Being Authentic


Great comments (as always!) and an excellent post from Mel with some very thought provoking questions about whether we can call ourselves original and the advantages of writing “sideways”: writing about others works and creating a dialogue. Like what I am doing right now…

A lot of you wondered whether being authentic was the same as being original. That’s a tough question: I think we are each original individuals and we each have different things to say, even if we are writing about the same topics, like April said. So what’s the difference between being authentic and being original? I don’t know if I know the answer, but I’ll present my theory about what authenticity means in blogging. As always, this is a dialogue and I welcome your thoughts.

There’s no doubt that authenticity is definitely a buzzword in blogging and social media right now.

When the trend of glossy blogs with beautiful photographs and images arose, questions of whether the blogger was being authentic were bound to arise. The shift in styles from a warts-and-all approach to the current dominant paradigm of image-based blogging has been a dramatic change.

I would say the shift began around 2008, way before I was even blogging or reading blogs. And I would argue (though YMMV) that one blogger in particular led the way to this change: Stephanie Nielson of Nie Nie Dialogues. Long before her horrific plane accident, she was writing a blog dramatically different than what was out there at the time. (She started her blog in 2005, when the dominant blogging voices were more in the confessional genre, like Finslippy and Fussy.) Nielson, a devout Mormon, was a young mother of four who wrote about finding the beauty in life, the gratitude in small things and who tried to focus on the positive. She was a beautiful, wholesome mom who was a vegetarian and exercise fan, who gloried in being a SAHM and whose zeal for all things motherhood was really inspiring.

Then her accident happened in September 2008, and suddenly the New York Times and Oprah chronicled her story. As she began to recover, readers were amazed to see that her positive attitude remained intact. That if anything, her interest in making life beautiful remained as strong as ever.

(Aside: I read her book, which was very honest about how difficult her recovery was and is, and why her approach to life will always be guided by her strong Mormon faith. I recommend it highly: it’s an incredible read.)

During this time, other blogs began to become popular with their similarly positive worldviews of motherhood. A lot of them were written by Mormons too (which is a religion that most definitely puts a strong emphasis on all things motherhood): Nat the Fat Rat (who has suffered from infertility: this post in particular is VERY interesting), Oh, Joy, Say YES to Hoboken. A lot of them focused on crafting, making things pretty, cooking, healthy eating.

Then this article came out and broke down why these blogs are so appealing to many.

“Well, to use a word that makes me cringe, these blogs are weirdly ‘uplifting.’ To read Mormon lifestyle blogs is to peer into a strange and fascinating world where the most fraught issues of modern living — marriage and child rearing — appear completely unproblematic. This seems practically subversive to someone like me, weaned on an endless media parade of fretful stories about ‘work-life balance’ and soaring divorce rates and the perils of marrying too young/too old/too whatever. And don’t even get me started on the Mommy Blogs, which make parenthood seem like a vale of judgment and anxiety, full of words like ‘guilt’ and ‘chaos’ and ‘BPA-free’ and ‘episiotomy.’ Read enough of these, and you’ll be ready to remove your own ovaries with a butter knife.”

At the same time, design blogs like Design Sponge, Cup of Jo and then the fashion sites like Atlantic-Pacific burst onto the scene.

And then we come to Pinterest: probably the single most important element as to why these blogs are the powerhouses they are. Many of the photos of the crafting and the reupholstered chairs and the quirky dinner parties went viral, so to speak, via the images.

And now, it seems a backlash may be coming, based on the growth and popularity of blog criticism sites. Who knows what the next global trend will be?

So this is the background (as I see it) about the context to why, in general, readers care whether bloggers are being themselves, presenting life as it really is.

In terms of my own reality: I am not as authentic as I could be. I don’t tell the FULL truth of my situation. I gloss over some difficulties. There’s a few reasons for this. One: I am not anonymous, my name is attached to my blog. Family and friends read this record. While I am honest about my struggles with infertility and loss, there are some sacrosanct lines I won’t cross for many reasons. Does this make my blog less authentic? Probably.

I would say the blogs that might be the most honest, the most fearless, the most real would be the anonymous blogs, like Esperanza’s. I think those blogs are unfettered by some conventions.

