I started writing this post two years ago and couldn't bring myself to finish or publish it, because I didn't want to push negativity out into the world. However, my feelings about this have only intensified over time, and in light of mega-blog Young House Love's announcement about "taking a break" today, I decided to finish this post in the hope it will resonate with someone else out there.
|Renovating with a six month old, 2012|
A couple months ago there was a post on Apartment Therapy that bothered me so much I still think about it regularly. It opened like this:
I feel like I am late getting to the painting game with my 19-month old. She is still enthralled by crayons, but it seems I have recently seen a slew of blog posts talking about painting with kids under two. Tomorrow I am determined to make it happen.It's sad and telling that this person, despite admitting their kid was perfectly content with her experiences, allowed a "slew of blog posts" to guilt them into making an unnecessary mess happen tomorrow.
"Lifestyle blogs" have exploded since I first started reading them several years ago (and then casually writing this one back in 2009). As a result, blogs have increasingly become a way to prove yourself as the crafty homemaker, the courageous DIYer, the bold tastemaker, the hands-on mommy, the urban homesteader, or whatever your aspiration may be. If you were to Google "DIY" + anything at all, you'd undoubtedly unearth tidy how-to instructions (and step-by-step watermarked photos) by a cheerful blogger on how you, too, can make it happen with your own two hands. Admittedly this has been helpful in our home renovation journey, but generally speaking I'm sort of over it.
There has been an evolution. Instead of merely reflecting our lives at home, blogs (and now Pinterest, which came onto the scene after I started writing this post) are shaping them. Babies have started celebrating their birthdays with more stylish and lavish parties, with sophisticated themes and all the details artistically photographed (and, of course, blogged.) When Johnnie turned one, a Pinterest-savvy coworker asked me what her party theme was going to be. I said, "balloons and cake?" She responded that it didn't sound very exciting. "It will be for Johnnie," I said. (And for the record, I was right! What a sweet day that was.)
After awhile, it was not enough to have a nicely decorated home; to get all the blogging cred, you had to sew your child's quilt yourself, with fabric you bought with a coupon you kept tucked away in your special hand-bound coupon organizer. The insides of kitchen cabinets have become photographed just as frequently as the outsides, showcasing how there are no skeletons of disarray hidden in any closets. Christmas trees are not just tastefully decorated; the ornaments are handmade and sold in bloggers' Etsy shops. People began decorating their dining tables for dinner parties they weren't having just so they could take photos for their blog. (That one really gets me.)
Somewhere along the line, the keepers of the blogosphere (mostly women, but some men too) have adopted a new form of domesticity. It's cheery and has a can-do attitude: We bake bread. We raise chickens. We celebrate every holiday with a craft. We paint and organize and sew, we decorate and re-decorate, and we carry a camera to document it all. But then, when we realize our 19-month-old has never held a paintbrush like all the other bloggers' kids, or we realize nobody likes Keep Calm posters (and now chevron) anymore, guilt and even shame creep in. There's a lot of superficiality and performance underlying this shiny new standard of domesticity, and when you inevitably fall short somewhere (who can keep up?) -- or when your aesthetic missteps are documented so publicly -- the oppressiveness of constantly striving for perfection or attention begins to feel a little overwhelming.
As George (my favorite character) says in You've Got Mail, "The internet is just another way of being rejected by women." As bloggers, if we don't measure up to the standard -- even if we're the only ones in our households who are holding us to it -- page views drop, comments wane and maybe GOMI points out our bad decisions. Even worse, rejection will also come from within ourselves, because we're the ones extolling this domestic virtue through carefully curated public promotion. And because (as bloggers) we are both the creators and consumers of blog fodder, we are never ever done fixing up our homes (or whatever your "passion" is) or grasping for page views to show them off. Such a vicious cycle.
As someone who has spent considerable time living in a house with no heat and cooking soup in a coffee pot, I had to start removing myself from the endless stream of blog inspiration, aspiration and self-promotion awhile ago. I still look at Pinterest for very specific things like recipes or room layouts, but I'm so tired of aspiring! Blogging has been a therapeutic activity for me, but being (even a small part) of the blogging community has also been somewhat poisonous at times. I mean, somewhere, some blogger is writing a post about how you can "get the look" of their newly renovated bathroom -- complete with tile and wallpaper they were given for free by manufacturers -- while I (and maybe you?) have been furiously googling for coupon codes and peeing in a bucket while my bathroom is out of commission. How am I supposed to paint with my toddler and make my own laundry soap in these conditions? How do I afford both the designer trash can and the organic hand towels? (Fingers crossed that I win them in a blog giveaway!) Why can't my kid just like wooden toys instead of plastic things that blink? How does the construction dust get inside the microwave? The domestic standard perpetuated on the internet has been and is still out of reach for me, considering my unique circumstances, talents (or lack thereof), resources, time constraints and interests. Though I'm drawn to beautiful things and the calming thought of a curated life, admitting to and accepting my limitations -- and cutting back on my blog and Pinterest consumption -- have helped to unload a lot of guilt from my apron pockets.
All of this is to say: A lot of people are trying to sell us these idealistic standards -- along with all the products and accessories required to achieve them -- and we (especially women, and even more especially mothers) need more "shoulds" in our lives like we need napkin rings for every season. We all have context, baggage and extenuating circumstances. One size will never fit all, and the formula will never add up for everyone the same way. I think on some level we all want to be the best version of ourselves, but that looks so different for each of us. I guess, after all these words, my point is that there's a strong Martha Stewart-inspired "ideal" out there that just won't add up for everyone -- myself included. So if your Dream House Pinterest board makes you feel depressed, consider deleting it. If my eternal home renovation makes you jealous of my awesomeness, by all means stop reading this blog! Discontentment is not healthy, and you're probably already doing a great job of keeping your home and family from falling apart -- which, some days, is all you can realistically aspire to.
Now I'm not saying people shouldn't make money from blogging, or that all blogs are evil or anti-feminist or whatever, or that all bloggers are perpetuating this mythical standard. (I know some people who fully embody this domestic lifestyle in a genuine way, showoffs.) I'm just turned off by the frivolity and materialism that I'm seeing so much of; by the idea that my worth or success is tied up in my domestic/decorating/homekeeping skills; by endless staged and sponsored content; by the idea that nothing is ever good enough; by guilt when things aren't up to par.
Also, I do still read some blogs. These days I am drawn most often to the regular old personal blogs, the ones written by normal people doing normal-people-stuff: finding the perfect pair of shoes, having babies, eating good food, renovating houses, writing thoughtfully about whatever they're thinking. They aren't hoping for a book deal, a product line, free tile (does the Tile Shop actually sell any tile, or do they just give it all away to bloggers? serious question) or hundreds of adoring comments on every post. They aren't prescribing anything or presenting themselves as domestic role models, but reflecting on who and where they are, and sharing a real piece of themselves. And they aren't urging me to aspire to be like them, but to relate to them. The authenticity is refreshing.
And so I leave you with a song: "In My Mind" by Amanda Palmer, in which she comes to the conclusion that all her aspirations are silly because she doesn't actually want to be the person she has been aspiring to be. Take note, blog friends, and leave the guilt on the shelf at Home Goods with all those meaningless tchotchkes you don't really want to dust around. Then invite some friends over for a real dinner party -- and, unless you really and truly love to cook, don't feel guilty at all for ordering pizza and letting the Cards Against Humanity box be your centerpiece.