The Education of Natalie Jean: Mormon Mommy Blogger to Divorced Feminist
November 13, 2019 9:39 AM   Subscribe

For the past ten years, Natalie’s job was being a lovably quirky wife and mother who documented her idyllic life online. It was tough to explain the long gap in her resume to potential employers. It was tougher to explain to herself, her loved ones, and her audience that the honeyed image she’d banked on had been an illusion for a long time. “I had to reckon with the fact that I’d been lying to people,” Natalie (who now uses her maiden name, Lovin) tells me now. “I had to go back on my word and say ‘Just kidding, I was actually miserable, I just didn’t tell you.’” All those years curating and cropping her life, she says, “I was erasing evidence. I was erasing myself.”
posted by hurdy gurdy girl (50 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Online happy posing is so prevalent these days. How do I know? My partner and I, who are splitting up and made the decision about a month ago, are waiting until he's got everything out of the house we shared for almost a decade to tell the people we know primarily through Facebook, because it's easier to just keep things quiet on social media until you have the bandwidth to deal with many, many, many messages about your personal life.

I can't imagine the pressure if being on social media was my source of income.
posted by xingcat at 10:16 AM on November 13, 2019 [43 favorites]


Social media is to our personal lives what food photography is to a Big Mac.
posted by Dark Messiah at 10:31 AM on November 13, 2019 [18 favorites]


She's being so hard on herself. I'm sad for her.

Most of us do the same damn thing she does, just without the added pressure of monetizing it. There is not a person in this world who has gotten divorced who hasn't spent all their energy denying how miserable they are to themselves and to everyone they know. We don't live in a culture that allows us to make our unhappiness public. Heck, we don't live in a culture that even allows us to recognize certain taboo forms of unhappiness.

When I was 17, I climbed up to the eleventh floor of an apartment building and tried to jump off because I was convinced I was an unloveable, irredeemable failure at life for failing a math test. The very day before that, I'd gotten word that my first published short story had been accepted at a literary mag at professional rates. The story was about a self-insert totally-autobiographical teenager who was funny and dramatic and plain cool. All of the versions of me were true at the same time. I was never lying, not for a second.

She wasn't "lying" all those years, either. Her joy and gratitude and sense of having a charmed life co-existed with her misery, her unfulfilled longings, and her oppression. Both/And, not Either/Or.
posted by MiraK at 10:38 AM on November 13, 2019 [108 favorites]


I truly miss the pre-monetized blogging universe, where people could be more inconsistent and vulnerable and less self conscious and the format was not yet codified. Hell, I miss the pre-blogspot days too, where it wasn't obvious where the menu bar should go -- on the top as a drop down? on the left? on the right? Maybe you don't think there should be a menu. Where do you put the hit count meter? Do you want a blog roll? I think I played with a blog layout that was just frames within frames that was truly infuriating in retrospect. Or the artsy websites that were designed to make you dig around and click on random things in the hopes it would go somewhere interesting. The early 2000s personal website as punk rock zine.

It's maybe one reason why I find Twitter still interesting, because the ephemeral I'm just chatting with the universe/friends vibe still allows some unfiltered thoughts to get through. Obv it's not actually ephemeral. But I can pretend sometimes, and drop the public I am a professional persona for something more tender and tentative. It's not solely for creating my personal brand. Natalie Jean's comment on how making a hobby into a profession “I didn’t want to ruin crafty stuff like I ruined writing” is what I fear about the kinds of public sharing that are enabled by social media platforms. Playfulness is maybe what I hope to hold on to with at least some forms of public writing?
(hi Metafilter)

The 2018 The Cut article that profiles Natalie Jean ends with this:
One of the complaints about blogging is that it’s braggy and performative, an act of falsehood, of self-curation. I bring this up with Lovin. She is derisive: “If blogging were a male-dominated field, no one would say anything like that … There would be a Pulitzer Prize for blogging, if men did it more.”
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:41 AM on November 13, 2019 [78 favorites]


I love that. I am tempted to suggest that "videogame journalism" often boils down to videogame/advertising blogging, and I think videogame journalists do have awards over that sort of thing.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:14 AM on November 13, 2019 [4 favorites]


the pre-monetized blogging universe, where people could be more inconsistent and vulnerable and less self conscious

There was a proto blog called Turtle Talk, which may have vanished or I’m just not good enough at searching through the chaff - I still hope they’re okay.
posted by clew at 11:16 AM on November 13, 2019


Online happy posing is so prevalent these days.

