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, macramé…
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.