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.”
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?