That's why I only ever post on social media about my cat. Even when she's sad, it's cute. (Sad - or constipated, I can't really tell).
posted by jb at 11:17 AM on November 13, 2019 [7 favorites]


I am quite amusing on Facebook. I know this, because quite a few people have told me I am quite amusing on Facebook. And since I like people saying that sort of thing to me, I spend a certain amount of my time and attention on being amusing on Facebook. I'm not trying to build an audience -- I can count the number of people I'm FB friends with who I have never met in real life without taking off my socks -- but I still put work into the stuff I write on FB. When something funny or interesting or weird or bad or good happens in my day, I mentally compose a FB post about it. I actually post maybe 10% of them, and I workshop those ones around for awhile before I do post them. I sometimes have to mentally draw a line before I do or say something specifically so I can post about it on FB later. All of that for an audience of a few hundred people who already know me.

I can't imagine how deeply I would fall down the well if I ever tried to be an influencer. Fortunately, the influencer market isn't really looking for fat, single, fortysomething public servants.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:18 AM on November 13, 2019 [28 favorites]


Capitalizing off one’s daily life, and what one loves in their life, is “an unsustainable business model,” says Heather Armstrong, the Dooce blogger who recently published a book about her own depression, The Valedictorian of Being Dead. “It’s completely demoralizing. The constant need to track and document what you’re doing for people—the burnout is real.”

Indeed. I remember talking about this back in the early days of social media and everyone said I was just being a negative nelly and that it would be fun!! to be our real selves for money with randos.

But vulnerability and authenticity requires its own strategy.

But then it's not really vulnerability and authenticity, is it? It's just another iteration of the same horrible monetize-your-very-being routine.

Obviously, obviously, people do this stuff because they need to make a living, or because they slip from blogging for fun-plus-perks into "influencing" without really having a lot of intent. It's not that someone who is just trying to make a living is horrible for doing this work, any more than someone working at a chicken processing plant is horrible for doing that work.

But it's horrible work.
posted by Frowner at 11:36 AM on November 13, 2019 [17 favorites]


When you're dealing with something like divorce, it is messy and especially online, you end up comforting other people who don't know how to react to the news. And if you're going through divorce you just don't have the energy for that, and it's easier to say nothing.

Even the most minor, neutral things I would post about being divorced would generate a flurry of responses and possibly a Concerned Email and so I just stopped. I ended up going to Twitter, where I first blocked a few people there who would react the same way because they were too close to all of it and not handling it well. I did a lot better with strangers and semi-strangers, who didn't feel obligated to respond if they didn't know what to say when I needed to yell into the void.

And even there, I did not post the darkest stuff, because that was too much to share with anyone not a therapist or close friend.
posted by emjaybee at 11:48 AM on November 13, 2019 [8 favorites]


jacquilynne: I can count the number of people I'm FB friends with who I have never met in real life without taking off my socks

I read that three times before I figured out that you weren't talking about taking off your socks when you meet people.
posted by clawsoon at 1:19 PM on November 13, 2019 [27 favorites]


...which made for some very interesting images in my imagination!
posted by clawsoon at 1:20 PM on November 13, 2019 [4 favorites]


It's not a focus of the article but I find it fascinating that being a successful blogger with up to 700k monthly readers isn't a reason for a résumé gap. That should be a great way to find a job writing or otherwise creating content.
posted by caphector at 1:23 PM on November 13, 2019 [25 favorites]


I read that three times before I figured out that you weren't talking about taking off your socks when you meet people.

What can I say? The Toronto Metafilter Meetups can get crazy.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:39 PM on November 13, 2019 [15 favorites]


she wrote about her fruitless and never ending job search, about supporting “a man in his quest for a bread-winning job for 15 years, only to then miss out on the benefits therein because he dumps you.”

