Wednesday, April 28, 2010

i'm okay, you're okay

I read a very interesting post on Jezebel last week. It was called "The New Decornographers: Bloggers With Perfect, Beautiful, Craftsy Lives." The author of the post lambasted bloggers, mainly women, for documenting style-driven aspects of their lives, be it clothing, craft projects, or their interior design or culinary prowess. Why? Because these blogs make readers feel inadequate about their own lives. An excerpt: "They are all so lovely, with perfect vintage wardrobes. They can all make anything, and seem to have unlimited time to do so. Sometimes they go to music festivals, and look awesome. Some have penchants for putting flowers in Mason jars and photographing them lovingly. And together, this blogosphere makes you feel awful."

Huh. After reading this post, I clicked back later to see what other people had to say about it in the comments. Almost overwhelmingly, people agreed. They said that these blogs did make them feel awful. And it didn't seem to matter whether the topic was food, or crafts, or fashion. The commenters wrote that lifestyle bloggers are narcissistic, have too much time on their hands, and have too much disposable income. Some people said they were aspirational, in an unattainable Martha Stewart sort of way. And a handful of people flat-out disagreed, saying that these blogs build community and often provide useful information like recipes and how-to advice. But the main sentiment was extremely negative. The word "self-loathing" came up quite a bit.

I admit to feeling a little pang of jealousy admiring expensive clothes and furniture on Oh Joy! or when scrolling through the perfectly curated homes featured on Design*Sponge. Who wouldn't want to live like that, have those things? But it's something I can shrug off in my mind. (Although Grace Bonney's recent Twitter dispatches from Miami did make me a little green with envy.) 

Having nice stuff is nice, but it's never as perfect as it seems on the screen, be it a new dress, or someone's entire lifestyle. I know firsthand from working at photo shoots that there's always plenty of clutter in the margins that gets edited out. There's nothing wrong with looking at pretty things, or creating content that's aesthetically driven, but many people feel that these types of images create some sort of standard we all have to measure up to. Life shouldn't suck in comparison to the people on your blogroll. And if you think it does, maybe it's time to do something about it. As in, improving your world view or taking up one of those blogged-about pursuits that inspires all of this hatred.

Which brings me back to dinner parties. Last weekend, our friend E invited us over for lamb ragu at his house. He's made it before; it's a killer, simmer-all-day kind of sauce. Some people brought a salad, I brought dessert. We all chipped in on the wine and E mixed some late-night cocktails. (Mainly for himself, but whatever.) Salad was served in Styrofoam bowls, and everyone helped themselves to the ragu, ladling it over pasta. Spoons and forks came straight out of a drawer in the kitchen. We ate and drank until midnight. It was a fantastic time. At one point I laughed so hard I choked.

Does this make for an especially elegant blog post? No. But that's not the point, and it shouldn't be the point of entertaining at all. Dinner parties are about sharing good food with people you like. Fancy table settings, and signature cocktails, and passed appetizers are all lovely--and I often write about these things here--but they are so not important. 

The point is to actually do it. Your dinner party/knitted tea cozy/living room re-do might not be as impeccable as the next blogger's but won't you gain some satisfaction and happiness in doing something? We all have anxieties about performing, whether it's in the kitchen or public speaking, but it's not a competition. Sure, I try to aim for good lighting, splatter-free dishes, attractive plating for this site, but I also have plenty of mishaps. Nothing is flawless, even when I try really hard to make it that way. And that's okay. Really.

The reality is that dinner parties are memorable for the unexpected stuff: the way your host's dog greets you at the door, the moment your favorite song comes up unexpectedly on the iPod playlist, the off-color joke that makes you choke on your wine. This is the stuff people smile about on their way home. And hopefully your cooking, too.

There are a million blogs out there providing inspiration and ideas, but you don't have to measure up to them, or take personal offense. Do it your own way. Your own style will be far more interesting.


lifebyliving said...

