although it is true that the ideal weight, as defined by the mass media, has been shrinking in recent years I am more disheartened by this attitude of “winning” and “losing” than I am by the media’s glorification of a nearly unattainable body. People are losing sight of the real problem maker, the media, and aiming their frustrations at each-other by splitting off into teams of sorts ; us against them, skinny against fat, muscular against frail… it just doesn’t make sense.

While I am 100% behind the Fat Acceptance Movement and all of the more generalized Body Acceptance Movements, I cannot get behind their unintentional exclusion of certain body types. For instance, the phrase used by many FA Activists, real women have curves**really bothers me. Real women have curves? How about; real women have vaginas? Or even better; all women are real women, whether they were born female or became female by choice. By excluding women of a certain body type from being “real” women these groups are participating in the same exclusion they protest… that hardly seems like winning to me.

[These two sentiments] are both equally damaging as they deny people their right to feel comfortable with their body, regardless of what shape it is. One sentiment may be more mainstream than the other, however, this doesn’t make either statement right or justifiable.

I appreciate what the self-love movement does and is trying to do to liberate people from certain ideals.  I also appreciate when a girl mows down a salad instead of picking pasta because she’s looking after herself (who am I to judge?  Maybe she needs the fiber, right?).  In my opinion, she should be able to also eat pasta if it pleases her, but jumping off on a rant about how she “needs a cheeseburger” assumes things about her that may not be true.  Self acceptance comes from within – not from the peanut gallery.  Self-love can mean challenging your self to become a better you.  Just because you’re undertaking that challenge doesn’t mean you love you any less.

I think we could stand to stop treating women’s bodies like public property to comment on. I know that sometimes it’s hard to take a message off the ‘net and apply it in real life, and that it might be awkward to point out to your group of in-person friends when they’re body-snarking.  But maybe you can turn it around.

When someone says something negative about a girl’s body, point out a positive.  Or when you hear yourself saying you want to lose a few, acknowledge the reasons why and remember all the other reasons that your body is great.  And then work out if you want to - if your goal is safe, and reasonable, there’s absolutely no reason why you should be ashamed of wanting to “make better”. Your choice is just that – yours.

And if you’re one of those people who constantly say “you’re fine the way you are” to your friends who express wanting to better their bodies, know your reasons for doing so.  Stop to think about your reasons before you speak, because that sentiment could be inadvertently shaming.  Instead of saying, “you’re fine the way you are”, try pointing out something positive, your favorite part of that person who wants to make better.  Encourage them to do what they feel is right for their bodies, because ultimately that choice is theirs.

So what do you think?  Angry?  In agreement?  Ever been subject to body shaming on either side?


Body Con(scious)

Part 1 – I always feel strange writing about body issues – especially considering my size.  I worry that, since I’m on the small side, I’ll be subject to a lot of negative commentary pointing out that I’ve got nothing to complain about.  And that’s exactly the problem…

Natalia Vodianova in Love Magazine’s Body Conscious Series January 2010

During a recent conversation with friends, a gal I know mentioned going on vacation and wanting to shed a few pounds for the beach.  She was asking about our workout routines (for those of us who are so inclined).  There were a few different camps – those who said that diet could change it, those who said that exercise could change it, those who (like me) said “get a trainer because they are magical creatures who tailor your workouts…” And then there was the camp that shamed us all, saying “That’s silly. You don’t need to go to the gym.  You’re fine the way you are”.

It felt a little like saying *if you have to go to the gym you obviously don’t love you and that’s wrong* – like wanting to better your body is not a legitimate goal. I started to feel like that’s just as damaging as the whole “thin is in” campaign we see in fashion mags, etc.   It’s very damned if you do, damned if you don’t – when did we start subconsciously shaming  girls for wanting to care for their bodies?  For striving towards becoming a better person (in whatever regard that may be)?  Or for just loving and accepting themselves as they are now?

As Kate from Eat The Damn Cake says in this post:  “Really, there’s probably a compromise here. If someone is trying to lose weight, I’m not standing next to them at the gym with a bag of Doritos, going, “You’re wasting your time! Want some pizza? I could really go for a pizza…” I think losing weight is a completely legitimate goal in plenty of cases. I don’t think it has to be a symptom of superficiality or self-hatred. It can be really, really healthy.

When I shared my thoughts with Kate, she added:

“I think sometimes on my blog I lean too far in the direction of the women you were describing, who act derisive about weight loss. I don’t feel like that, but I feel pressure to act like that publicly. Reading [your note] helped me put that tendency in perspective and understand better how unfair and, like you said, shaming it can be, to emphasize either approach without giving people room to make their own decisions. Life is too complicated for extremism in either direction.”

It feels like the “real women”, body-love mantras we hear so much about are walking a fine line; we should start loving us regardless of what our body looks or seems like, but we should be ashamed of wanting to change ourselves (and, we know that certain body love movements can be very exclusionary).

While it’s great that the motto of many bod-acceptance movements is “love thyself”, I feel it’s can be healthy to both accept yourself and be a little conscious of your body, knowing its limits, knowing what it can do and what’s good for it.  And if you’re comfortable with you, rock on!  Work it!

