I mean, bloggers are the new celebrities, right?
Recently, everyone’s been talking about Essena O’Neill, who turned around and called out her hugely successful social empire (and truly, it was an empire – her following rivaled populations of modest cities) as a sham. Whatever your thoughts on her epiphany – I’ve seen everything from celebration to outright derision – it’s opened up a lot of dialogue among bloggers and those in the industry which can never be a bad thing.
This story hit a little too close to home. I’ve spent much of this year taking time out from Pocket Rocket, a project that had previously been the best thing that ever happened to me. And a lot of it was for similar reasons.
Back in 2009, blogging and plus size fashion were burgeoning sub-cultures, both of them in their own ways on the cusp of something amazing. I wasn’t sure what, but I knew I wanted to be involved. So I set up this blog, and for four amazing years, it was the biggest positive force in my life. I can’t tell you, as someone who spent her teen years reading glossy magazines and wishing desperately to be among them, how freeing and powerful it felt to have my own voice, to show off my own style, completely outside of mainstream media. I was entirely in control of my own narrative, as was everyone that I was fortunate enough to meet and become friends with. I even met up with plus size fashion brands, speaking to them about their products and acting as a spokesperson for plus size women who actually wanted fashion (at the time I was the only plus size blogger within reaching distance of London, where most companies were based). I was wined and dined, and yeah, I did really enjoy it!
It was around 18 months into Pocket Rocket that I began noticing changes, as what had been a grassroots community evolved into something monetised, competitive and, well, capitalist. In hindsight, I realise I was witnessing the transfer of that incredible editorial control from the bloggers themselves to the fashion and advertising industries. Suddenly, it wasn’t enough to just write about fatness and show off what you wore. It was a means to an end: a modelling contract, or a job in the fashion business. It was no longer about defying a fatphobic culture but about fusing together body positivity and consumerism. It became a numbers game. Why would a brand want to work with someone who can’t sell their products to more than a handful of people?
The most important thing O’Neill said in her video was “To put your work out there, to share a part of yourself… And a number on the screen dictates that success, or that value? It’s ridiculous. [When I was 12] I thought because I had no followers, I meant nothing.”
I have never, ever, thrived in a competitive culture. And I’ve been coming to terms recently with the fact that I am not efficient with my time. Nor am I particularly productive. So I was forced to stand back and watch those who could survive – whether through sheer-willpower, phenomenal talent, efficiency or having the luck of looking like a model to begin with (I would like to point out that lots of bloggers are blessed with all of these qualities in spades!) – sprint past me in terms of success. I hit the so-called jackpot – getting a job in advertising – only to see ridiculous demands put on bloggers for little more than a free product, day in, day out.
Experiencing both sides like that, as well as the downturn in my own blog’s audience, how could I not feel sad? How could I not feel ashamed and embarrassed, considering that the free lunches I’d enjoyed believing I could help make a small difference in plus size fashion (Ha! How ridiculous that sounds now!) actually accelerated the capitalist takeover of blogging and social media? My blog had gone from something that boosted my confidence every day, to yet another avenue of reminders that I was insignificant. That I meant nothing.
So, I quit. And I lived happily ever after… For about a week.
The fact is, without my blog to turn to, without Twitter to document those silly things I think to myself but don’t feel are important enough to text my friends about, without Instagram to take a photo of the trees outside my mum’s house or The Shard looking particularly awesome, I feel lost. This year without blogging has felt like the bottom of my world has fallen out. And I’ve realised that, no, I’ll never get on TV or a columnist job, or a modelling contract, or a book deal. But that’s okay, really.
This is my blog. It owes nothing to no one, and in this day and age that is so, so powerful. It makes me proud.