The Vagenda

How Lifestyle Blogs Took Over From Mags in Making Me Feel Like Shit

It all started with a cake. A salted caramel chocolate cake. My boyfriend’s birthday was looming and I’d seen the recipe on Pinterest. Never mind that I didn’t own a sugar thermometer, or that it would take me a good five hours, split over two days, to construct the bloody thing, I needed this cake in my life.
The birthday rolled round, the cake was dutifully scoffed by assembled friends. But rather than being left with that warm, fuzzy, full feeling that cake should give you, I felt… dissatisfied, disappointed and a teeny bit annoyed. And this wormy irritated feeling wouldn’t shift. My cake had been wonky. The light didn’t glint wantonly off its shiny, shiny frosting. And, for the hours that went into the dratted thing, it tasted only so-so.
Of course, poor birthday cake, it was never going to live up to my expectations. I’d scoured the blogosphere for this perfect recipe, taking in post after post from glamorous bloggers pictured laughing through each easy step, with adorable splodges of cake batter on their adorable noses. Their kitchens featured sun-dappled work counters, artfully scattered peonies, and acres and acres of wall (lifestyle-speak singular, obvs.) painted in Farrow & Ball Rhino’s Toenail. And, of course, their ombre-icinged, lavender, courgette and honey macaron-topped confections were never, ever wonky.
Which all sent my inner heckler – you know, the wheedling bully that occasionally slimes out of its lair in the reptilian part of your brain – into overdrive. Why aren’t there swishy, smiley pics of YOU with an adorable splodge of cake mix on your nose? Why isn’t YOUR cake more photogenic?
Now, perhaps against my better judgment, I read a lot of so-called ‘lifestyle’ blogs. The ones called things like ‘Kittens ‘n’ Cupcakes’, ‘Twee For Tea’, or ‘Insufferable Trustafarian Does Brunch’. And yes, I do quite frequently ask myself why I’m looking at yet more pictures of a Mormon mommy’s jam-speckled kids when I could be reading, I dunno, The Economist.
I started reading them in place of the traditional glossy mags. Initially I enjoyed the informal style, the photo diaries, the casual voyeurism of seeing what a Swedish photographer has had for breakfast, or what that Hackney couple have done with the space in their new warehouse apartment.
But then, around the same time as what shall henceforth be known as Salted Caramel Neurotica Fest 2013, I started noticing irritating additions to my favourite blogs. Things such as ‘The lovely people at Topshop sent me this coat from its new range so I thought I would share it with you all’. Sponsored posts and giveaways appeared with increasing frequency. Instagram feeds filled up with snaps from suspiciously expensive holidays.
Then I found out that one of my favourite ‘civilian’ bloggers actually has an agent. As it turns out, a lot of them do.
The scales were falling away fast now.
Seeing independent, entertaining writers you like morph into everything you resented about traditional mags was mildly bothersome. But what dawned on me, too, was that these immaculately curated lifestyle blog worlds were seeping into our real worlds – or at least into our perceptions of how real lives should be.
This is the point, of course, this is how those sorts of bloggers make money – brands place products with the right people and it looks spontaneous; it’s easy to believe she actually chose that bag, that cafe, that lipstick. So much more effective than an ad in a mag, where everyone’s clear on the financial transaction.
The sick thing is, it’s working. ‘Lifestyle porn’ is seductive. We’ve really taken to the cutesy, homespun-luxe blogger aesthetic. I’ve noticed it creeping into friends’ Facebook pages: gone are the clumsy, overexposed snaps in pubs and parks, instead it’s all wistful gazes against Brutalist Berlin backdrops.
Of course, glossy mags have been making women feel inadequate for years, but to me this lifestyle blog bleurgh feels more pernicious. Women who would never have dreamt of trying to re-enact a Vogue fashion spread or copy a magazine interiors page are suddenly taking up sugarcraft, photography, macram√©…
It makes me want to scream. It’s now not enough to simply go to work having successfully put on a top AND bottoms, you really should be hash-tagging your ‘outfit-of-the-day’ (pigeon-toed/crossed leg/ I-need-a-wee stance optional) Ditto being able to make an edible sponge cake – if it’s not ganached and topped with spun-sugar flamingoes, you’re just not trying hard enough. And what do you mean your sofa isn’t sourced at an antique fair and then re-upholstered according to this TOTES AMAZE tutorial you found on YouTube? Why not? It’s SO easy, EVERYONE’S doing it.
This is not, repeat not, about what is or isn’t feminist: baking, sewing, retro fashion, whatever. It’s all good with me. This is about the kind of insane performative, perfectionist bent that seems to be driving so much of this lifestyle-documenting activity. (Incidentally, can anyone remember what a cupcake or a cocktail looked like before Instagram filters?)
I worry, quite a lot actually, that part of what holds women back is the enduring sodding perception that women ‘are just better at that domestic stuff’. And all this ‘lifestyle’ blogging and pinning and ‘gramming like demented artisan-bread wielding, ironically-aproned, shoe-selfie-ing Barbie women does little to dispel that. Essentially, I’m fed up with the baggage that comes with this territory – and sometimes I really would like to have my cake and just bloody eat it.
- JA

