Thursday, April 10, 2014
Since the inception of WORDS AND WARDROBES, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with blogging. I’ve been infatuated with the creative freedom, enamored with the opportunities and smitten with the idea of having something that was all mine, while simultaneously being angered by the politics, annoyed with the self-imposed posts-per-week quotas and irritated by the struggle to stand out while fitting in. But regardless of whether I was on the side of adoration or repulsion, there has always been one thing about blogging that had the power to upset me like nothing else.
Recently, I was made aware of a blog post on another site that was eerily similar to one of mine. Much like my first experience with my content being plagiarized, I hesitated to speak up, but as I mentioned before, sometimes speaking up is necessary, even if it’s an uncomfortable (and unpopular) thing to do at the time. Once again, I feared being perceived as petty or immature or overdramatic. But the thing is, my words and the ideas expressed with my words are my livelihood. They’re all I have and it sucks to feel like they’re being duplicated with so little disregard.
Now, I wanted to give the blogger the benefit of the doubt. I really did. I wanted to believe that she had never seen 100 BROWN GIRLS BLOGGING and that it was merely coincidence, but from the title (Mine is 100 BROWN GIRLS BLOGGING. Hers is 100 Black Fashion and Style Bloggers Paving the Way) to the motive (Mine? “I always felt that style bloggers of color were underrepresented when it came to brand partnerships and collaborations.” Hers? “Brown bloggers get no internet love these days.”) to the premise (I stated that I created 100 BROWN GIRLS BLOGGING because “I often noticed many fashion-focused women of color were looking for other fashion-focused women of color so I wanted to create a directory of sorts, a one-stop destination that consisted of a wide range of brown style bloggers.” She stated that she wrote her post because “[her] readers really needed one place to find other style bloggers of color in one place.”), the similarities were just too uncanny (and when it was brought to her attention that a very similar post was published by someone else a year earlier, she still acknowledged nothing). Also, of the 100 bloggers on her list, nearly three-quarters of them were originally included either in 100 GIRLS BLOGGING or the five-part follow-up I published last June.) As a matter of fact, the only glaring difference is that while she simply listed the name of each blog, I did my due diligence as a journalist and conducted laborious, time-consuming research, listing not only the name of each blog but the name of each blogger, her location and a tidbit of information unique to each individual blogger.
Last July, I commented that when it comes to blogging, the sad reality is that instead of individual perspective, opinions, and viewpoints, the style blogging community is inundated with conformist carbon copies who are dressing the same, blogging the same, being the same. Now, when it comes to creativity and originality, the most common sentiment is that nothing is original—and that couldn’t be truer than in the fashion industry. Runway looks are duplicated into inexpensive replicas and pieces become ubiquitous “it” items faster than the New Arrivals section is updated on your favorite shopping site. (That’s no surprise, though. After all, copycatting is one of the five Cs, remember?) However, I can’t deny that I was disappointed and frustrated with the situation and, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn’t necessarily angered by 100 Black Fashion and Style Bloggers Paving the Way as I was frustrated by my inability to accept the fact that the standards and ethics of journalism simply just don’t seem to apply to the world of blogging. Larger sites have been pilfering content from smaller, lesser-known blogs since the start of the blogging era. Unfortunately, because many bloggers are not journalists (and don’t claim to be or want to be), plagiarism is very much a taboo topic in the realm of blogging (and a topic in which many bloggers are uninformed) so its significance often goes unacknowledged by those who aren’t aware of the tenets of journalism where, because your credibility is all you have, one of the very first rules is don’t plagiarize. In the journalism industry, plagiarism results in historic, career-ending scandals that even Olivia Pope and her associates couldn’t rectify (see Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass or even Shia LaBeouf).
