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Is relatability REALLY a blogger’s most important quality?

Posted on 7 min read

Any time I read a post about how much blogging has changed, it always seems to end up being about designer handbags.

“Blogging has chaaaanged!” the person writing the post will begin. “It used to be just ordinary girls, sitting in their bedrooms, writing about what they bought from Primark that week: now they all have designer handbags! It’s just SO unrelatable!”

I read these rants (and there are a LOT of them around), and I always think, “OK: you had me up until you brought the designer handbags into it  – and now you just sound bitter.”

Harsh? Maybe. I mean, I know this is probably a controversial opinion, and that I’m likely going to get flamed for it, but I honestly don’t understand this obsession with the “ordinary”: the need for ever blogger we follow to be totally average in every possible way, just so we can “relate” to them. Since when did being average become something to aspire to? Why are we so annoyed by people who aren’t exactly like us: and particularly with those who’ve managed to achieve the things we haven’t, whether it be a designer handbag, an exotic holiday, or the ability to create the perfect flatlay for Instagram?

is this the one quality all bloggers need to have?
I have never aspired to be “average”. I’m not saying I’m anything OTHER than average – don’t get me wrong – but whatever I do in life, I’ve always wanted to do it to the absolute best of my ability, and to achieve as much as I possibly can. Lately, though, I feel like blogging has become the enemy of aspiration. Because, while the so-called “aspirational” bloggers (The ones with the designer handbags and exotic holidays) are still the ones with millions of followers, it feels like the people who are speaking the loudest are the ones who demand relatability in all things – and by “relatablility” they mean, “You better not buy a designer handbag, because I can’t – and I need you to be exactly like me in order to be able to relate to you.”

[bctt tweet=”Lately I feel like blogging has become the enemy of aspiration” username=”foreveramber”]

I don’t understand this attitude, and I never have. I mean, doesn’t it seem ridiculous to expect people to deliberately deny themselves things, just because a complete stranger might not be able to afford them? (And yes, this happens. I don’t consider myself to be one of the “aspirational” bloggers, but I can think of at least one reader who only ever comments to complain about the cost of my clothing, always by telling me that his daughter couldn’t afford that, as she has “better” things to spend her money on. I have absolutely NO idea why I’m expected to stick to a clothing budget set by this man’s daughter, but I DO know I’m not going to do it. I mean, what am I supposed to do: call her up every time I want to buy something, and  ask if it’s OK? Er, no thanks: I think I’ll just keep right on spending my own money however I see fit, thanks…) Who does that? Do people seriously go through life thinking, “Wow, I love that dress, AND I can afford it! I won’t buy it, though, because I don’t want to be unrelatable!”

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to be said for relatability, obviously. I love it when people comment on one of my posts to tell me how much they related to it, and I also love it when I read someone else’s post which makes me want to punch the air and say, “Hallelujah! I’m not the only one who feels like this!” I got that feeling just a couple of weeks ago, when I read this post by Hayley at Tea Party Beauty: that was the post that finally gave me the courage to write this one, which is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now, but which I hesitated to actually publish, because I felt like I must be the only person in the world who actually DOESN’T require a blogger – or anyone, really – to be “relatable” in order for me to like them, or want to follow their blog.

Like Hayley, I enjoy looking at beautiful images, even although I know perfectly well that they’re staged, and that the blogger probably had to spend ages getting them just right. As I mentioned in last week’s post,  I’ve never really understood the horror people express over this kind of thing – mostly because I don’t understand why people expect an Instagram grid, or a blog post, to give them a full, warts-and-all picture of someone’s life. Shouldn’t we be able to understand by now that social media is not real life? That blogs only show you what the author wants you to see? And isn’t “relatability” about more than designer handbags, or other material possessions, anyway? I mean, I have friends who are far better off financially than I am: friends with bigger houses, more frequent holidays, newer cars. I don’t stop speaking to them because their lifestyles are “unrelatable” to me, or because it makes me feel bad that they have more STUFF than I do: why would I stop following a blogger for the same reason?

