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.

  • victoria62

    Most of my favourite blogs are the ones that remain fairly unchanged from that 2008-9 time. Ones that are more of a diary if you like, without regular posts, nothing forced, no cliche background in photos. I read blogs because the were honest, unique, personal, relatable, written by people who you count chat to in comments/on twitter. Now so many seem to be like magazines, all about views/followers, sponsored material, very little honesty sometimes and almost no engaging with their followers. I have now unfollowed most of these now as I just don’t enjoy reading them.

    • Kate_W

      I totally agree with you Victoria. The blogs I enjoy most are those women who have something to say about more than just the clothes they wear. Lauren, I have always appreciated your blog as being refreshingly honest and also politically aware and would put it up there with my other favourites like Just Me Leah, Buttercup Rocks, Wannabe Debz and Boombands Em and Plump Parsnip (I miss their blogs so much!)

      Many other blogs are beautiful to look at, very professional but seem empty and very shallow because the brands have commodified the bloggers voices and they can’t say anything political or controversial.

      • http://pocketrocketfashion.com Lauren

        Thanks Victoria and Kate. The purpose of my post wasn’t to hate on bloggers who do mostly commercial and brand stuff. I’ve definitely done my fair share of commercial work over the years! Really, it was working on the other side that depressed me, knowing that brands just expect bloggers to be super cheap product endorsement and not taking into account the amount of WORK that goes in to blogging. At the same time, it’s nice that there is so much choice you can follow as many or as few bloggers as you like.

  • http://curvygirlthin.blogspot.co.uk/ Charli Stewart-Russon

    Wait I can get a free pony? Why did no-one tell me this?? Oh right, cause nothing is really free.

    I blog cause it makes me feel better about myself – when the rest of my world is falling apart I can retreat into the trivial land of fashion, slap on some lipstick, and feel like a normal person. I don’t want a job in fashion, I have a career I love already, and I don’t want to be a model – that sounds like far too much hard work! But I have been dragged into the numbers game of caring how many people see a post or respond to by IG pictures and that annoys me – surely the cathartic element of simply sharing should be enough for me?

    C xx


    • http://pocketrocketfashion.com Lauren

      It’s totally free*

      I completely agree – clothes and make up can act as a real cheer up on days when I need it. With regards to the sharing, I think it’s natural to want your thoughts and feelings to be shared and I guess for some that becomes as many people as possible. I didn’t expect more than a handful of people to read this and I’m quite overwhelmed that I got such thoughtful comments on it!

      *you just need include an ad for horse manure in every post FOR THE REST OF TIME.

  • Lori Smith

    I know *exactly* how you feel! I am so disheartened by how blogging has been taken over by companies who want something for (virtually) nothing, and how bloggers need to have *so* much time and dedication to be ‘successful’. Whenever I think about closing my blog though, it feels wrong… Like losing my voice. I may not blog or use social media as much as I used to, but I still need that outlet. It’s lovely to hear I’m not the only one.

    • http://pocketrocketfashion.com Lauren

      EXACTLY. You’ve nailed it. I was worried this post would seem like a bitch about other bloggers but it’s not at all, just dismay at the pressures put on us and this external definition of “success” that very few can live up to.

  • http://www.justmeleah.co.uk www.justmeleah.co.uk

    I was steered here by Kate W below, because my recent post ‘Masochism and blog fatigue’ ties into some of this. When I started reading blogs it was full of radical fatties who shared their outfits for the love of saying ‘I’m here, I’m fat, I look fabulous and I’m here to stay!’ Now it’s mostly (but not completely) homogenised bollocks for the love of cold, hard cash. Fat politics has gone out of the window as most bloggers care most for the opinions of brands, not their readers. (And if they are political, brands drop them like a hot potato). I really REALLY struggle with the current climate and have thought often about giving up plus size blogging. Note: Not blogging, just plus size blogging. Since I’ve become sick of the way things are I’ve started to consume less fashion and recycle clothes a lot more and it has meant a steady decline in numbers, which depresses me. Not the numbers themselves, just that some people relied upon the constant churn of new-new-new. It’s not sustainable, it’s not ethical, and it sucks the soul out of everything I love about blogging.

    Thank you for writing this post for making me feel much less alone. I have felt like a square peg in a round hole for some time, and it’s nice to feel I’M not the problem, that this lust for products/fame/a pony is. xxx

    • http://pocketrocketfashion.com Lauren

      Leah! Thanks so much for commenting – I hadn’t seen your post before writing this, and I totally agree. I saw the Navabi email and didn’t respond, it’s just not something I’m interested in. When they first started they would enter ALL plus size blogs automatically, and I would just try to ignore it.

      Health is also a big player in this, especially mental health. I’ve got no doubts that my depression and severe anxiety has made navigating this change more difficult than it would have been otherwise.

      That said, I really don’t want my post to come across as negative about the bloggers who do embrace the commercial side. Having worked in blogger outreach, it really hit home just how homogenous blogs have to be to be considered for working with. Now that blogging culture is tied so heavily with advertising, I can’t fault anyone for wanting to get what they can out of it. But brands HAVE to be more open and accomodating, rather than assuming they can turn real people (which is what bloggers are) into puppets.

      • http://www.justmeleah.co.uk www.justmeleah.co.uk

        Oh yeah, I don’t ‘blame’ anyone for wanting a piece of the pie/the dream/a pony. I think if there is blame to be apportioned it’s the brands who encourage bloggers to diminish themselves in order to succeed. If there’s money to be had, of course people will go for it! In an ideal world people could still have the control and freedom they had as bloggers BEFORE the interest of brands and still know they’re ‘worthwhile’. It’s that dance between pleasing your readers and pleasing the brands, and sometimes I think the reader can come last in that equation.