But if you want to shed a couple pounds before your tropical vacation, that’s a legitimate goal.  You can eat what you want, and/or be religious about exercise if that’s your thing.  Being conscious of you, of how you look, of how you want to look doesn’t mean that you hate your body, or that you’re necessarily trying to conform to a thin ideal.  Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of “thin idolatry” out there, and current beauty standards do shame girls for not having the perfect body (whether it’s Christina Hendricks or Twiggy.  And, of course, this is not touching on cases where there’s something else going on etc.).  But we all realize that the perfect body doesn’t exist, but in a few very lucky cases.  The majority of us are gloriously imperfect.  And you have the power to demonstrate enormous self love by caring about your body – whether it’s feeding it cookies or taking it for a walk.

More tomorrow…

Sound Advice

silly pictures of me

While flipping through June’s Elle last night, (I go through it a couple times, once for the pretty pictures, once for the articles and once to tear all my favorite images out of) I stumbled across a quote that seemed incredibly relevant:

“It just reminds us how different “real” women and celebrities are when it comes to their relationship with fashion.  Stars [and internet stars - my emphasis] use it to build an image; the rest of us look for clothes that connect with some inner part of ourselves – we need self expression, not a fan base.”

As the much-talked-about Blogger Beautiful post from Gala Darling points out,

“We all retouch our faces to be blemish-free, & if you only knew how many bloggers manipulate their waistlines or thighs in Photoshop! My point is, some fashion blog images are as unrealistic & idealistic as what is presented to us in magazines.”

Our relationship to the clothes, the platform, the photos are all different – but for many of us, it’s a form of self expression, not a means to a fan base.  And the beauty of that is that our self expression is what keeps us beautiful, relevant, shining, bright.  I sometimes wonder if, as fashion blogging becomes a bigger industry, it is becoming less creative – following the footsteps of the fashion world.  I wonder that and then I remember all the unique, down-to-earth, well read and amazing people whose lives I’ve been given a peek into.  And if they stopped blogging (and if you stopped blogging) and being them (your) selves, yes, fashion blogging would be less creative, less fun, and less intriguing.

When we give ourselves permission to be and feel everything we are – monstrous, large, loud, brazen, occasionally ugly – we age backward.

Translate that: when you love yourself regardless of your bad hair days, your outfit faux-pas, your gaffes in public (I’m a total goober in public, but I laugh, because it’s often hilarious!), you are nothing but inspiring – even on your non-fashionable days.  When you allow you to be you, when you’re not afraid to post images of yourself, and challenge others around you to do the same, you are courageous. That’s what style blogging is all about.

The Delicate Balance

So often I find myself walking a fine line between posts that are *~FLUFF AND FASHIONZZ!~* and meaty, essay-style articles. Straddling the line between serious-blog and fun-blog can be a little daunting, but I feel like it takes a delicate balance between fun and thoughtful to make a blog successful.

It’s those meaty, well thought out posts that I feel most proud of, not a post about cute shoes, or an outfit post.  The writing that really matters to me are those posts I’ve worked on, and thought about, and deliberated.  Sometimes it’s hard to continue writing that type of post of when there’s very little feedback, and I know that’s also the case for many other bloggers.  I’m guilty of shooting off a quick Twitter response, or commenting as I share a post in Google Reader.  I sometimes feel bad about doing that instead of going to the actual site for a well thought out discussion.

I also feel like it’s better to have zero comments than to have spam comments, or follow requests – comments that don’t have much to do with what I’ve written (more on that from Ashe Mischief).  If your comment is thoughtful, it takes me about 30 seconds to pop over to your site and see what you have to say.  I know the ball bounces both ways.  Ultimately, it’s up to me to make conversation happen in my own webspace.

The trick is to not be discouraged, but to realize that those essay pieces are complete as they are – comments or no.  They were complete when I hit post, and I’m truly graced with being part of a great community when I get twitter replies or actual comments.  It’s not really about the comments, but about speaking my mind.  As Jamillah of made-to-travel said to me yesterday, “There is a quote … that says, ‘Speak, even if you think no one will listen’, so I do.”

However, as a blogger, it is important to strike the balance between oration and conversation; between yourself and your audience.  Write for you – of course – but realize that what people most respond to isn’t self promotion.  Your readers want to respond to something that engages them.  They like to read posts that are real, and include situations they’ve experienced.  That means that blog success often comes from connecting with your readers.

This doesn’t just apply to your blog.  Do you have a Facebook page for your blog?  I know I do, and sometimes I’ve struggled at knowing exactly what to do with it.  Even more discouraging: I recently found out that a very small percentage of Facebook page updates are actually visible to fans, because of an algorithm called EdgeRank.  EdgeRank gives every post a quality score – measuring the number of comments, likes, and shares per post against the number of fans a page has.  To be more visible and build up your EdgeRank, a page has to make posts interaction friendly – with polls, tags, questions, relevant links, and a whole lot of community.  It’s kind of a Catch-22, but you can do it by asking questions, engaging other bloggers, making vlogs, and just generally becoming an active part of the community.

That Facebook algorithm is relevant, because that’s kind of the way blogging works.  If you build up your interactions with your readers and bloggers you admire, you’ll be more visible.  I believe we’re all here as part of a community.  And as I mentioned on this great post from Jamillah on Beautifully Invisible:

Sometimes fashion blogging may seem like a tight knit circle of people who all blog/tweet/talk together. But it’s not – all you have to do is add value. Thoughts, links, laughs – those are all value. That’s the easiest way to break the ice, and break into that circle. Once you make that conversation and connection, it’s a very inviting and easygoing community.

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