Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On Body-Positive Blogging and Why We Need It

found here

Relatively recently (okay, a month ago) an article ran on Refinery29 about body-positive blogs and whether they are truly of benefit to the people who write and read them. As you can imagine, I was really interested in what the writer, Katie J.M. Baker, had to say on the matter, which I can basically sum up as the following (the tl;dr version, if you will): body-positive blogs are kinda good because they encourage self-acceptance, but they're also hurtful because they're a venue through which young girls to compete with one another and fish for compliments, for approval from strangers.

Now, this post here will not be meant as a complex analysis of the article, which raises some interesting issues that I definitely see coming up with body blogging. What I want to do instead is reflect on the nature of this blog in an attempt to show what kind of purpose these blogs can serve.

Body-positive blogging, for me, is cathartic. It has been a challenge, emotionally-speaking, to turn this blog into a very public window into my life for the sake of helping others. I see sharing personal triumphs and tribulations as a way to create a circle of support not just for myself but for the people who read this blog as well.

There have been many instances when I was concerned about this blog becoming a too self-centered. The one instance that comes to mind immediately is Love 365, which was, for any newcomers, when I wrote down one positive thing about myself every day for one year and posted my list every Friday. Before I started it, I discussed the idea of Love 365 with my boyfriend because I wondered if it was too navel-gazing a journey to embark on in public. Would anyone on the Internet care about what I like about me? Would my readers be completely turned off? After all, we're sort of encouraged to be overly-modest: admitting you're awesome often gets interpreted as arrogant instead of confident. But seeing how awful some people-- including myself-- can feel about themselves, I wanted to make a statement that would work toward changing that. It's okay to love yourself. You're awesome and that's totally fine and you should shout it from the rooftops. I invited my readers to participate in the project and hoped for the best.

I was, honestly, overwhelmed by the response. Did my little campaign go viral? No. But did it get enough responses to leave me humbled? Absolutely. I was so taken aback by all the positive responses (and the lack of negativity). I was honored to see strangers on the Internet e-mail me their love affirmations for the week and commenting with positive thoughts about themselves, often about their bodies. That's a special thing. Maybe I didn't start a worldwide movement, but in 2010, I know a whole bunch of my readers took the time to think about themselves as beautiful, worthwhile and totally okay for even just long enough to write an e-mail. It was amazing.

I feel the same way about the response I've seen to posts about my struggles to love and accept the body I'm in. I've become determined to make this blog heavily feature personal narratives, because I think personal stories hit home in a way that more straightforward articles simply can't. We sometimes have to be reminded that inside these bodies are souls that are strong, that hurt, that feel deeply, that survive. It seems that when I post the stories I'm most afraid to share-- that I sometimes also think are most narcissistic-- that I get the most wonderfully-positive responses. There is something about a stranger on the Internet spilling her guts that brings forth a whole ton of emotions in a reader; I know that because those are the articles I respond best to and because of you.

I will never stop being amazed by the kind of comments and e-mails this blog gets. When I write something that touches something in someone else-- that causes them to, in turn, tell me their story-- I know what I'm doing isn't just narcissistic. Body-positive blogging isn't all about getting compliments and seeking approval: what I get out of it is the incredible feeling that comes when you realize another person felt a little bit better because you said what they've felt. Not everyone wants to share their human experience with the Internet, but if I can share mine in a way that makes others feel as if their story is out there, that's enough.

Because of the nature of the Internet, blogging can easily turn into a competition to get the most hits, the most reblogs and retweets, the most "likes" and all that. It can turn into a search for approval, and as a person entering the field of journalism, of course I write with the hope that people like what I have to say. But as I've matured as a blogger and as person, I've discovered many things that are much better than stats that make blogging meaningful.

Body-positive blogging is wonderful because you get to see your readers relate to you. It helps both of you to not feel so alone.