9 thoughts on “How Lifestyle Blogs Took Over From Mags in Making Me Feel Like Shit

  1. “Of course, glossy mags have been making women feel inadequate for years, but to me this lifestyle blog bleurgh feels more pernicious”

    It starts to occur to me, that you are getting exactly what you pay for. You buy a window into the lives of the rich and famous or the domestic goddess or the successful female CEO or the amazing pro sportswoman… or the.. or the… or the… If you find yourself feeling inadequate or similar then it’s time to stop drinking from that well, it’s way past time to stop paying for the substance that is just plain harming you.

    Like any habit forming substance, it doesn’t have to be all consuming to be damaging but if it makes you feel bad then once you realise you have a problem it’s surely time to stop or if needs be seek help to stop. Sure glossy mag or blog addicition isn’t going to have ready support on the NHS, but doesn’t mean you can’t ask help from your partner, family or friends to help remind you to stop reading them/replace the addiction with something you don’t find damaging.

    Surely the question is, now you know you have a problem with lifestyle blogs, that they clearly harm you – what are you going to do about it ? Maybe go cold-internet for everything but online banking ?

  2. I’ve avoided Pintrest for just this reason – not wanting to get sucked into some nonsensical competition about who can wrap the prettiest presents or make the best cushion or whatever.

    I also avoid blogs of skinny, rich, young, smug women… I like my blogs ‘real’ with clear attribution of freebies and sponsored posts. I leave if things get too commercial.

  3. Oh thank fuck! I thought I was the only one who tortured myself with Mormon Mommy blogs. There’s nothing like a beautiful woman with amazing hair, gorgeous babies and an inexplicable desire to constantly bake beautiful things (while she’s not swanning around NYC taking pictures) to make me feel shit about my decidedly unromantic long distance relationship.
    Then I remember she can’t drink coffee, and that makes it a little bit better.

  4. I hate that perfect beyond perfect cupcakes with gravity defying frosting has become considered “the norm” and we are supposed to trot out the unreasonable ideals of perfection in what we put in our bodies as well as how those bodies look and what they wear. Fashion creates an almost exclusivity of womanhood – for instance, the fashion is at the moment to have ornatly patterned nails. Whilst I’m in awe of anyone who can create such detailed art on such a small and temperamental canvas, the fact is that nail art become so wide-spread that magazines and online blogs create the expectation that all women should be able to paint our nails in this way and they infer if you are not able to complete these feats that you are somehow unwomanly or unfeminine. I hope it’s not just me.

  5. Wedding blogs are definitely culprits here – if you aren’t careful, you start thinking that your wedding will be incomplete without handcrafting 150 individually named ‘favours’, and start thinking of it as ‘a showcase for your individual style’ instead of the bloody great booze-, food- and knees-up it should be…

  6. Found this by a Google search. It’s hard to give up the lifestyle blogs because they are a source of inspiration. But after 15 minutes I’m feeling like shit :/ so what to do?