Wow. I blog about lifestyle and decor, and I'm no where near being a wealthy, narcissist with too much time on my hands. I have a full time job where I work 10 to 12hours a day and I have a lot financial obligations. Lot's of them. What's wrong with enjoying or admiring beautiful decor and fabulous lifestyles- and actually indulging in it yourself from time-to-time? It's my outlet. We all should have one. If jealousy or inadequacy is your response to these blogs, the issue lies within you, not the bloggers. Can someone say, haters?

Margaret Pinard said...

True dat! I love looking at other people's sometimes-gorgeous, sometimes-epic-fail dinner party, cooking, and other lifestyle blogs. Sometimes it's an inspiration for what to cook in a couple days, sometimes it's a good laugh at the end of a long day. What is constant is good humor, lack of haughtiness, and well-intentioned people trying to make their lives beautiful. What blogs are those haters reading??

For a good reality check, check out Forking Fantastic, a book I just got for my birthday. It is written by two gals who formed an underground supper club that was anything BUT styled and combed into place. :-)

Kim said...

While I've oft found Jezebel entertaining, I've stopped reading it because if its "Too cool to be happy" vibe. In true Gawker fashion, they dis everything that isn't happily disgruntled. I like pretty things, I'm not perfect, but it's nice to know that I too can prettify my life with a little bit of flower/mason jar action.

I say Jezebel can go bah-humbug itself.

brooklynite said...

I love everything about this post, and agree with it in its entirety. I do on more than one occasion slip into a "am i not living my life well enough?" sort of funk going through beautiful blogs, but your recap of the lamb ragu dinner reminded me of all the sweet spots my current life does have. Thanks for the reminder!

Color Me Green said...

i think the issue at hand is not just jealousy over other bloggers who we perceive to be craftier/more talented than we are but also that bloggers predominently portray their lives as ever beautiful and skip all the bad bits. even though the bad bits must exist, we don't hear about them so it's easy to think their lives must be more pleasant than ours. this leaves us readers thinking 'man i had such a crap week, i wish my life was all roses and mason jars like X blogger's life.'

Unknown said...

Great post! I need to repost this and the Jezebel article on my FB page :-)

Lisa said...

lifebyliving: Couldn't agree more. Everyone should have a (productive) outlet!

Margaret: Funny you should mention Forking Fantastic. I love the book too and the authors are doing a Q&A here soon...stay tuned!

Kim: Yes, totally. I find it really off-putting too. But they do cover interesting stuff from time to time.

Brooklynite: Thank you! It's totally normal to get into a funk sometimes. But also good to do something to counter that and snap out of it.

Julia: Good point. All of this self-editing is part of why people hate these sites. But anyone should be able to understand that even the most styled lives still have ugly bits too.

EB: Thanks! Please do.

Nicole @ Sprinkle with Salt said...

I couldn't agree with you more.

Unknown said...

Great post with a wonderful response by lifebyliving. People who blog aren't able to be generalized because they come from all over with many different backstorys. I love to see the creativity that others are doing because it allows me to enjoy it and then put my own spin on it. Perhaps the original post was meant to invoke responses or drive up hits? Who knows...but I loved your calculated response. Here, here to styrofoam plates with dinner parties.

Sarah from 20somethingcupcakes said...

I love this post so much. I may have to write something on it as well, because it's something I've thought of. I agree with you 1000% - on everything you said. I am a new blogger, my pictures are far from great, but I actually like that. As much as I adore Smitten Kitchen, my food doesn't look like that, so it's unrealistic for me. I like that mine is real, and I like showing people that. {And I thought all of your pictures were perfectly heavenly AND inspiring} xxSAS

Letterpress said...

I have your blog on my Google Reader, but follow the links to other (that's how I read the Jezebel article last week and blogged about it on MY blog as well). Jezebel had a point and I got it. My solution? Delete half my blogs. Yours stayed, for obvious reasons, #1 is that it's authentic.

Thanks for writing--I so enjoy it.

Dan said...