This is the thing that always boggles me about women who give up on a career to be a SAHM or housewife, at least without having inherited a ton of money. If you live in a community property state and your husband has lots of assets, it's fine, but for the commonplace marriage, if it ends (and the odds are 50/50 that it will) you are *fucked*. I simply cannot imagine setting myself up for that kind of poverty and misery and curtailed future.
posted by tavella at 1:40 PM on November 13, 2019 [28 favorites]


Blogging for money seems to be basically show business
Gotta be tough when your personal life is the show.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:44 PM on November 13, 2019 [2 favorites]


Striking out on one's own after a long codependency is hard. Getting paid to pretend you buy in to that codependency, and surrender to "feminine" ideals set up by whoever runs the local establishment, that should be harder. The pretend happy thing is marketing. Dumping it all surely is liberating, and hopefully a path to fulfillment for her. Fulfillment is not my religion, however. I am OK with a moment here and there, between the big steaming chunks of the other stuff.
posted by Oyéah at 1:47 PM on November 13, 2019 [3 favorites]


I leaned into this REAL hard in the last year of my marriage, waking up before work to write blog posts and format pictures. As if somehow making it look perfect from the outside would fix everything on the inside. It...didn't.
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:01 PM on November 13, 2019 [13 favorites]


I do a lot of stuff that makes some acquaintances say ‘you could be one of those influencers!!!’

I don’t have the fortitude for it. Nor the concentration. I could always see behind the curtain how much keeping track it involved. Just the right number of pictures of the cookie jars or the throw pillow before announcing that you had been bitten by a redecorating bug. Having to come up with interesting spins on what you were eating. I saw So Much orthorexia on the mommy blogs I loved. And I did love them. Maggie, Dooce, Soulemama, Melissa Summers, and Nat the Fat Rat.

When Natalie changed the blog name I thought, ‘she’s claiming her own name. She’ll be divorcing soon.’ But then she didn’t. She posted so infrequently, I stopped visiting. And now, she has divorced.

I do sometimes wish I could monetize my partnered life in 400 sq feet. I’ve got a mouse infestation (how are they getting in?!?!?!), a pegboard over the kitchen window, cptsd, a newly developed harrowing nerve condition complete with prescription for seizure medication. I sometimes tell myself it would motivate me to get a manicure and fresh flowers sometimes. We have plants, which is nice but, they’re not manicured either.

But I’m a terrible photographer and I joke that maybe THAT would be the real money maker. Lopsided, poorly composed, and even more poorly lit snapshots of disaster, with an occasional pot of jam.

I really love Jenny Lawson, but I’m sure her work is also taking a toll.
posted by bilabial at 2:04 PM on November 13, 2019 [9 favorites]


MiraK: "We don't live in a culture that allows us to make our unhappiness public."

We don't live in a culture that requires us to make our happiness public, either. But we do live in a culture where the appearance of happiness can be monetized, which incentivizes hiding our unhappiness the same way a Fortune 500 company buries a bad press release to avoid the stock price dip. I hate that "influencer" is now a legitimate job. It's only viable for the truly self-absorbed narcissists, and even then it will grind them up and throw them away once they fall behind on the endless happy content generation treadmill. The lure of the cash can turn any happy blogger into a harried wreck desperate to keep up appearances lest they lose their income stream, but it's a red queen game the whole time. There will always be someone cooler, younger, prettier, funnier, etc. behind you, waiting to steal your pageviews. The only winner is whichever brand you're hawking.

Social media is terrible for so many reasons. For every good thing it might do, there are a thousand bad. For every kid who finds solace in a group of others who understand, there will be a thousand haters shitposting and doxxing them. Burn it all to the ground, I say.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:42 PM on November 13, 2019 [13 favorites]


There will always be someone cooler, younger, prettier, funnier, etc. behind you, waiting to steal your pageviews. The only winner is whichever brand you're hawking.

So... capitalism as usual then, except it's a little more feminized this time?