[bctt tweet=”Shouldn’t we be able to understand by now that social media is not real life? ” username=”foreveramber”]

People DO though: or they at least SAY they do, when they write these posts complaining about a lack of relatability, or the “fakeness” of social media.  I can think of one very popular fashion blogger, for instance, who started out taking outfit photos in Forever 21 or H&M, but who now wears head-to-designer. Her comments section is often full of complaints from people saying that she’s become “unrelatable”, and that she should go back to wearing the clothes THEY can afford, like she did when she first started out. What those people seem to be missing is that many of us become better off as we get older, and progress in our careers. That’s not something that’s blogger-specific: most people aren’t still on the same salary they started on when they’re 5 or 6 years into their career, and even fewer will choose to continue to live like a penniless student once they’ve started to progress up that ladder, and are earning more.  Because that would be crazy, wouldn’t it?

And yet, somehow we expect bloggers to remain permanently frozen in time: to continue to shop on a super-tight budget, even if it’s no longer necessary, and to stick to the same lifestyle, even although their lives may have changed significantly since they started out. If they don’t do this, we complain that they’re “unrelatable”, and that we can no longer afford to copy their outfits – as if they somehow OWE it to us to live their lives for US, rather than for themselves.

“But no one’s actually ASKING these bloggers not to buy designer handbags!” I hear you say. Maybe not: but then, why even mention it unless you want them to do something about it – or at least to feel a little bit bad about it? What are you expecting these bloggers to do in order to become more “relatable” to you? And why is it so important that they are, anyway? I mean, I follow plenty of bloggers who I’d consider to be “relatable”, and I LOVE reading their blogs: they’re the ones I turn to when I want to feel reassured that I’m not a total freak, and it always feels good to connect with a like-minded soul.

At the same time, though, I also follow bloggers who are totally unrelatable to me: who couldn’t be more different, in fact. I follow them because either I find their work beautiful and inspiring, or because I’m just plain fascinated by the insight they provide into how the other half live. These are the bloggers who have a new Celine handbag every week, and who travel so much that their blogs have to have a little “location” marker on each post, just so their readers know which exotic vacation they’re on THIS week. I don’t relate to them AT ALL… but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in them, or that I don’t appreciate the photos they take, or the hard work that got them to the stage they’re at now.

And there’s the rub: unless you’re one of the lucky few who was born wealthy, it takes a lot of hard work to become “unrelatable” – and it seems really sad to me that, if you put in that hard work, people will tell you that you shouldn’t reap the benefits of it, because they liked you better before, when you were just like them.

Here’s the thing, though: if you’re working your butt off, only to then deny yourself the opportunity to travel, because you don’t want to seem “unrelatable”, then I’m sorry, but you already are, because I for one can’t relate to that attitude at all. If you would turn down the offer of a free designer handbag, just because not everyone gets that kind of opportunity, then you’re probably the MOST unrelatable person I know, in fact.

This isn’t, however, an argument against “being relatable”: I’ve always believed that one of the most important things you can do as a blogger is to simply be yourself, and let your personality shine through your words and images. Instead, it’s an argument against insisting that “realtablility” is the be-all-and-end all, and that bloggers should never aspire to be anything other than what they are right now, for fear of losing that. After all, if people are going to judge you for what you own, rather than who you are, isn’t that their problem, rather than yours?

*

Where do you stand on this: do you want bloggers to be relatable, aspirational, or can they be a bit of both?

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23 Comments
  • Ophelia
    August 14, 2016

    I am with you on that: I relate more (or not) to how a person thinks and sees the world rather than to what they own. I remember the early days on your blog, when a pair of gold wedges from TK Maxx made you feel guilty and found it fasciating how your style changed with your success. I will relate more to the shy introvert with a designer handbag than to an outgoing party girl decked out in all the clothes in my wardrobe. Please keep on doing you, because you are great!

    • Ophelia
      August 14, 2016

      More on topic: I think people should live their life however they please and bloggers don’t owe anything to their readers. If you as a reader want a relatable blogger, stop dissing the ones that aren’t relatable to YOU and find the ones that are (if that’s your main requirement for following a blog). I don’t see any reason why bloggers should bend over backwords for readers who don’t like them. I have a feeling that while their change in lifestyle might be “unrelatable” to some readers there are many others readers out there who will be fascinated by them/their blog for the exact same change that might drive others to unfollow.

