There’s a certain sentiment that’s been echoing across my Twitter timeline for at least 6 months, and it’s starting to get a lot louder. The vibe? Blogging has changed drastically – if anything, too drastically – over the past few years (especially with the stratospheric rise of Instagram.) I’ve seen many people lamenting this change, saying that they wish blogging was still a case of shooting outfit photos against a wall in your room and reviewing lipsticks from Superdrug, rather than the immaculately displayed croissants in a 5* hotel room, the “perfectly undone” candid in bed wearing dainty lace bra, Gucci bags galore, and frolicking about in the Maldives for a shoot that wouldn’t look out of place on the pages of Vogue – if, of course Vogue didn’t have such a vendetta against bloggers (oh, and these are all examples I’ve seen people talk about on Twitter – and of course, illustrated myself with my v cliche Gucci bag & Realisation Par dress combo, but I like to hope it’s more of an ironic illustration/ a shameless attempt to pull in readers who might just be here for the fashion – hello!)
And I’m torn, as I do find myself a little tired of all of the cliche shots (although you can read an older, in-depth post on that here) and god, it would make my life a million times more simple if I could still just take photos in my room, but at the same time, I’m asking why is it so bad that people want to push their personal boundaries of content creation? It brings into question the relatable vs aspirational debate once more, but it goes beyond it this time. I’ve seen people saying that the seemingly unattainable levels people are now blogging at has ruined blogging for them, they can no longer keep up, and they feel disheartened – and that’s such a sad thing to think that so many people feel the industry has changed to a place they don’t belong in. And what’s worse, seeing it as such an unattainable place where it feels like it’s not even worth starting. But at the same time, every single industry goes through changes and adapts, and we all have to adapt to survive, don’t we?
But yes, the blogging game has changed massively since I started. Fashion Slave has been around for just over four years now, and when I started it was a totally different playground. Instagram was still, technically, in its infancy – especially in terms of being a marketing tool – and the word influencer (a word that I actually, truthfully really dislike, if I’m gonna be really honest…) was more likely to be used on the blurb of an autobiography of creepy 00’s self-help professionals and hypnotists that were simply trying to get you to join their cult. The bloggers at the top of their game were way ahead of many others – the Blonde Salad , Kristina Bazan and Andy Torres – creating beautifully styled street shots photographed by professionals, with a seemingly cavernous space between them and us small-time folk who were shooting our photos on self timer in our bedrooms. It’s how I started – in my box room at university with practically no space, I’d pin a white bed sheet over my door for a clean background – goals, I know.
But whilst those superstar bloggers remain at the top, and others have risen to their level, that cavern has started to close up with “micro-influencers” filling the space in between. There’s a lot of online discussion on what a micro influencer is, but a lot state it’s having anything between 10k-80k Instagram followers – which in fairness, simply seems to dwarf the word micro as 80k is anything but small. And what we’ve seen happen is people with more modest followings paying for blogger photographers, creating more aspirational (yet arguably, constructed) images, and getting more professional and personalised web design, bridging that gap between a blogger and super blogger much more easily.
A major transition that happened for me was when I published my first outfit post that had been shot in an actual street rather than my bedroom, and my page views tripled. So it was a no-brainer for me that I was going to have to rope whatever poor sod was around to take my photographs. Professional paid photographers were once something only the biggest and best bloggers had, snapping photos in the streets etc. Now, it’s something far more attainable – look at the Olympus Pen cameras – an entire range built with bloggers and the selfie generation in mind, marketed directly at us with a relatively affordable price tag and user-friendly design. And if I taught my boyfriend to shoot some of my blog photos then trust me, you can probably teach yours too. Plus selfie culture has stripped a lot of shame and embarrassment that comes with getting to someone to shoot your street photos – it’s not half as cringe as it used to feel because if you go to Shoreditch or South Kensington on a Saturday morning, everyone else is doing it.
Rather than going straight to the necks of the bloggers who are succeeding by creating their own digital space, I think we have to take a little look first at the industry that allowed this to thrive. I studied an MA in fashion journalism, and all through my studies I was told of my dreams of wanting to work in print are “not going to happen – print is dying and digital is the future” – and of course it’s so right. The shifting dynamic and struggles journalism has had to adapt to an online market where news and entertainment is cheap and often free has been pretty painful. Publications haven’t always got it right, and it’s left a void which has slowly been filled by super bloggers on top of their game.
And this is where bloggers come in. Where magazines have failed to adapt, bloggers have been accepting of adjusting to an ever-changing digital world, with high-class blogging filling a space that magazines failed to occupy quick enough: an online arena of luxurious photography, enjoyable content, a sleek digital interface and perhaps most importantly, a single face and personality to connect with. We’ve seen a shift in the kind of content people want to consume. Social media has created a nosey, voyeuristic society that wants to know about others lives, and this has created scope for this industry to grow and grow.
So what audiences have began to want is that in between: a tailored, more personal selection of beauty and fashion inspiration from girls/women they relate to – rather than a monthly, faceless magazine populated by models and created by editors on big salaries – all neatly packaged into a glossy website and signed with #fashion. And, of course, producing and consuming this content has become so much easier – affordable, easy-to-use cameras (cough, cough, Olympus Pen range), photoshop, Facetune, fast fashion makes clothing cheap, online shopping makes it easier for people to buy, Instagram makes it easier to share/consume/like.
But has it gone a little too far? Bloggers were loved for being the girl’s next door, your online best friend, and having a relatable authenticity that differentiated themselves from the magazines and models – but such levels of construction and in some extreme cases, serious photoshopping, take away from the very things that made bloggers so different and special in the first place.
