Mind the Gap: A Sustainable Approach to Lifestyle Blogs

Mind the Gap: A Sustainable Approach to Lifestyle Blogs

I recently found myself engulfed in a vibrantly photographed Instagram post by one of my fave lifestyle bloggers. It featured a goddess-haired hiker standing on a mossy riverbank path during the gales of November. She was wearing a disarmingly well-styled, mustard-hued knit cardigan, the hem of which stately swept the rims of her Red Wing Heritage boots. A canoe lay dripping in the backdrop, an enameled paddle propped against a tree. The sky encapsulated the movement of autumn air in rolling grayscale clouds. Her words were that of a sage, offering strength and optimism enough to set the soul aglow. 

Images and language combined in this format can be soothing to the senses in times of weariness. They offer a visual respite from the cubical or the drudgery of housework, if not an excellent distraction from our run-of-the-mill, smartphone-induced adrenal fatigue. If really well done, an artful post like this can transport the reader to a little haven, where life just looks a little more luminous (DSLR camera not pictured). 

She had me at the knit cardigan. Something weird started to happen though: my thoughts began to churn with all the ways I would get my life to look and feel like this photo. I discussed planning a trip to Tettegouche State Park with my husband, and I began to imagine myself exploring the woods for hours on end—while looking both casual and stylish, real photograph material—giving no thought to my work schedule, the cost of the trip, or the need for a weeklong babysitter. This dream was going to happen. I even started pinning the cardigan to my wishlist board and was feeling really grandiose about the whole thing when I got to the end of the post and read hashtag: sponsored. 

How embarrassing. A grown adult, tricked by an advertisement. After the initial shock, I had to give some serious props to the author because she had pulled off writing something amazing, specifically FOR PAY. I was a little bit awed, a little bit envious. Then my husband looked at the post and said, “Oh, I recognize that paddle—it costs $300.” Gah! My plans to copycat this woman’s life were officially dashed.

Okay, so let’s address a few awkward questions this kind of experience raises. 

First is the question of expense. Though some bloggers get paid fairly well with the use of brand partnerships, most don’t make a living that way. For the ones that do, the sponsorship fact is something to not necessarily judge but to hold in awareness. On a related note, blogs like Apartment Therapy give readers plenty of budget-sensitive suggestions for projects, which is nice, but even this implies a certain definition of “cheap”  that isn’t necessarily true of every reader. It’s important to have a healthy sense of your own means when reading lifestyle blogs for inspiration.

Secondly, what about practicality? No one looks this good while hiking. Maybe the wardrobe and makeup were done on site, after the sweaty exercise part. Maybe it took fifty poses to get the perfect shot. Maybe she never actually canoed to this site as the photo suggested, but if she did, someone probably wiped the paddle clean before placing it in frame. The staged nature of these posts somewhat negates the variability that life often brings.

The next question involves our perception of time. I recently heard NPR report on a study that found when people view something in slow motion, they attribute more intentionality to the recorded action. It seems that slowing down a sports playback or a crime effectively erases anything resembling impulse or reflex so it appears that much more decisive. In a similar way, photographs persuade our minds that a single moment represents the whole, causing us to assume some kind of ever-present posture. This is why we sometimes say, “I wish I looked that good all the time” or “I wish I could keep my house that clean,” as though the photo indicates a constant. If we can remind ourselves that probably half of snapped photoshoot images feature the subject unattractively mid-blink, perhaps we could ease up on ourselves. 

Lastly, any feelings of discontentment that arise while reading about others should always be called into question. Envy is born of comparison. This is the most dangerous thing we can do when skimming lifestyle blogs because it causes us to be unhappy with our own lives—if you are noticing these feelings more often than not, it’s time to get reacquainted with your own beautiful life, reassess your personal values and goals, and get your DIY on in a way that makes sense for you. 

Lifestyle blogs can be tricky, because while they portray pieces of someone else’s real, actual life, to the reader they might as well be fiction. So will I unfollow? Let’s not get carried away. 

I’m getting better at reading lifestyle blogs with a selective eye for the bits of truth and specks of hope that can be found anywhere if you look closely. And I think others are catching on too. Pretty sure “unsponsored” is a forthcoming Instagram filter, in which these things get all the highlights. 

Just for fun, here’s what my totally authentic lifestyle blog would look like: 

1. An interactive photo of me, where you could choose the time of day:
Morning me: wearing my barista apron, possibly with dappled whipped cream in my hair (not the sexy kind)
Afternoon me: sporting a secondhand Baby Bjorn (though I wish it were an olive Tula) and schlepping an overflowed laundry basket
Evening me: holding a cup of coffee (because putting three kids to bed at night is hard)

2. A “welcome to the site” where I’m like, “Read at your own discretion, it’s kind of boring in here but sometimes I find a 20-dollar bill on the ground and write a whole thing about How to Pay Off Student Loan Debt with Nothing but Spare Change. Actually, sorry no—your advice is as good as mine.”

3. Links to articles titled “Date Night Ideas on NO Budget,” “Best Storybooks for Adults,” and “5 Failsafe Kid Distractions that Buy You Time to Shower.”

4. Sidebar with a list of my “sponsors,” including family members, friends, and any kind stranger who happens to leave a nice comment on one of my posts.

So, let me know if you think I should initiate a Kickstarter on this thing. For now though, I will continue looking to others for practical inspiration, feminine solidarity, and not the least of all, pretty pictures. 

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