After publishing personal style posts for nearly three years, I finally felt like I found my purpose writing and reporting on broader cultural issues through the prism of fashion and style and one of the main reasons I published the 100 BROWN GIRLS BLOGGING series was to support other brown bloggers because I saw so many who were being overlooked by mainstream online publications. And as I stated before, there are 5 Cs that I try to live by on WORDS AND WARDROBES: candor, commentary, creativity, calling out, and courage—interestingly enough, at least four of the five are represented in this post—so I wouldn’t be the blogger I want to be if I said nothing. One of my goals for WORDS AND WARDROBES is to create content that makes people think about how they view personal style and the people who champion it. For me, that means being honest, credible, transparent. It won’t always be pretty, which is a hard pill to swallow for a community that is built on prettiness. But you know what? I can handle that.
[IMAGE: iStockPhoto/PressureUA via Salon.com]
Sunday, January 5, 2014
This past November, I attended a day-long blogging conference in Dallas that consisted of, among other things, an afternoon of breakout sessions. The final session (and the one that most attendees seemed to be most excited about) was titled Blogging 101, in which the speaker, a Dallas native now living in Los Angeles, shared advice on how to transition your blog from a part-time hobby into a full-time job. But as she was dishing out tips, there was only one thing going through my mind:
Man, she’s gorgeous.
I mean, she was absolutely stunning. But I have to admit that, as I listened to her advice, which turned out to be a regurgitation of the same stale blogging advice that has been circulating the Internet for years, I didn’t feel inspired. I didn’t feel motivated. I felt…insulted, and the session left a bad taste in my mouth because for years, hard work has been cited as the number one reason that high-profile style bloggers are high-profile style bloggers. Well, that and original content. Oh, and impeccable imagery. In other words, that trio of elements is frequently touted as the style blogging formula for success.
Excuse my language (and my cynicism), but I call bullshit.
While dispensing advice on how to succeed as a top style blogger, there’s one little thing that many style bloggers fail to disclose: it isn’t laborious efforts or innovative content or flawless photography that yields top-tier status. In style blogging, there’s one thing that separates the top tier from the not-so-top-tier.
Style bloggers are often hired to speak at blogging conferences to provide hopefuls with the information and guidance necessary to transform their hobby of style blogging into a full-time career. However, while schooling aspirants on how to join the upper echelon of style blogging (by providing revolutionary advice like “be authentic” and “be original” and “invest in a good camera”), many bloggers completely discount the fact that most of the elite bloggers are at the top because they’re beautiful. Wait, let me rephrase that: most of the elite bloggers are at the top because they meet society’s standard of what’s beautiful. Plain and simple. They publish posts rife with misspellings and other typographical errors, purchase the same status-symbol merchandise as other elite bloggers, and rarely engage with the readers on social media who have helped them rise to the top—and it’s these behaviors that easily debunk the myth that hard work and original content is required for style blogging success.
I mean, many of the high-profile style bloggers out there could moonlight as models—heck, some of them do—and they’re the ones who are handpicked to collaborate with clothing brands and model in magazine advertisements for cosmetic companies. These opportunities are often elusive for bloggers of color because, despite the fact that full lips, strong noses, darker skin and curvier figures are considered characteristics of beauty in our culture, it simply doesn’t mesh with society’s vision of beauty. It is for this very reason that prominent brands aren’t partnering with brown bloggers on a more visible level. It isn’t because we lack of talent or influence—it’s because, through no fault of our own, we lack the physical characteristics that society (and the fashion industry) says are beautiful.
Look, I get it. The style blogging community—much like the fashion industry as a whole—is visual. It’s all about the pretty—pretty girls in pretty clothes taking pretty pictures. So before I go any further, let me make this clear: my issue is not with beautiful girls. Nor is my issue with beautiful clothing. Nor is my issue with beautiful pictures. My issue is that instead of acknowledging that a blogger’s physical beauty usually plays a substantial role in her success as a style blogger, the style blogging community claims that you can make it to the top with diligence or persistence or some other clichéd term. Call me cynical, but if a cocktail of hard work, professional-level photography and good content is what it took become a professional blogger, there would be many more high-level style bloggers.