  • Karen

    I have missed your posts over the past year and missed seeing your lovely fashion sense. I have been following plus size blogs for a number of years and have noticed that there are so many now, which in some ways is a great thing, but as a number of them clearly only exist to promote their writers as fashion models it gets quite depressing for those of us not blessed with the hour glass figures craved by the media. I miss seeing blogger reviews from people who are not being paid to write them, as despite the disclaimers, I can’t help but feel that the reviews are not genuine enough, or if they are – then there must be something extra specially wrong with me as I don’t just fit into and look great in every item of clothing I try!

    • http://pocketrocketfashion.com Lauren

      Thanks so much Karen! I’ve certainly done a LOT of reviews, and where I’m quite an awkward figure (small bobs, no waist, big belly, very short) it would take weeks of back and forth before finding a garment that I actually liked AND fitted well! I remember ASOS Curve agreeing to send me 3 things shortly after their launch, which was so exciting – but NOTHING fitted properly! So three reviews became one. Heh. That’s just one example, but it was a regular occurence when I was doing reviews on the regular.

  • http://theshoegirldiaries.blogspot.com/ Pink Haired Princess

    This really resonates with me, because I think most of us old-timers started a blog out of love or passion for something and as an outlet for sharing photos or words or views (or all). It’s such a pity that it became blown out of proportion and into this corporate thing of numbers and followers and social media accounts and there’s a RIDICULOUS pressure to stay on top and churn out the posts, promote the hell out them and constantly gain more “whatever”. I’ve always felt like I never measured up and I do regularly fall into the “how come I only got 2 comments on that post, when she has x on hers” type trap. I also feel like after all these years, I should’ve progressed (in whichever way you measure that)…and haven’t. It’s not just the envy thing, but you put sooo much work into it and then think nobody has read it and it was a waste of time.

    You believe you are adhering to this new way of blogging to “better” your blog, but if one person is reading it and it strikes a cord with them, does it really mean it’s any better a blog when 1,000 or 1 million people read it? Not really. It looks that way to others though and this is the key and thing we struggle with. Like that video said, you fall into this trap of trying to constantly look good to get great deals or be offered something for all the hard work and it’s not until you stop and think, that you realise that wasn’t even why you began blogging. I’ve even felt pressure to change the look of my blog and add bits to it, to make it look more ‘professional’. It does feel like it’s not enough to just share photos or have views now, it has to be this slick, commercial machine. You need to be popular too and as someone who was bullied at school and picked last for any team, I feel I can’t compete!

    As a sidenote, I’ve always felt excluded from the plus size side of things and it’s certainly the last thing brands ever contact me about. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t exclusively blog PS or I come across as too thin or too fat or what, but I certainly feel like nobody is interested in my views on that, which is silly considering I’m most definitely classed plus size and am struggling just like anyone else in that category. I’ve also found over the past year or so, I’ve unfollowed the sleekest, magazine type bloggers, because I just can’t bare the falsely perfect, unrealistic, staged feel of the posts. It’s not personal or personable to readers…but is to companies! Last thing (I could seriously talk about this forever), I’ve missed your posts, it’s not been the same without you.

  • Buttercup Rocks

    Lauren, I’m so glad you’re back and this was an interesting and thought provoking read. I have numerous and conflicting feels about this issue. I’ll agree that many plus-size fashion blogs have evolved into little more than bland mouthpieces for manufacturers and I’m sure there’ll be a few more burned out casualties as time goes on. Nonetheless, some bloggers seem to thrive on it and ultimately it’s helped to give the plus-sized community as a whole more of what we needed: a greater and more varied choice of clothing, and the willing ears of significantly more manufacturers than ever before. Of course it’s far from perfect; more manufacturers need to address the needs of the size 22+ demographic and those ubiquitous hanky hems still need to die in a fire – but this is the first time in my adult life I’ve ever believed we’ve permanently turned a corner and that is amazing.

    Ashley Nell Tipton just won Project Runway and even if it was some kind of “PC” fix, (as various detractors have suggested), neither the win nor the alleged fix would have happened five years ago. Ditto Tess Holiday’s signing to MiLK. Even the shameless co-opting of FA rhetoric by the mainstream, while highly problematic, would still seem to indicate that significant change is afoot. It’s always been my theory that you don’t have to make women feel like shit about themselves to make them spend money on themselves, and the rise of the fatshion blogger has proven that. It’s also given the lie to the archaic notion that we prefer seeing plus-sized clothes modelled on skinny women. So, regardless of those who either sold out or weren’t particularly invested in FA to begin with, you have helped to make a difference to plus-size fashion and, in doing so, have improved fat women’s lives, and you should be damned proud of that.

    But I also hear you on the other stuff. I can’t help but compare myself and feel lacking even though I had no desire to carve out a blogging career. Even after five years I still feel like an outsider, which frustrates me because I’m so passionate about the area where clothes and FA intersect. I’m too old to fit in with the younger plus-size bloggers and I’m too politicised about fat to fit in with the majority of older lady blogs. And although I’m often given props to my face in the community I’m rarely included on anybody’s blogroll and that does sting a bit, (okay, a lot). But, at the end of the day, my blog is primarily for me and those who have somehow found their way there and that’s what really matters.