  • Mai
    August 14, 2016

    I don’t think relatability is (or should be) a make it or break it deal. I follow many bloggers (vloggers really, your blog is the only one I follow) and in most cases I can’t relate at all with any of them. I’m an over-stressed freshman in a science major living in a forgotten South American country with my mum and sister trying not to fall apart under all that pressure. I don’t have expensive clothes, I don’t go in exotic vacations and I certaintly don’t have an amazing husband/boyfriend treating me like a princess. If it were all about relatability, I couldn’t follow a single blog/vlog, because they aren’t relatable.
    Oh, but they are. Because I also have a list of random acts of stupidity and a soft spot for teddy bears or anything with a face. Because I’m also an introvert in a sea of extroverted people. Because I also love a good mystery story and have had weird neighbours. It’s those little personality traits that make me like or relate to someone, not the numbers in their bank account. If I can be friends with people that are nothing like me, why would I not follow bloggers for the same reason?
    Anyway, that’s my two cents on the topic. Have a good day

    • Claire
      September 24, 2016

      If you had a blog Mai, I’d read it 🙂

  • Kiersten
    August 14, 2016

    I totally agree with you! I can’t afford a lot of things that some bloggers share but instead of being bitter, I adapt. For example, I can’t afford Urban Decay Naked3 but I do have the Maybelline Blushed Nudes pallet. If I see a tutorial using Urban Decay, instead of getting mad that I don’t have the exact same makeup, I see how I can recreate the same look using what I have. It’s called being resourceful. Same with clothes. If I see a look I like, I’ll adapt it. I may not have a name brand dress but I might have a dress from a different brand that looks like it. You just keep being you and don’t let the haters bring you down! 🙂
    Kiersten @ Autumn Country Girl

  • Andrea@WellnessNotes
    August 14, 2016

    This is a really interesting topic! And, no, I don’t have to necessarily be able to relate to bloggers for me to follow and enjoy their blog, Instagram, etc. I follow different bloggers for different reasons. Some I enjoy because of their writing, photos, etc. Others I follow because I can indeed relate to them and get ideas for my own life.

    I wonder if sometimes people complain because bloggers change, which, as you point out, is completely normal (and, hopefully, happens in everyone’s life, not only bloggers…). I follow a very successful blogger whose blog I LOVE. She wears clothes I will never be able to afford (plus, I would have no place to go in them). I only started following her about a year ago, but I know there is a lot of talk about that she has changed so much over the years. She used to wear affordable clothes, etc. Since I didn’t follow her back then, I obviously don’t know the difference. So maybe if someone followed her to get outfit inspirations for their own life (things they could actually buy right now), they complain because that’s not what they get anymore. I guess at that time as a follower you have to make the decision if you still love the blog – but now for different reasons – or if you stop following.

  • heather
    August 14, 2016

    Dang, the internet can make people strange! I have friends with varying amounts of wealth and opportunities, but I couldn’t imagine telling them, hey, every since you got that new car and job at [famous tech] company, I can’t relate, byeeee.

    I follow lots of blogs for lots of different reasons, and if a blog has evolved passed my interest… I just don’t read it. I don’t expect them to change for me, how weird is that. People grow and change, it’s a natural process. In fact, sometimes if a blog doesn’t change, I get bored of it because I’ve grown past that stage of MY life. There is a very pink and pastel blog that I check in every few months, way less than I use to, and it’s pretty much the exact. same. thing.

  • Kate
    August 14, 2016

    Great post Amber! I have only recently started my own blog and am aware of some bitterness and judgement from people I know… Human nature and the green eyed monster i guess! They can always start their own blog and see how they fare. I am staying true to my own interests, beliefs and voice 😉 X

  • Kate
    August 14, 2016

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the this post and I really enjoyed reading it. I’m exactly the same as you; while I follow and adore many ‘relatable’ bloggers whose lifestyles are similar to mine, I also love to read about the adventures of those who have beautiful handbags and go on hundreds of luxury holidays. There are people I’ve followed for years and years who have slowly made a name for themselves and have become incredibly successful. Rather than wishing they’d ‘go back to posting Primark hauls’ I’m cheering them on from afar!