Despite my thoughts about beauty and blogging, I don’t think it’s a completely hopeless situation. It’s definitely frustrating, but not hopeless. If anything, it’s an opportunity to change the status quo. Whether it’s acknowledging that there’s more than one type of beauty or being more inclusive or being honest about what it takes to be a ‘successful’ style blogger, there’s something we all can do challenge the present circumstances. Besides, beauty fades—and when it does, what’s left is up to you.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Months and months ago, I stopped following three style bloggers on Instagram. One had recently given birth and her feed became inundated with pictures of her (adorable) new bundle of joy. Another was grieving the loss of a family member and each snapshot was a dedication to her deceased loved one. The third had begun a new exercise regimen and her fashion-related photographs were swapped out for post-workout images of her flexing her biceps. In other words, their fashion-related photographs—which was initially the reason I followed them—were exchanged for content that was unrelated to their blog topics. By no means was the decision to unfollow them personal, but my philosophy is this: if I like your content, then I subscribe. It’s that simple. I don’t follow bloggers because we’re cyber-friends. I don’t follow bloggers because they follow me. I follow because I sincerely enjoy the content, and when the content is no longer my cup of tea, I unsubscribe.
So I unfollowed them.
You know what happened after that? The three of them promptly unfollowed me too—and that experience was my firsthand experience of the follow-for-follow culture that has taken over the style blogging community.
I have to admit that I was disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed that they unfollowed me. I was disappointed that they unfollowed me after I unfollowed them—it was as if they stopped following me solely as a result of me unfollowing them (and not because they were no longer interested in my content).
Now, I’m just going to come right out and say it: I despise the follow-for-follow (and unfollow-for-unfollow) culture. I absolutely loathe it. And my disdain reached an all-time high a month or so ago when, while browsing Facebook, I came across a status update from a member of Bloggers Like Me. She adamantly declared that she was no longer following or liking anyone who didn’t “return the favor” because she had goals to reach. Sadly, there was a multitude of bloggers belonging to the group who shared her sentiment and left comments under her status update agreeing to follow her if she followed them. (Side note: Shortly after, one of the members stated that she had to unfollow some of the members she initially promised to follow because their posts included too much profanity and semi-nudity. There lies another problem in requesting that people follow you without providing them with an actual reason to follow you. Not only do you not know if they sincerely enjoy your content or if they’re following due to a sense of obligation, but when you participate in follow-for-follow, you don’t really know who you’re following).
Reciprocation has become such a common practice, weaved into the fabric of the style blogging community so seamlessly that it has become an expectation. Etiquette, almost. In order to grow our blogs, we’re taught to comment on other blogs because they’ll “return the favor” and comment on our blogs (which for some, is a tried-and-true method of growth). In turn, that ups the number of comments we receive which puts us that much closer to free merchandise and brand partnerships and superblogger status (or so we think). It’s often said that blogging is not an island and I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment, but this widespread ‘rule of reciprocity’ is just one thing I cannot get behind.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for supporting one another. I’m even for self-promotion when it’s done properly. But more than anything, I’m for creating content that is compelling and worthy of being liked without excessive solicitation. Yes, we all have goals, but perhaps one of the goals should include building growth by providing engaging content rather than relying on the “follow for follow” method of growth. We need to ask ourselves if we’re contributing to the conversation and saying something of substance or if we’re regurgitating what’s already out there and simply adding to the noise. If we’re concerned about our numbers because they’re not what we want them to be, we should use them to challenge and motivate us to create compelling content rather than utilizing a disingenuous method of progress. As a matter of fact, it’s the times my numbers were (pathetically) low that I was most creative because I had to delve deep and really think in order to generate engaging content. For example, my most recent stream of content—100 Brown Girls Blogging, The 5 Cs of Personal Style Blogging, In Defense of Bombshells—was created and published during a time when my statistics (and consistency) were at a low point, and each post was liked and shared with little to no solicitation on my part.