There are lots of problems with social media and the influencer avatar of advertizing, but honestly, none of the problems are because it's somehow wrong to make our happiness public. The very fact that we're talking about our domestic lives out in the open, finally acknowledging that domesticity not only exists but is worth talking about, is a fucking revolution - one that I'm grateful for, one that we should all be grateful for. It wasn't that long ago when we literally didn't hear about women's lives. Women have labored for free and died in obscurity for millennia. It's not like Mormon wives could find easy employment if not for the monetizable patriarchy-friendly lifestyle! Now we have a woman who successfully used her online presence to escape oppression in her personal life. If that isn't a triumph, I don't know what is.
posted by MiraK at 3:59 PM on November 13, 2019 [19 favorites]


My sister talked about how it's scary to take on responsibility when you're 20, so the idea of a patriarchal marriage where the man makes the decisions can seem comforting to a young woman (and scary to a young man). Ten or twenty or thirty years later, though, the man finds that it's rather nice to have someone who does what you say, while the woman, grown in confidence and sense of self, finds the situation not so nice.
posted by clawsoon at 3:59 PM on November 13, 2019 [16 favorites]


We don't live in a culture that requires us to make our happiness public, either.

"Smile!"

Social media is a performative emotional labour. It's definitely expected of me if I am going to try to share my own ideas or writing and expect people to listen, and in one way or another is expected of us in the public space. I'm even required to be "positive" in one of my work performance metrics and I am a bland civil service worker who hides in a cubicle in an office tower.

As MiraK said, there's serious issues with influencer culture, and para-social celebrities in general, but frankly most things women do tend to get relegated to "private" and "hide this". I don't think that is a significant improvement.
posted by Phalene at 4:10 PM on November 13, 2019 [15 favorites]


> I simply cannot imagine setting myself up for that kind of poverty and misery and curtailed future.

Well, it's not like we make these decisions in a vacuum.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:04 PM on November 13, 2019 [14 favorites]


No, privacy is a privilege and a luxury, as you can see by the fact that the very rich and very powerful lead relatively private lives unless they actively choose some limited form of publicity. The wealthy and powerful don't need to be positive and don't need to make something marketable out of their suffering either.

Privacy of the spirit is also a luxury, and it's one that is not in fact afforded to women - to be able to have your own thoughts in your own head and not submit them for critique, to be yourself in your own space and not offer up your clothes, home, body, aspirations and personal history for everyone to weigh and measure; to share only what you want to share and not what the world demands. To be able to look at the world as you wish and think about it as you wish rather than be required for your daily bread to make a show of socially correct and appealing thought. To have the freedom to try things and fail, or make something you like that no one else likes. The freedom to do something weird and personal without needing to narrate it as some kind of sassy quirk.

"Influencing" is tragic not because of the subject matter but because it's a situation where you're making your interiority over to others to judge and pay for. I've spent many years in pink collar jobs where I had to be positive and fun and upbeat for a living, but at least I got to go home at the end of the day. And it's not because I had to be positive and upbeat and fun per se; if I'd had to be sarcastic and cutting and mean it would still have been just as fatiguing and I'd still have been glad to turn it off. Making your home, your kitchen, your body, your thoughts into your factory floor is horrible. The difference between sharing what you want to share and "influencing" is the difference between inviting guests into your house and having customers inspecting the factory where you work.

And yes, I know that people have it worse; it's worse to work in a chicken plant, it's worse to be unemployed, it's worse to be homeless. But it's also the totalization and intensification of personal labor; it goes right along with task rabbit and being on call all the time for work, the idea that the market ought to own you in every waking moment.
posted by Frowner at 5:08 PM on November 13, 2019 [32 favorites]


"Influencing" isn't empowerment for women; it's just the market taking over more of the same "women are public bodies" stuff that previously at least was less monetized.
posted by Frowner at 5:10 PM on November 13, 2019 [12 favorites]


People posting happy stuff on social media: urgh, it's all fake! So saccharine! Give us authenticity and vulnerability! Don't give us unrealistic expectations of life! No one can relate!

People posting less than happy stuff on social media: urgh, what a whiner! At least you have all this influence and money, what do you have to complain about? Be more grateful! No one wants to see your mess! No one cares!