It's wonderful because you might someday get an e-mail saying that you inspired someone to try not to hate how they look so much. It helps both of you to feel hopeful.

It's wonderful because you might someday read a comment in which someone tells a story they've never told before because your openness has helped them be brave. It helps both of you to be courageous.

It's wonderful because you and your readers are undertaking a challenge together when you write and read body-positive blogs: to learn to love everyone, including yourselves, unconditionally.

Are these blogs narcissistic? Yes, a little. Do people write them looking to "win" something? Of course. But the good far outweighs the bad, and the blogosphere would be a very different place: one worse off for a lack of candid stories and open hearts.

What do you think about body-positive blogs? What makes them great? What makes them, well, not so great sometimes? If you blog about body image, what has the experience been like for you?


boopnut said...

I like the "body positive" blogs. It helps me to feel good about myself and accept my curves. I am 59. I doubt that I will ever look 29 again. But, I can love the body I am in, and I thank those of you who write these blogs.

D. said...

I never thought about body-positive blogs as narcissistic - they are personal blogs, the authors can write about whatever. I mean, in a way, every newspaper column is narcissistic: why would anyone care what some random columnist thinks? But people care, because they strongly disagree or identify with the writer and so they start thinking about the subject and form their own opinion. And when the topic is body - there is a lot to be considered and thought about.

ss said...

Just wanted to share this research that I recently came across that basically states that people who were more body positive tended to be healthier over time. So my take is that body positive blogging helps! http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110717204913.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%253A+sciencedaily+(ScienceDaily%253A+Latest+Science+News)

Kimberley said...

I have always admired your body positive posts and attitude in general Vanessa. I think there is so much body negativity in the media and on the internet that it is refreshing to hear people embracing all that is good about their bodies and realising how amazing they really are. Keep it up hun - you're inspiring to a lot of us! xx

Cristina Fahrbach-Connors said...

One of the things that really made me angry about the Refinery 29 articles was its reference to body image photo sites, where people post pictures of themselves and show how they love themselves and their bodies, as well as how beauty comes in many sizes. The author feared such sites triggered eating disorders body image issues, even equating the sites to pro-ana blogs. You need only look at pro-ana ("thinspiration") blogs as well as unrealistic images in the media to see how ridiculous this contention is. I believe these websites, combined with other body positive blogs are incredibly important to help women with body image issues.

Anonymous said...

I don't get why body-image and style blogs get so much criticism for being self-centered - they're BLOGS. They're self-published, usually unpaid, often by one person who writes and edits it him/herself on subjects he/she is most interested in. Blogs are by nature a little self-centered!

And of course we all want to get comments and to hear that someone has appreciated our writing, but if you're blogging solely to get those comments, yes, you are probably missing the point and participating in an unhealthy activity. That doesn't mean every outfit post is automatically a cry for attention.

And how many body-positive blogs are also related to ethical/environmentally-friendly products, materialism and consumerism, the psychology behind style and self-image, etc? I'm amazed by how many bloggers have taken the subject of body-image and looked at it from a psychological, ethical, or socioeconomic perspective. They all provide tremendous insight and it irks me that they get categorized as shallow or narcissistic because they sometimes involve women taking pictures of themselves.


Allison said...

I think every blog is vain to some extent, but so is all writing. So is vanity really vanity? Or is writing really that vain? Aristotle rambled on, I ramble on. I'm not as smart as him, but we're both the same amount of vain, right? Assuming people care about what we put out there?

I found her arguments against it weird; as if she just had to come up with a reason why it would be a bad thing.

I love your blog. I'm more silent than I should be sometimes, but I love it. I'm glad you write things that make my heart smile Don't ever stop!

NatachaP said...

hey there,
i found your blog by chance looking for corset piercings... and ended up here :) (lol) i read your post and appreciate how heartfelt it is, how vulnerable you're allowing yourself to be by expressing these feelings/issues. just saying a hello and wishing you continued blessings :)

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