I’ve been blogging off-and-on for about three-and-a-half years and as evidenced by my most recent posts, my mentality about style blogging has changed drastically and my observations of the style blogging community have left me jaded and cynical. In my opinion, style blogging is no longer about content. It’s no longer about community. Hell, it’s not even about clothes anymore.
It’s about ego maintenance.
Instead of challenging ourselves to create content worthy of being liked and shared, we request follow-for-follow under the guise of “support” in order to protect our egos (because it’s all about the numbers, remember?). In reality, we’re simply trying to boost our numbers with the hopes of securing sponsorships and partnerships. It’s as if everyone wants the numbers, but nobody wants to do the (real) work. We want the gold star without putting forth the effort. Look, this is the thing: we shouldn’t be asking people to like us or follow us or share our content in exchanged for liking or following or sharing their content. We should be asking ourselves if we’re creating content worthy of being liked and followed and shared.
So here’s my promise to you: I promise to work my ass off to create and publish content worthy of being liked and followed and shared. In return, I ask that you only like, follow, and share if you genuinely and sincerely enjoy the content on my site.
So what do you say? Deal?
Saturday, December 14, 2013
I was a few months shy of my 29th birthday when I started WORDS AND WARDROBES in 2010. As I’ve mentioned several times before, it was something to help me maintain my sanity during a (long) stint of unemployment. Because of this, I followed the same formula for my posts as many other bloggers: lots of images coupled with a brief paragraph of text. I’m now a few months past my 32nd birthday and although posts have been seriously lacking (did I mention I finally got a job, y’all?!), I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the future of WORDS AND WARDROBES. There have been so many times that I’ve felt disenchanted, disappointed, and downright discouraged with blogging and I can honestly say that I didn’t really have plans to continue WORDS AND WARDROBES once I re-entered the workforce but, strangely enough, I got the new gig just as I felt that I was finally starting to hit my stride and create distinctive content that I really enjoyed writing and that was well-received by my readers.
In addition to a new stream of content, I had also began to take baby steps toward change in the form of a brand new, self-created logo and tagline and as I continued to think about the direction in which I wanted to take WORDS AND WARDROBES, my mind kept reverting back to something singer Janelle Monae said during her speech at BLACK GIRLS ROCK! 2012:
“When I started my musical career, I was a maid. I used to clean houses. My mother was a proud janitor, my step father who raised me like his very own worked at the post office and my father was a trash man. They all wore uniforms. And that’s why I stand here today in my black and white and I wear my uniform to honor them. This is a reminder that I have work to do, I have people to uplift, I have people to inspire.”
This. This times one million.
Over time, I’ve noticed that style bloggers often have the most trivial reasons for buying the clothes they buy and wearing the clothes they wear—their favorite magazine said it was ‘in’, the girl on the next blog over was wearing it, they ‘need’ it, it was on sale—but Janelle Monae’s personal style isn’t dictated by trends or sale prices or magazine advice. There’s a story behind it. We may look at her and see black and white, pants and blazers, pompadours and red lipstick, but for her, these things come together and encompass her heritage, her history, her heroes. And whether she’s starring in a Cover Girl commercial or singing her heart out onstage, she doesn’t deviate from it; it’s the foundation of her wardrobe and it’s how she remains true to herself. How can you not applaud that? She personifies the very mission I have for WORDS AND WARDROBES. In other words, she proves there’s more to fashion than getting dressed.
For months, I pondered my next move as it related to WORDS AND WARDROBES. When I published pieces like IN DEFENSE OF BOMBSHELLS and THE 5 Cs OF PERSONAL STYLE and 100 BROWN GIRLS BLOGGING, I finally felt that not only did this site have a purpose (other than showcasing my wardrobe), but I also had a purpose as a writer. I was in my element. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that in the nearly three-and-a-half years since the inception of WORDS AND WARDROBES and after five months of inactivity, I’ve wondered if I should just let this site fade into oblivion or if the hiatus just served as an opportunity to regroup, rebrand, and come back with a vengeance. (I’m thinking it’s the latter.)