But is it just honesty that makes someone authentic? I’d say no. I think a blog with a voice that is consistent, thoughtful, full of a viewpoint that is carefully thought out and expressed is also authentic. And so, I think Nie Nie Dialogues is authentic, I think LavenderLuz is authentic, I think Stumbling Gracefully is authentic. I think Stirrup Queens is authentic, I think R. Savitus is authentic.

There are some blogs I don’t think are authentic, and I don’t read or comment on those blogs.

As a reader, bloggers who write or present things in a manner that does not ring true to me are inauthentic in my eyes.

But you may not agree 🙂

How important is the authenticity of bloggers to you? Do you strive to express your reality? How would you define authentic?



Filed under Blogging

13 responses to “Being Authentic

  1. I read through all this different posts on blogging that I found while falling down the rabbit hole yesterday. I went to respond to them all, and even had a long response written out to yours, but then… I just kept getting distracted by work. So lame. 😉

    I just wanted to say that I personally, tend to be more drawn to blogs where I feel like people are being the most authentic versions of themselves possible. That does NOT mean revealing all. We are all entitled to our privacy, and to keeping pieces of our own personal stories close to our heart. I guess it just means not presenting your life as something it isn’t. Not being afraid of being honest about the pieces you ARE sharing. I agree… I see Nie-Nie as authentic, even though others would maybe want to find reasons not to buy into her constant optimism. I think that is who she is though, and veering away from that to please others or shut down critics wouldn’t be being true to hers. It wouldn’t be authentic. I don’t know… I guess I just prefer blogs where I feel like the author is being real – no matter how varied from my own version of real that may be.

  2. Authenticity, to me, is obvious in voice. I’m drawn to the writing voice of people who talk to me, the reader, and open their hearts. It’s risky, though. Even if you aren’t followed by family and friends. That vulnerability is a risk … because you might get rejected. And being rejected for who you’re not is one thing … but being rejected for who you are … well, that’s hard.

    I think I strive to be authentic. But maybe I don’t reveal enough to feel authentic?

  3. First of all, this is an amazing post. You are on a role lately lady! Keep up the fantastic, insightful writing. (And also the killer links–I need to copy all your blog subscriptions some day.)

    I would definitely say, as someone who attempts to blog both ways, that there is something really amazing about blogging anonymously. I started my “real name blog” about eight months ago and I have a REALLY hard time finding fodder for it. Every time I wonder if I should post something on Stumbling Gracefully or on my “real name blog” I decide to go with SG because there I can speak my mind without worrying what anyone who knows me, or might know me some day, would think. Being a teacher, I need to consider not only other adults finding my work, but middle schoolers finding it as well. That REALLY hinders what I’m able to say there.

    And I find a hard time being authentic in a space where anyone can see it. Not because I wouldn’t want people in my real life to see what I write at SG, but more because other people wouldn’t want to read it. And I don’t want to deal with the fall out. I also have to consider my partner and my daughter and my parents and my colleagues and everyone else in my life.

    I like my writing to be about MY LIFE, my REAL life, not the life I show everyone I know, but the life I live in my heart. That is the life I want to put out there. And those are the lives I want to read about. There are very few blogs I read that are under “real” names. I am just not as drawn to them.

    But like you, I define “authentic” in both ways and I would definitely describe some “real name” blogs as authentic. I guess I’m just drawn more to the other, anonymous, kind of authenticity. I find it very off-putting when I’ve been reading a “real name” blog for a long time and then suddenly they drop a personal bomb that I never saw coming because they never wrote about it. That is very off putting. It’s hard to be invested in someone’s story when you know you’re not getting all of it.

    But I realize I only think that when the person is mostly writing about their home life. If they are writing about all manner of interesting and relevant topics, like you do, I don’t expect to know as much about what is going on in their life. So I guess it’s not as clear cut as I at first thought.

    Thanks for getting me thinking about this. Always such thought provoking posts.

  4. I’ve been lurking and reading as you and Mel have been exploring these topics. So much to think about and an incredible history lesson to boot.

    The question of authenticity is a good one. The truth is, few if us are willing to bare all at any particular time. Some of us are waiting to see how things play out, allowing us to revisit and offer a more balanced overview if a situation. And then there are topics which are just plain painful and will benefit no one to talk about at the moment.

    So I guess my question is, do we have to present every intimate detail or thought in order to be authentic? The reason I ask is that I know my opinions can change as I gather information. In addition, how does one judge authenticity? Is it a matter of gaining trust or are their “tells” for unauthentic bloggers?