One of the glaring issues of the changing landscape of blogging, however, is constructed content vs reality – an issue that strikes quite close to my heart. There’s creating inspiring, stylish content, and then there’s creating a total fantasy land that is in no way a reflection of your life, and effectively seems deceptive to the audience. But where does that line lie? It’s constantly changing.
Blogger or non-blogger, we all post the prettiest photos of ourselves on the internet, and write about the most positive aspects and experiences. I mean, would you rather show your best side or your worst side on the web, realistically? Not too long ago, I posted a selfie looking pretty made-up, but captioned it saying how I definitely didn’t look as good as the photo at that current moment as I’d been up watching the election results until 4:30am. A follower replied “it would have been fairer on the rest of us if you posted a tired selfie though ;)” – and I know they didn’t mean anything bad by that, but my first reaction in my head was “okay, yeah, but that would look terrible next to everything else on my feed and nobody would like it.” Perhaps that’s vain and vacuous, and perhaps that is unfair of me, but it’s the truth – people don’t come to my page for bad selfies, and if I posted one it would stick out on my feed like, well, a bad selfie, and when your Instagram is a marketing tool, it’s not exactly good practice.
But of course I understand the main sentiment of what she was saying – it’s nice to show a bit of a reality amongst all of the gloss because it shows everyone else that we’re human rather than an airbrushed digital clan of faux “real” girls. But that’s always what I try to do, through my posts and my topics and content ideas. And I suppose that’s what many of us use Instagram stories for too – a bit more reality (although this is arguably becoming a more glossy and rehearsed extension to sell yourself on, too.)
It’s easy for bloggers to forget, when we know the level of construction that goes in to creating the perfect shot (my ratio of selfies taken, to selfies posted is probably a 50:1, just sayin), that others don’t see it like that. I have friends who are teachers who tell me all of the time that their young teenage students think everything on Instagram is REAL, when it’s becoming less and less so.
It’s a skewed, problematic issue – one that anyone who could be considered an ‘influencer’ should not take lightly. No matter how much I always seem to think I understand the extent of bullshitting there is on social media, I was left totally shocked, disappointed and actually quite sickened when I saw someone at an event I was at, doing an Instagram story takeover on a brand’s account, legitimately lying to the camera and to all of the brand’s followers about what they had done and experienced that day, just to make their life look more glamorous and #goals. Call me naive, but I didn’t think people would have it in them to blatantly deceive people like that.
It’s scary vision, so I think it’s important and responsible for bloggers to yes, show what’s glamorous in your life, but not pretend and showcase your life to be something it’s not.
On a personal note, for most of it, I love and welcome the change that’s happened in blogging over the past few years. This changing landscape has allowed me to become more creative, push my boundaries, learn new skills, and ultimately create a career from something I truly love doing. If this industry hadn’t got the women pioneering these changes and pushing the boundaries of blogging to new heights, there would be less opportunities for people like me to succeed and earn a living from it. So much goes on behind the scenes of blogging that you dip into the realms of so many different jobs, and I wouldn’t have these skills unless the industry changed in a way that I felt like I had to try and keep up with it.
But I think it’s important to take note of what had always been at the core of blogging: realism and authenticity. I’ve written about the importance of relatability before, but it’s important , no matter how glossy and perfectly edited, that bloggers continue to show their real selves through their writing, or videos, because blogging has lost an element of rawness to it.
I try and show a degree of balance online. I try and be real about issues that affect us. I stopped using photoshop to make myself look slimmer or airbrush anything other than the occasional breakout out because I think it’s unfair and wrong. I’ll open up on topics like sex and contraception because I want to keep it real and talk about subjects on an honest level that bloggers perhaps don’t talk about. I’ve written so many times about the effect social media can have on our wellbeing – my most recent attack on it was saying how social media often makes me feel miserable and that’s hugely because I’m constantly comparing my lives to others on Instagram, despite knowing that what I see is filtered and edited highlights. And that post proves, I guess, what others are feeling about the blogging industry. It’s a double-edged sword.
Creating the most exciting, aesthetically pleasing, creatively-written and all-round engaging content is what I want to do, and what I’ll keep pushing for – but I always want to do it with a sense of reality. When people come back at me from a post saying “YES THIS IS SO ME!” – that’s what I want to hear! I’d take that over “your dress is goals af” any day. I want to look at my completed work and think “I am so proud of that” – so I’m trying to keep on top of the game – but there’s no lying that it’s getting harder to do so. It’s so, so sad to see people disheartened and feeling like they are effectively excluded or stand no chance. But there is room for everyone, just don’t feel that because you haven’t got the funds to pay for expensive photography and loads of outfits, or have hundreds of thousands of followers, means that what you’re doing isn’t worthy.
It’s a debate that’s been raging for some time, so I’ll leave you with some advice. Never let anyone else’s success rob you of your joy, or overshadow your own possibilities: the only limit you have is the one you put on yourself. The great thing about blogging is you can do it whatever way you want to do it. And here’s a true fact: I almost didn’t start my blog all those years ago because I already felt the industry was so oversaturated that nobody would ever read it, and that I had too far to go that it wasn’t worth starting – but I took the plunge anyway, for the sake of getting a little experience and having some creative expression. No, I’m definitely not at the top right now! I’ve come a long way, however: the industry changed, and it made new spaces for new people. And trust me, it’ll change again. Just don’t stop talking about those things that matter to you.