Great post, Lisa. I haven't read the post that prompted your response, but if I do, my comment will be simple: Don't read those blogs, you dolt! If a blog rubs me the wrong way or comes off to me as pretentious, I ignore it. Pretty easy, really.

Lisa said...

Nicole: Thank you :)

Tender Branson: Your comment made me smile. Cheers to Styrofoam plates. (Well, occasionally)

Sarah: Thanks so much. I admit to being envious of Smitten Kitchen's amazing photos from time to time, but yes, we all have to do our own thing. It's real for her, but not necessarily for all of us.

Letterpress: Your comment meant so much to me. Thanks for keeping me in your reader. Also, your take on the Jezebel post is great. Here it is, if others are interested:

Dan: Exactly. I think that's the best course of action.

Maggie said...

This post made me happy. Agreed, dinner parties are really about the joy, not any goals of perfection.

Pink of Perfection said...

This is such a great post. Something else to consider is that the bloggers themselves think of their own blogs as an aspirational version of their lives, if that makes sense. Meaning, I don't necessarily blog about the nights we have tomato soup from a box for dinner, but when I am in need of something that seems accessible and not-too-hard to get me back in a cooking groove, I'll consult my own blog for ideas I've forgotten about.

I've always thought what was so lovely about lifestyle blogs that take a very realistic stance is that they aren't Martha Stewart-ish. They are people who work full-time jobs and still take pleasure in making felt coasters or throwing a weeknight dinner together. There's a very can-do spirit on the more authentic lifestyle blogs that's inspiring because it's real.

Thanks for this great post, Lisa!

Unknown said...

Isn't it ironic that those inclined to self-loathe put themselves in positions to promote it? No, it's not ironic it's predictable. No one has a perfect life, no has all the time or resources to do everything perfectly or to even attempt it...but those of us who enjoy things that are pretty, pleasant, well-designed and toothsome are generally happier and more fulfilled than those who would rather wallow, yes I chose that word purposefully, in negative, dark, places. I'll stick with the people/bloggers who show me how good things can look or be (with effort on their part) and don't need to tell me every awful thing they've witnessed in their life. There is messiness and sadness and desperation all around us. We deal with it, some better than others. Seeing the joy and beauty in the world is a way of both celebrating it and storing up emotional energy to deal with the other. I am all for more dinner parties, whether they take a week to plan and hundreds of dollars or a few minutes with a phone and take-out menu. We need more candlelight and more uplifting books, and more bright paintings and more clothes that make people feel inspired and original and more tolerant people.

Lisa said...

Maggie: Glad it made you happy.

Pink of Perfection: Thanks, Sarah! You raise a good point--which I almost delved into, but thought it would make this post way too long. But, yes, for the most part blogs do present a more realistic view on lifestyle topics, and I enjoy that also. It's nice to see people who are being creative but also authentic. All the more inspiring.

Dana: We all go to negative places, some more than other. Some days scrolling through blogs does make me feel jealous or insecure about my own efforts. But yes, I agree that they ideally should inspire and uplift people. On a much different level--do people go to museums and feel bad they can't paint or draw?

Daniel said...

I'd like to take this opportunity to announce my new endeavor:

I think Jezebel is saving a spot on its blogroll for me!

Lisa said...

Daniel: I am sure you will get a ton of hits. :)

Unknown said...

Lisa, I'm not sure about the museum thing but I'd be willing to bet they do. I am a full time (very full time) hospital administrator and a parttime painter. I can't tell you how many times people have said, "oh sure, you have time to work and paint but that's only because you don't have children". Those who don't "do" can always find reasons that others have an easier time of it. Daniel's blog will be over run with them!

Ginger said...

I agree with Kim! I used to read Jezebel too, but it's more often a downer. No, no one things life is one long rockstar diary, but I'd much rather focus on the positives, the beautiful, the happy parts of life than the imperfections. What's the fun in that?
If you feel bad about your life because of some happiness others have, I'd suggest you figure out first what's making you unhappy. Take steps to change that, don't rid yourself of the happiness surrounding you.


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