You can't bloody win, either way.
posted by divabat at 5:49 PM on November 13, 2019 [12 favorites]


She claims to have been unemployed but wrote almost every day and had a book published?
posted by Ideefixe at 6:21 PM on November 13, 2019


Ideefixe: as far as employers are concerned, that counts as unemployment. I have similar issues with job-hunting - my resume seems scattered because a lot of the time I'm either on short contracts or making my own work (which is usually the only thing I can even get paid for in the first place) but a lot of employers can't wrap their heads around that kind of work history, even in more creative fields.
posted by divabat at 6:24 PM on November 13, 2019 [13 favorites]


(hell that line about "seeming too underqualified and overqualified at the same time" is BANG ON my experience)
posted by divabat at 6:25 PM on November 13, 2019 [13 favorites]


I recently quit my job to be a SAHM in support of my partner's career. It's been strange and I've had a bit of an identity crisis over it, despite being sure it's the right choice at the moment. When I announced this move, a colleague of my wife's immediately pounced on me with the idea that I should become an Influencer, like her daughter-in-law. DIL makes $100,000 a year! She travels all the time! She has a great life! I'm funny on Facebook and my kids are hilarious! It'd be perfect!

That was never an option for me. I remember when Dooce stopped talking about her eldest child without her permission, and all the discussion at that time about what privacy rights should our children expect. I know firsthand how monetizing a craft can kill all passion for that craft. And I hate when friends and family join "businesses" that force them to stop relating to me as a friend and to see me only as a wallet. Being an internet influencer seems to me to be the unholy combination of all these things I hate.

I don't know why I can't just be a SAHM without trying to make money off my children. It should be enough.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:29 PM on November 13, 2019 [11 favorites]


It’s super interesting to me the The Feninine Mystique is still doing its thing, rescuing middle class white ladies, in the year 2019! I don’t mean this as the sneer it usually is companioned with—we have collectively come so much farther along in feminist theory than Friedan was writing, but there’s still that raw need for basic consciousness-raising for so many people, however privileged they are on other axes.

This probably just struck me harder than normal, since I’m revamping a Feminist Philosophy class I’ve taught for 4 years now. My focus this year is what that groundwork looks like, in history as well as in immediate relationships, and though I don’t think I’ll option this article in the reading list, it’s certainly going to be in the back of my mind while physically teaching the class. Becoming a whole person in this world just has so much to it! And a book written to make The Second Sex more palatable to an American audience in 1963 helping a lifestyle blogger evaluate her life nearly 60 years later...!? That’s pretty cool.
posted by zinful at 6:39 PM on November 13, 2019 [14 favorites]


Influencing is empowering to the extent that women get paid to do work that was formerly unpaid.

I am by no means arguing that it isn't oppressive in its own way - especially to those of us who consume the content generated by influencers, and yes, also in the sense that offering up ourselves for public consumption seems to be the one way women can make money at the intersection of patriarchy and capitalism.

But really, it bears noticing that here is a woman who 20 years ago didn't have access to this subtly powerful route toward escaping her circumstances. And now, because she was able to monetize her work under patriarchal capitalism, she did escape it. That's empowerment made concrete.

In addition, the legitimizing of (a bastardized, performative, censorious, constrictive, oppressively capitalist flavor of) domesticity is also concrete empowerment of women/femininity. I often wonder what would have become of me, personally, had it not been for the mommy bloggers who were gaining traction at the same time as when I gave birth for the first time. I was isolated, overwhelmed, and stuck in an abusive marriage... With a small baby. If those voices out there on the internet hadn't been there normalizing my sense of slowly going crazy from the pressure, I'm not sure how I would have coped! The mommy bloggers too often posted pictures of perfection in their daily lives, their complaints about new motherhood were decidedly aww-shucks, and their occasional posts about domestic strife over parenting were superficial. But at least they existed!!! I clung to them, they were my lifeline. My mother didn't have that support and validation when she was stuck in similar circumstances. That's concrete empowerment, too.
posted by MiraK at 6:46 PM on November 13, 2019 [11 favorites]


the legitimizing of (a bastardized, performative, censorious, constrictive, oppressively capitalist flavor of) domesticity is also concrete empowerment of women/femininity