  5. Also loving these posts recently – and Mel’s sidewaysthing. I realised after commenting yesterday that I kinda just skipped over my answer – agree, its hard to label oneself as original or unoriginal.

    Where you wrote “I am not as authentic as I could be. I don’t tell the FULL truth of my situation. I gloss over some difficulties” I dunno, I was thinking as I read that . . . is that inauthenticity or is that self-preservation? Is it part of the “if so-and-so stumbled across my blog and read how I described them/that situation . . .” (or maybe I’m just projecting my own internalised censor here – thats my thought process – how do I describe the subject matter in an honest way thats fair true to the person without necessarily revealing (bitching about) something I might be judging as less desirable?).

    I’m also considering whether I am mixing up authenticity with a blog with a compelling voice that resonates – ie a style of writing I respond to? Some people are very easy to read, some a bit harder. Some I can see absolutely nothing in common with, but I like the way they blog anyway, some I follow more for a certain situation than their actual writing (some a bit of both) but my blog reader is pretty mall, it seems, to yours! I find it really hard to follow the pinterest ‘perfect life’ thing, naturally gravitating to a bit of angst and less-than-shiny existence! No blogs that I would deem inauthentic are springing to mind – I guess I see inauthentic as trying to follow another blog’s style, but its not something I’ve given a lot of thought to, although authentic people, irl, are something I’m quite clued into – I have no time for people who spend discourse trying to project a certain image/persona/agenda or gain something from me, however intangible! I would rather see the real person, warts and all, rather than a shiny veneer. I guess that reflects on what I choose to read

  6. I agree with Esperanza, you are on a role with your last three posts! So prolific and thought-provoking!

    Authenticity of bloggers is very important to me. I find it difficult to read and follow those who I do not believe/feel are being honest and true to themselves through their writing. I get that bloggers who are not anonymous may not be sharing their whole truth and reality. I appreciate that and admit to doing some of that myself, since I blog under my real name. But I do seem to be able to get a sense if a writer is being themselves vs. trying to create a different reality/image of themselves and their life on their blog.

    I do strive express my reality to the extent that people in my life are comfortable with it. So I write what I want to write about myself/my life experiences and do my best to only share about others that are important to me and my journey if they have given their blessing or I try to be vague about who they are if I want to share the gist of an experience or lesson learned, without breaking their anonymity.

    Finally, I am not exactly sure how I would define authentic, but I will share a story from meeting you and J from A Half-Baked Life at BlogHer `12 last summer. Soon after we met both of you told me that I was just how you imagined I would be from reading my blog and interacting with me online. I took that as the greatest of compliments and to mean that you both believe that I am authentic and really appreciate that. xoxo

  7. I think this is such an interesting conversation. I really wish I was still doing academic work because I truly think there’s a dissertation in here (if we’re talking specifically about women’s blogging) about women’s mode of communication/writing. I am constantly trying to pull apart the act of blogging; In the study of writing we make distinctions between form — and each form has its conventions and constraints. I’ve never been able to pinpoint what exactly blogging is — to me or to anyone else –it’s this glorious mish-mash of conventions — each with different expectations. I think the question of authenticity is tied to this — when I think of authenticity I think of it as a question related to how we feel about the choices made with memoir-writing. BUT is every blog a memoir? Aren’t some pure journalism? Food writing, travel writing, movie and literature reviews — do we still ask the same questions of authenticity from our travel writers, food and literature critics? Or does the very nature of the blog as a form that originated as a web – log/ — a log of our thoughts and personal reflections– mean that every blog is driven by personality and voice — whatever else we might take from it. Here’s a really interesting definition of authenticity:

    I particularly like this: The authenticity of a work of literature is questioned and debated somewhat differently. Questions about authenticity, in the sense of accordance with fact, surround nonfiction writing (as well as documentary film and photography). Many of these questions began with New Journalism, which emerged in the United States in the late 1950s and the 1960s. It involves adding novelistic elements such as character description, character sketches, and dialogue to reporting. Its emergence provoked questions for and criticisms of writers such as “the bastards are making it up!” [18] With New Journalism arrived the “nonfiction novel,” which Truman Capote claimed to invent with his work In Cold Blood (1965), though others have debated this. A proliferation of terminology such as “memoir,” “creative nonfiction,” “new journalism,” “nonfiction novel” surround writing based in reality and on real people but filtered through the opinions and interpretations of the author. The factual nature or authenticity of this kind of writing often results in public debate that cannot be settled. In present day this type of debate is more common in the realm of nonfiction writing on controversial political topics verses the overall criticism of the style, which current readers are more familiar with than readers were in the 1950s and 1960s.