See, this is the thing: I want to do more, give more, be more. I want to be more than just the clothes in my closet. I want to be different. I want to create a site that provides style with substance, not fashion with fluff.
There’s more to fashion than getting dressed.
And I’m going to prove it.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
In 2011, when my son was around the age of five, he had a black hooded sweatshirt that he lived in. It was a tad bit oversized but it was an innocent choice of attire that kept him warm when he was cold and whose pockets served as storage for his toy dinosaurs and action figures. He hasn’t worn it much since earlier this spring and right now it hangs in his closet between his yellow raincoat (which, of course, is hooded) and his denim jacket. I’ve seen him wear it so many times—to school, to the zoo, to the park. But after last night, I’ll never ever look at that little black hooded sweatshirt the same way again because it was a little black hooded sweatshirt cost 17-year-old Trayvon Martin his life.
Like most of the country, I was anxious to hear the verdict last night and when I heard those two words—not guilty—the emotion that overwhelmed me was inexplicable. I didn’t know if I was sad or shocked or angry or hurt or disappointed or scared, but I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe it was all of the above. Since hearing the verdict, I’ve held in a typhoon of tears and I’m finally allowing myself to release them as I type these very words.
For the last three years, I’ve been part of the style blogging community, a world that looks at fashion on a very superficial level. It’s about our physical appearance and putting our best foot forward. But, as I declare in my blog’s tagline, there’s more to fashion than getting dressed. I sincerely believe that. For us, we say that it’s a creative outlet that allows us to share and inspire and connect with like-minded individuals around the world. We compliment style bloggers on the skirt they’re wearing in their latest post, we create collages of clothes that we wish we owned, we publish posts displaying our new purchases.
But our clothing can be so much deeper than that.
Yes, fashion can be fun and glamorous and exciting. But fashion is accompanied by history. Fashion is accompanied by analysis. And fashion is accompanied by a cultural component, which couldn’t be more apparent than with the case of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. That sole article of clothing—the black hooded sweatshirt—was the catalyst for a sequence of events that has forever changed our nation. Trayvon Martin did what we do every single day—get dressed—yet what he wore cost him his life, simply because someone thought it was ‘suspicious.’
It started with a black hooded sweatshirt.
The irony is that the color black has played such a symbolic role in this tragedy, from the moment it occurred up until right now. In the black of night, a 17-year-old black boy wearing a black hooded sweatshirt had his life taken. We showed support with a ‘blackout’—swapping out our profile pictures on social media for black squares—and after hearing a verdict that left a black hole in many of our hearts, we protested in the black of night for the justice of that 17-year-old black boy.
I hear about tragedies every single day—on the news, on celebrity news sites, on social media. Yet this one touched my heart unlike anything else ever has because, in less than ten years, my son could be Trayvon Martin. As a mother, it’s terrifying enough to cause a lifetime of sleepless nights—and it started with a black hooded sweatshirt.
When I see my son in his black hooded sweatshirt, I see the very same thing I saw when I saw the picture of Trayvon Martin in his black hooded sweatshirt: a little boy in a black hooded sweatshirt. And from this point on, whenever I see my son in his black hooded sweatshirt, I won’t just see my son in his black hooded sweatshirt. I’ll see Trayvon Martin and I’ll hope that no one will ever be so threatened by the clothing my son is wearing (and the color of his skin) that they do him harm.
For my son, his black hooded sweatshirt is merely an article of clothing that he wears when it’s cool outside. For Trayvon Martin, it was the article of clothing he wore when he took his last breath. For me, it’s a reminder of the world we live in. It’s a reminder of race relations in our country. It’s a reminder of the society I’m raising my son in. It’s a reminder of Trayvon Martin.
It started with a black hooded sweatshirt. It ended with a life. Rest in peace, Trayvon.