Is relatability REALLY a blogger’s most important quality?
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?
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?