Is it, though? The complicating issue I always have with women like this is: how many women following her did her performance--set in the context of an oppressive and patriarchal religion and a sexist society, of course--shame into conformity, into silence by holding up an unattainable ideal? In choosing to reinforce a certain image of what a successful woman does, do you have no responsibility for the harm that flows from that?
posted by praemunire at 10:00 PM on November 13, 2019 [7 favorites]


Influencing is empowering to the extent that women get paid to do work that was formerly unpaid.

But they aren’t getting paid for doing the work we used to do unpaid - they’re getting paid for advertising. The influencer system has probably displaced artists and actors and copywriters, some of whom were women with paychecks and even pensions. The gig economy, again.
posted by clew at 10:14 PM on November 13, 2019 [7 favorites]


The complicating issue I always have with women like this is: how many women following her did her performance--set in the context of an oppressive and patriarchal religion and a sexist society, of course--shame

Is that a complicating issue with only "women like this" or with everyone? We all literally do the same things she did, every single day that we participate in capitalism. Black people liberated by the civil rights movement and feminists liberated by the women's movements who went on to make their lives in advertising did exactly what she has done. Many of us are doing worse things! Nobody's empowerment is as morally pure as we are expecting hers to be.

It seems to me that we're holding her to higher standards than we hold literally anyone else when we point fingers at her for peddling a certain lifestyle in exchange for money. She's done nothing different than any of the rest of us except be a woman peddling womanly ideas to other women while not working directly for a large corporation.

The influencer system has probably displaced artists and actors and copywriters, some of whom were women with paychecks and even pensions.

And that's not *her* fault, surely. Shaming her for displacing full time employees with benefits is like blaming illegal immigrants for undercutting documented workers by accepting less than minimum wage.

Those who are oppressed will take whatever opportunity they get to clamber out of their state of disempowerment. That's 100% more ethical than those who will take every opportunity to make a buck (or save a buck) to get richer and richer than they already are, richer than anyone has the right to be.

The people who make the decision to cut full time workers and profit off of her instead are the brands who sponsor her. Blame *them*.
posted by MiraK at 5:35 AM on November 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


Like, if this article was about a Mormon wife who had escaped her marriage by getting a Legitimate Corporate Job in advertising, none of us would be here talking about how much harm is done by the advertising industry. I truly wonder why influencers on social media, specifically, seem to us to be much worse than regular ads even when they're objectively not.
posted by MiraK at 5:41 AM on November 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


I truly wonder why influencers on social media, specifically, seem to us to be much worse than regular ads even when they're objectively not.

Because everyone knows the ads are selling us something. Sure, we buy into it, but we know that the woman in the ads gratefully inhaling the scent of Tide Pure and Natural doesn't really live in a house like that, looking that well-groomed and calm. The whole point of Natalie Lovin's blog was to peddle the idea "Hey, I'm a regular person! You could live like this too if you only did the right things!" That's not the same as the relationship we have with advertisers, where we know we're customers being flim-flammed.

If a woman in an ad says to the camera, "I walk around most days feeling really pretty great. Absurdly happy, even. It’s gross," we understand that it's a pose. The whole point of the mommy blog was that it didn't have to be a pose; the mommy bloggers were holding out the promise that that life was really attainable. But it wasn't, and she knew it wasn't. And in my opinion, that did real-world harm to real-world people.
posted by holborne at 7:58 AM on November 14, 2019 [9 favorites]


I mean, I do think that "influencing" (which wouldn't be called influencing if it weren't about something more indirect than advertising) is intrinsically pernicious because it plays with identity and the appearance of real life far more intensely than "classic" advertising and it plays off the whole "I'm smart, I can tell the difference" thing that we assume about ourselves even more strongly than regular ads do.