  • Sarah Rooftops
    August 14, 2016

    I do agree with you. I don’t read blogs which I don’t relate to because… well… I’ve yet to find one which interests me; what I want to read about right now is other people dealing with parenthood. BUT I don’t believe bloggers should have to pretend to be penniless just because a lot of their readers are struggling. I completely agree that it’s not fair to expect that of them. I don’t think it’s limited to blogging, though – there seems to be a national mindset of resenting people who “get above themselves”; we bitch about people who get promotions; we sneer at experts on TV; we call our indie idols sell outs when they make it into the charts; we complain about chain stores taking business away from the local stores they started out as. As a country, we just don’t seem to like success, not in bloggers and not in anyone else.

    • Katalin
      August 15, 2016

      Sarah, I think your last thought on a given group of people (country or other) not liking success is far more widespread, we certainly have it in Hungary as well, but I guess you would find it just about everywhere. I think people who are bitter and/or angry at other people’s lifestyle choices should ask themselves what are they unhappy about in their lives, because that’s where the bitterness and anger almost surely comes from. Of course it is not possible to change everything you might find as the source of the bitterness at once, but clearly seeing what your problem really is can already help you to set your priorities and feel free to enjoy or unfollow blogs or other, if they are (no longer) a source of inspiration or interesting for you.

  • Frankie Carson
    August 15, 2016

    I don’t think relatability is important but I think bring yourself is. I love reading your blog and looking at your photos and I’m a 23 year old mum who has her own blog about sewing. I don’t wear anything you would wear but I still love your blog! And I still find it useful! If I make a paper skirt and I’m like eurgh I have no idea how to wear this? I’ll pop over here and see how you’d wear a pale skirt!
    Blogs are meant to be inspirational!!! Not a “hpw to be exactly like amber but on your budget, don’t worry she’ll lower how much she spends just for you!!!”
    Frankie
    http://Www.knitwits-owls.blogspot.co.uk

  • Donna
    August 15, 2016

    I relate to others because of their personality, not their purse(onality)!
    It’s who you are inside that counts. I like that the real you, shines through in your
    writing. It is what I love about your blogs!

  • Anna
    August 15, 2016

    Why do others seem to resent success in others? I am a (supposedly mature) student and have no money for anything, even a Primark haul is beyond my budget sometimes! But that doesn’t stop me from following blogs of all kinds. OK, so I’ll probably never be able to afford designer gear but such posts give me ideas on how I can style what clothes I have or show me make up looks which I can adapt to what is in my make up bag.

    Are those who accuse bloggers of being “unrelateable” going to tell you that they never look in designer shop windows?

  • Emily H.
    August 15, 2016

    I love reading about different lives to my own. It would be crazy to begrudge a blogger moving on to a ‘better’ standard of living. And if they manifest it by buying a new handbag then good luck to them! And if someone can make a living doing do then that’s really impressive.

    I think this feeling of wanting to relate comes into play in many things. In groups of friends, for instance, say you get a lucky break and move on to a better job/ home/ lifestyle etc, there will always be one or two who don’t appreciate the fact you’ve changed because it’s something they may feel bad about not achieving themselves, feel scared about attempting or they feel you’re lording it over them. That may not be the case at all.

  • Charlotte Lane
    August 16, 2016

    Literally agree with every single thing you have written – I think it’s awful that jealousy gets in the way of whether you find someone relatable or not, I aspire to be like someone who owns a new handbag every week or travels all of the time and it urges me to continue posting content on my blog and striving to get to where I would one day love to be. I think it’s terrible that people can be judged on whether they’re relatable or not by a materialistic object.. If you’re going to judge someone on relatability, at least go against their personality and who they are as a person rather than what they own, and if they one day are fortunate enough to own and do expensive things then I think us as fellow bloggers/readers should be proud of where they have to got to and what they have achieved, not jealous because we’re not doing the EXACT same thing. This was a really great post to read and I really loved it xo

    Char | http://www.charslittleblog.blogspot.co.uk

  • lily
    August 17, 2016

    I love reading other people blogs because it is something completely different to my own life. (most of the time) its interesting to read about what others do and buy and are interested in. yes its nice to relate to someone but not because of what they own. who cares what they own really? they worked hard for it. I honestly don’t see the problem with that.

