Jenny of Fashion for Writers has a thoughtful post up on the recent Independent Fashion Bloggers conference, and it’s well worth a read. The part that I want to talk about is this:
Are fashion bloggers contributing and encouraging the normalization of heteronormative, pre-second wave feminism, socially conservative relationships between men and women? I think EVERY single successful personal style blog has 1) a two-person team consisting of a female personal style blogger and her steady, long-term boyfriend or husband, who was already a photographer or willingly became one over the course of time 2) who is also willing to bring the camera everywhere in order to help capture and stage photos for said personal style blogger who performs some aspect of her personal style over the course of hundreds of photos so that the final product looks totally effortless, spontaneous, and gives reader the illusion that they are actually peering in this style blogger’s life even though we are only seeing a planned and performed aspect of this blogger’s public life which masquerades as private life, which then entices and tillitates readership who are increasingly voracious to experience more of this blogger’s authentic private life.
I think she’s definitely on to something, but I think this is limited to a specific subsection of fashion blogging. I’m not interested in other people’s image machines, and so the blogs I read tend to be small and more personal than the “successful” blogs she’s talking about. I don’t think it’s hard to pick out bloggers who are primarily interested in selling an image of a perfect private life — there’s often little context, little depth, no faceted persona that ties it all together — and I skip past those blogs on my internet meanderings.
The dominant image of traditional femininity is one of cohesion. A traditionally ideal woman has it all together: she looks put together, with immaculate hair and makeup and stylish (but not challengingly so), has a spotless house and cooks delicious, nutritious food for her family. Her metaphorical ducks are not only in a row, but are perfectly matched and preened. The dominant image of an ideal style blogger is similar: she’s immaculately together, with a wardrobe that is stylish but not so challenging as to be inaccessible to her readers, and she has all the trappings of a perfect life: a loving, attentive husband, a warm and inviting home, a fulfilling job, an active social life. I suspect that traditional gender roles are not normalized by fashion blogging so much as mainstream fashion blogging, being overwhelmingly female and feminine, is informed by traditional gender roles. To that end, it’s at once surprising and expected that bloggers’ marriages are sometimes almost a third character (the blogger, her husband, and their marriage) — traditional adult femininity is deeply tied to relationships, primarily with a partner but also with others.
We’ve all mentioned our partners here, because they’re a part of our lives. But our partners aren’t a focus of the blog, and the appearances they make are minor. We take our pictures ourselves, for the most part, in our apartments and houses, with a tripod and patience; our partners, for blog purposes, are incidental. I say this not to brag, but to draw contrast between us and mainstream fashion blogging. We’re a small, unmonetized blog that we started on a lark and we do purely for fun; by many people’s reckoning, we’re wildly unsuccessful.* This isn’t uncommon amounts the blogs I read, either. Partners are mentioned in passing, and may or may not take photos for the blog, but there is more context and more focus not on blogger-as-woman-and-wife but on blogging-as-aspect-of-blogger’s-life. The women whose blogs I read are interesting and thoughtful in their own right — there’s no need for reinforcement from exhibiting how they conform to societal norms.**
I’m not looking to comment on individual bloggers’ lives, because that’s incredibly presumptuous and I’ve no business making assumptions about the private lives people I don’t know from Eve. But blogged life is by necessity a curated life, and I agree wholeheartedly that, especially in the mainstream, blogged life often masquerades as private life, and overlaps neatly with traditional femininity. I often find myself having to look for the woman amidst the carefully arranged ideal, and while I understand that the curated ideal is what sells and keeps the most eyeballs, I find it uninteresting. I am well versed in ideal Western femininity, since it’s been shoved at me from this culture since I was born; I don’t need to see it remixed (ha!) over and over again in fashion blogs. I find it frustrating that in spite of the strides that feminism has made to normalize the independent woman, the traditional image of femininity is still the dominant image.
As I mention in the footnotes (am I capable of writing a long post without addendums? It seems not), I had a post on the visibility of women in fashion blogging already percolating, and I think this issue of gender roles is very much a part of that discussion. That post isn’t fully formulated, but I’m hoping to have it done soon. In the mean time, I’m really interested about what you have to say about this. Thoughts?
* I don’t give a fig about what “most people” would say about our blog — we’ve got a group of lovely, thoughtful commenters, we’ve built a space where we can explore our choices, and it’s great fun. By my reckoning, we’re wildly successful, and the naysayers don’t have to read us if they don’t want to. Pbbbbbbt to them!
** And that’s not even touching on how people who don’t conform to societal norms in one way or another are (in)visible in fashion blogging, but I’ve had a post turning around in my head on that before I read this, so more on that later.