We all think we know the difference between an influencer's pretend-real life and how real life actually is, but we're still getting bombarded with messages that say "this could be your life if you [did a thing]", and the repetition and cleverness of those messages does work on us. The seamlessness - the way that the whole life is mixed with ads - makes this more effective and intrusive, more "natural", than regular ads. Not that I want to stand up and cheer for regular ads, but eventually a difference in quantity becomes a difference in kind, as the fellow said.

I mean, short of people who actually lie a lot (not just lie in a "my life isn't actually perfect" or "I claim to be a vegan but when I went home for Christmas I had some of my mother's non-vegan cooking out of nostalgia" ways), it's not really the fault of the influencers; it's the fault of advertising culture and media companies that create the ecosystem.

I find it distasteful for its effect on our thinking about work. To be an influencer, you must either hide any complex aspects of your life or build them into a brand story. I very strongly object to the language around "building your brand", partly because people are not fucking toothpaste companies but primarily because of the belief that your life should not only fit into a streamlined, thematically unified "narrative" but that this narrative should be designed to be palatable. You can be "difficult" or "weird" if that's your "brand"; you can have sassy quirks like enjoying a food that others thing is disgusting - if that's your brand. But everything about you has to flow through this brand narrative, and everything you want to do or be or try must either be hidden or reconciled with the narrative.

It's like capital is sneakily recuperating all those ideas about the unified subject, but unified in the market.

If anything, it's like your life is one big apology if it's not "normal" - if you're fat or unusual looking or have an unusual hobby or have a disability, you create a brand story about how it's actually great! and you're a sassy eccentric! with these great insights! or else this great critique of the whole idea of "great insights"! Or whatever, but it's all "to be who I am, I have to tell a palatable story making my traits and quirks seem fun! and cool! even though they might not appear that way by capitalist-normative standards". You can't get outside it, because the whole thing is framed by brands.

And then there's the way that influencer culture is so deeply entwined with vitriolic hatred of individual influencers over personal style choices - the way that people amuse themselves by really actively hating and slandering women who have done nothing except dress in a style that they don't like, or decorate their houses in a way that seems too cosy, or talk about sex in a way that the person finds unsexy, etc etc. And then there's the custom of dressing up these very minor critiques as though they're based in ethics rather than having the ethics glued on top as a justification - you don't like someone's fashion, so you say that their fashion is politically retrograde or whatever. (This is different from criticizing someone for bigoted or harmful behavior.) And then the violent hate if someone has the gall to change.

I dislike influencer culture the way I do celebrity culture because it exposes largely harmless individuals to a level of personal scrutiny and hatred that far, far outstrips their power. If anything, I dislike influencer culture more, because at least if you're Madonna or Jaden Smith you have a lot of money and that insulates you somewhat.
posted by Frowner at 8:51 AM on November 14, 2019 [15 favorites]


And it reinforces in us this really individual outlook where intrusively scrutinizing and judging strangers becomes not just something we do when it's politically relevant but a terrific hobby, as if real, actually existing people were baseball teams. It makes me really enthused for the outright fakery of pro wresting, actually.
posted by Frowner at 8:58 AM on November 14, 2019 [7 favorites]


Damn, those are some really thought provoking points.
the belief that your life should not only fit into a streamlined, thematically unified "narrative

So pernicious. We've always venerated the idea of total consistency in personality and life choices but it's only now that we have both the means and the cultural pressure to literally apply it to every aspect of our lives and that's.... suffocating.

intrusively scrutinizing and judging strangers becomes not just something we do when it's politically relevant but a terrific hobby, as if real, actually existing people were baseball teams

Right! It's reality TV but somehow MORE intrusive for the spectator.


And then there's the custom of dressing up these very minor critiques as though they're based in ethics

Is there a word for that because now I want to write a manifesto against it.
posted by MiraK at 9:09 AM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


Like, if this article was about a Mormon wife who had escaped her marriage by getting a Legitimate Corporate Job in advertising, none of us would be here talking about how much harm is done by the advertising industry

In addition to the points made above, we have a pretty good grasp on the harm done by the LCJ in advertising. The harm done by women who work in this sphere is something we are still trying to work out. Hence, it's a hotter topic of conversation.