  • Myra Boyle
    August 24, 2016

    This post has touched a few nerves. I’m sorry you have had this experience, but from reading the replies other bloggers have had similar experiences.
    Yours is the only blog I follow – why you ask? I’ve known you since you were a baby and have great admiration for how you have dealt with serious life events. You are always positive, even in posts like this. You are a wonderful writer – clear and very readable. I don’t relate to your life at all, but I love reading about it. You do what the best of novelists do, i.e. You engage your readers by making the protagonist (yourself) interesting and funny, as are all the minor characters. You are absolutely right when you say as people get older they have more money, and as fashion is fickle, and your personal style changes (I’ve given up hope for me lol) you will buy some (but not all) more expensive designer items. I don’t understand why anyone would grudge you that, especially when you so generously share your life with others. Your writing style has great visual clarity.
    Keep on writing, I love to hear what you’ve been up to, where you’ve been, what you’ve bought and how you’ve worn or used your purchases.

  • K. Elizabeth
    March 19, 2017

    There’s definitely room for both. I’m always happy when a blogger I’ve been following for a while or one of my blogger friends moves up the ladder and can afford nicer things. Some of us need to learn how to reign in our jealousy. It’s okay for other people to have nice things and to splurge on designer bags or fancy vacations if they want to. It doesn’t make them any less relatable in my opinion.

  • Shannon
    March 29, 2017

    I totally agree with you on being relatable in a blogging world where almost everyone has a form of designer wardrobe. I created my blog to be ‘budget’ friendly and is about finding good quality products with a good value for money and knowing what is worth spending your money on. Everyone with a designer wardrobe and being invited to A list events etc doesn’t seem very relatable and it really annoys me.

    Shannon x
    http://www.shanylou.co.uk

    • Amber
      March 29, 2017

      I don’t think you actually are agreeing with me, though? I was saying that the fact that someone has a designer handbag, say, doesn’t make them any less relatable to me, because I’m interested in the person, not their possessions. What do you think bloggers with designer wardrobes should do to avoid annoying you? Should they not buy the thing they like just because other people can’t afford them? Should they pretend they *can’t* afford those things, even although they can? Everyone will have a different opinion on what represents good value to them, so how does someone who can afford designer clothing, and who feels it’s worth spending their money on, avoid annoying the people who have different budgets/priorities? Genuine question by the way – I can’t really imagine being actively “annoyed” by the fact that someone on the internet has a designer handbag, so I’m really curious about that point of view – it’s totally unrelatable to me, which is the point I was trying to make: I don’t find people relatable because of what they own/don’t own, but because of who they are as people, if that makes sense?

  • Joyce Belfort
    April 11, 2017

    Designer bags and expensive holidays are not offensive. To me, it’s the I love everything attitude sort of bloggers that’s the most off putting. Those are the blogs that look and sound like infomercials that pretend to be genuine at the same time.

    I find fashion blogs that are head to toe designers are silly to read. It’s like why would I if I can just read Vogue or WGSN? There’s no excitement or incentive to read blogs like that either? I don’t hate blogs that are haute couture, because I don’t to spend time reading those. Bloggers busted their ass to make their blogs look amazing, at minimum, respect is normally the thing that comes to mind

    I’ll never dislike looking at pretty things. I don’t understand why bloggers get hated, people can just unsub and mute?

  • Liyana
    August 14, 2017

    Okay, I got to be honest, I read half way through and I thought I just needed to directly leave a comment to ask which i***t said that? How can anyone expect anyone else to be ‘ideally relatable’ to them? Well, if that’s the case then the next time someone throws that kind of comment to you, you might want to ask them back, “Why are you underachieving when you are already following me?”
    I know it doesn’t make sense but neither does their ‘ideally relatable’ ideas. lols

    Just a random blogger from Malaysia.
    http://www.absoluteyana.com

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