    And I’d add that the blog has hitched its wagon to New Journalism and this is something we’ll continue to debate about as the form evolves.

    Wow. This is an egghead comment. BUT I think for me that’s the question — what kind of work IS a blog?

    Sorry for the hijacking of your comment section. I said to Mel that this was a sign I should comment more often — I’m like a person who finally sees someone after a week of isolation….I can’t stop talking.



  8. I’ve checked out most of your links- fascinating – I could spend a whole day reading blogs – and the ones I like the most are when I can really “see” what their lives are like. I find people fascinating. A bit like “talking” libraries, you never know when you will be informed, uplifted, entertained or maybe even you will make a friend. I started a blog because I really had so much to say about my experience – I wasn’t looking for fans, just connection. Getting paid was not and is not a motivation though some people only respect and honour work that is valued in dollars and cents. (Which is why husbands have no idea why we “waste” our time writing or reading blogs – unless of course, you’re generating income.) Writing a blog about infertility, adoption and my journey through motherhood gave me an opportunity to be authentic in a way that can never be acknowledged in my real life. You notice there are no “workshops” for that kind of stuff.

  9. While originality and authenticity seem linked, I think it’s possible to be original and not be authentic. Or perhaps trying to be original. Some blogs give me the sense that the blogger is trying hard to be twee and hipster, to be original and cool, but that really isn’t who they are. It’s an identity they have assumed b/c that’s what is popular in the blogosphere. Perhaps the quixotic quest to be original in this sphere is the death of authenticity.

    I think some of the squeamishness around over-sharing comes from the impression that the blogger is perhaps being too authentic: any time someone says they are “keeping it real,” on their blog, I know that their attempt at being original will be excess authenticity about parenting, marriage, child birth, mental illness, eating disorders, etc.

    If you are original, you just are. It does not need to be stated. Authenticity is something of which you have a good bit of control. Of course, what you think is authentic and what really is authentic may be two different things, but you are trying to be authentic. I wonder if the paths in the blogosphere can now be stated as original vs authentic. I’m going to be a twee unicorn fairy princess holding tea parties in the woods vs let me tell you the nitty gritty details of how much a bad latch hurts.

    When you read some of the threads on GOMI about how some bloggers have changed dramatically in appearance, mannerisms, speech and focus, it’s difficult to believe they are authentic or ever were. It makes me wonder who they really are.

    Authenticity is important to me. I like feeling like I really know something about the blogger after reading their posts. It isn’t necessary for them to share everything on their blog; you can still be authentic but post only certain snapshots of your life.

    I do try hard to express my reality. I may avoid certain topics due to discomfort or privacy, but I want anyone who reads anything I spew on the Internet to think I’m real. If you meet me, I won’t be a mismatch to what I’ve posted on my blog.

    Pam’s link on authenticity is really great. Often times, questions about authenticity arise in my gut…something seems off. The last thing I want to think about when I read a blog is whether I am dealing with an unreliable narrator. I hated that in literature, and I don’t want to deal with that as I read a blog. To paraphrase a meme: “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

  10. Thought provoking. i’m going to have to click through some of those links you shared. Those all sounds like good reads. As far authenticity. It’s important to me as a reader to feel like I’m reading real life. I don’t like feeling like it’s all roses and sunshine. If it is, and it’s real then I’m inspired, but if it’s just fluff, I usually click away and don’t come back. Great to find your blog from @KirstenPiccini.

  11. Man, this is a great post and it’s accompanied by excellent discussion. I love this community.

    One thing I really liked from this post is seeing blogging from another person’s viewpoint. I could write my own perspective of bloggers and blogging and the evolution of blogging, and it would be purely subjective — there is no objective narrative.

    So I enjoyed understanding how you see Nie Nie and Finslippy and Cup of Jo and the big picture. And I’m so happy that you included me 🙂

  12. Pingback: news item: blogging about your kids – PAIL Bloggers

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