Also, you specifically called it empowering to women. Maybe you simply do not have experience with this sort of social sphere (lucky you), but I promise you, promise you, that there were other women, Mormon women, other fundamentalist women, who were shamed with the ideal she held up, both internally and externally. This is stuff actively, specifically harmful to certain types of vulnerable women. It's really not all that different than that Mormon couple where the husband was gay which has been discussed a couple of times on the Blue, except that she totally did it for money.
posted by praemunire at 2:16 PM on November 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


Also, it turns out it was a fairly bad deal even for her for the money -- it seems to have made her relatively unemployable before she could retire. Certainly not as employable as an equal amount of writing that wasn't pretending not to be skilled would have done. And that seems to be built in to the system -- there will always be a hundred more women younger and fresher, and it doesn't pay well enough in cash or contacts to be adequate as a winner-take-all career.

Which doesn't make her a bad person -- it makes her a cautionary tale.
posted by clew at 3:02 PM on November 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


The influencer system has probably displaced artists and actors and copywriters, some of whom were women with paychecks and even pensions.

At least as far as artists and actors are concerned - when was this ever true for anyone beyond the most commercially viable? I agree that there's a lot of issues with the influencer culture writ large, but at the same time, for a lot of marginalised folk in those fields, it's almost easier to get somewhere financially via influencer-type work compared to work that can get you regular paychecks and pensions. The latter tends to be controlled by major institutions that already discriminate against those that don't fit the norm.
posted by divabat at 3:21 PM on November 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


It's the same institutions deciding who `represents the brand' enough to get the same money, though, surely? How often does audience enthusiasm launch someone into influencing who wouldn't look good in a photoshoot? (Honest question -- searching has not cleared it up for me.) And photoshoots now have a wider variety of people than in the 1960s, so some of it is a change not localized to being an influencer. Do you think the change is driven upwards from un-gated influencer success? I would have said sideways from a broader spread of money and authority among consumers.
posted by clew at 3:39 PM on November 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


There's been a way larger pool of PoC, plus-size, and disabled folk that have managed to make major inroads in Influencer work that wouldn't have gotten anywhere in traditional media is advertising. Lily Singh, the first late night host that wasn't a white dude, started off as a YouTuber. There's niches for particular communities where your reach may not be mainstream level, but it's still substantial enough to get by.
posted by divabat at 3:42 PM on November 14, 2019 [8 favorites]




Thanks for that link, The Whelk. GOMI was mentioned briefly in the article, but in general I think this discussion has to acknowledge the toxic communities that have developed around attacking these bloggers and influencers. Just because you don't like someone doesn't mean you need to spend hours every week in a community devoted to hating them, demeaning them, ridiculing them, pointing out every foible, and speculating about all the worse things they must be hiding.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:34 AM on November 15, 2019


The part that I relate to in all of this, VERY intensely, is that period of just absolute radio silence. So many times over the years, I've seen a woman who I followed on some social media or another, for whatever interest or endeavor, abruptly go quiet, for maybe six months or a year. They come back and it's like it's that same person has returned but now they're more.......something. They're different, and sometimes, eventually, they talk about their previous relationship, usually in really vague terms, but you can kind of see the shape of something.

And now I've done it myself, and had some in-person (or in DMs) conversations with people who I know somewhat but not very close, and they all start with "I figured something had happened, because you got real quiet all of a sudden."

There's a bunch of reasons why that's so (I'm still very cagey about everything anywhere where [somebody] might spot it), but almost always there's a rough as hell ending of a relationship that IT TURNS OUT was nowhere as good as it looked from the outside.
posted by epersonae at 9:33 AM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


> So many times over the years, I've seen a woman who I followed on some social media or another, for whatever interest or endeavor, abruptly go quiet, for maybe six months or a year.

I can think of two blogs written by women about their personal lives that I loved reading, that suddenly ended -- the blogs deleted with no warning, as far as I saw. For both of them I think I can guess what made the writers decide they needed to go dark, but I do wish they'd left a "See ya, everything is fine" or even "See ya, things are bad and I need to spend my energy on other aspects of my life" posts.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:51 AM on November 15, 2019


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