Wednesday, November 23, 2011

On Gratitude

Gruesome or awesome? You decide.

When I started reading about the harassment some female bloggers have hurled at them, my first reaction was confusion. I’ve seen trolls be rough on bloggers, but the vitriol people were reporting seemed above and beyond anything I’d seen. Once I remembered that harassment is part of why comments are sometimes screened—and that witnessing unpleasantries is part of why I’m not often found in most sites’ comments sections to begin with—the confusion lifted, and I’m glad that ladybloggers are calling out woman-specific (and feminist-specific) harassment as being exactly that. I also realized that what was really prompting my confusion was my own lack of harassment. I’ve gotten the occasional nasty comment on here, more so when I publish on other sites—but really, the number of mean-spirited comments I’ve gotten is so few as to be insignificant.

This wasn’t what I expected. I never expected to be called a “loud-mouthed booze vacuum” or “victim complex twat” as other ladybloggers have been christened, but I know that some people will see a woman writing about her appearance without shame or apology—especially a woman who is nice-enough-looking but isn’t the prototype of “hot”—and consider it an invitation to let her know she’d damn well better start apologizing, and quick. One of my biggest fears about launching The Beheld was that anonymous readers would be eager to let me know I had no credibility whatsoever in writing about “beauty, and what it means” (which, for those of you who read this in ways other than visiting, is the tagline on my logo).

Going into this project, I understood that in order to effectively talk about personal appearance, I had to make sure I had a reasonably accurate idea of how I appeared to most people. I knew that to write as though I were either a Helen of Troy or a Medusa would be disingenuous, but I also knew that part of what makes appearance a complex subject for women is its secrecy, and that if I feigned modesty, shame, or pride I would be participating in that secrecy. We don’t share our deepest vanities for fear of being judged narcissists; we don’t share our most terrifying moments of doubt because once articulated, those doubts sound as ludicrous as they likely are. And while I haven’t shared either my deepest vanities or my most terrifying doubts on here, I have at times taken what feels like a risk. When I started The Beheld, I feared that saying in a public forum that I think I’m “nice-enough-looking” or “attractive” (do you notice I put these in quote marks? It is still difficult not to) would invite people to say, Actually, you’re not.

And on the rare occasion I’ve gotten rude comments from readers, they are along this line. How could they not be? I write almost exclusively about how women look; the bait is irresistible for anyone remotely inclined to seize upon that as an attack. I expected it when I wrote a piece for a branch of America Online; not only is AOL’s readership far different demographically than other outlets I write for, the topic was my “bombshell makeover,” and plenty of readers were happy to let me know I was “more of a dud than a bombshell.”

I’ve gotten the occasional off-comment on other outlets as well, and every so often someone pops up on The Beheld for a smackdown, but I genuinely can’t remember the last time this happened. So when I was reading the catalogue of nastiness that other ladybloggers had received, amid my horror I tried to consider various reasons why I haven’t received much harassment: Was it that I have a smaller readership than most of the bloggers who have gone public with cataloguing “men call me things”? Do I not serve enough strong opinions for trolls to feast upon? Was it because my topics are softball compared to the more political offerings other feminist bloggers have to offer? Is it because while The Beheld has plenty to offer men, my readership is overwhelmingly female? (It’s worth noting that the most vitriolic and the most complimentary comments on my AOL piece were from men, or at least people with male-sounding handles. I know men don’t have the monopoly on nastiness, but certainly the sexes have been socialized differently as far as combative tendencies.) Criminy, is it because I’m nice?

It may be any of these that prevents any particular harassment-inclined individual from trolling me here; it may be none of them. (Certainly there’s many a nice ladyblogger who hasn’t been spared harassment.) Whatever the case, I’m thankful that dealing with harassment isn’t something that’s taken up much of my mental energy here.

But the biggest factor in me not having to direct my mental energy to warding off harassment isn’t me; it’s you.
Yes, I’m thankful that my readers aren’t jerks who come on here to call me uglyface poopy-pants; indeed, visitors here have repeatedly proven themselves to be intelligent, thoughtful, inquisitive, and, on occasion, side-splittingly funny. But what I’m more thankful for isn’t the absence of harassment, but the presence of vibrant minds.

When I started writing here, my goal was just to be a part of the conversation about beauty. What I didn’t anticipate was how much that conversation would enrich my life. Every time I see a new comment here, every time I receive an e-mail from a reader, every time I see readers having conversations with one another, I am thankful. The affirmation is nice, sure, and it’s an ego boost whenever I see various bloggy metrics increase. But my thankfulness goes beyond that: Every time a reader finds me, it means I find another person who wants to move past the what of beauty to look at the why, a person who wants the conversation to go beyond the beauty myth and look instead at its mythos, a person who suspects that maybe for every shackle placed upon us by a beauty standard, somewhere else on our bodies lies the potential for liberation. And I am grateful for each person who has shown up here and volunteered a little bit of themselves to help us all create a conversation. That means the people who have taken the time to let me know they’re reading—and it also means the people who haven’t, because the whole point is to take these conversations out of the blogosphere and into our lives. If you have ever gotten anything from what I’m doing here and allowed it into your personal conversation—whatever form that takes—I am filled with gratitude for that.

Which is to say, I am filled with gratitude for you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


  1. I would guess you are spared many a hateful comment because the close-minded ignorant person who would make such a comment probably has a hard time finishing your insightful posts. ; )

    I started reading you because #1 I think it's courageous to talk about these things - your own attractiveness, how you feel about it, etc. and I appreciate your honesty. #2 I don't think you present your posts as the definitive answer on beauty, but someone who is starting a conversation about beauty, exploring it and figuring things out along the way. Just like the rest of us. Just more eloquently. ; ) It's hard to hate on someone for that.

    Thanks for having a place where we can have a good conversation!

  2. Awesome post!

    I'm personally always so surprised when bloggers say they're afraid of blogging because of nasty comments.

    I started blogging in 2001 and wrote mostly about myself through high school and college. I got mostly nice comments, but also several mean ones and others that genuinely sparked debate. I still remember the mean ones, which I won't repeat here. Also, I should note that some of the mean ones were my own fault.

    That being said, out of the 10 years I've been blogging, there's maybe 10 comments I actually remember as, "Wow, that person is an asshole." That's about one a year and not too bad if you ask me.

    With public blogging (most of my blogging life has been on LiveJournal privately), I do have up many many MANY walls. There's A LOT I don't share by choice. I talk about myself, but my blog mostly isn't inherently about me.

    I guess, that's also another defense mechanism against meanness, but mostly it's a desire to maintain my privacy.

  3. This is my favorite blog; if trolls come a'knockin', they'll have to answer to ME.

    I think high traffic blogs are most susceptible to trolls; once people see you as a "public figure," they forget you have feelings. Or maybe they seeing supportive comments by the hundred brings out their contrary side, and they feel compelled to stir up controversy.

    Sometimes I think I should work harder to make my blog a "success," but then I remember being crushed by the one nasty comment I've received--- not ready for prime time!

  4. ModernSauce, heh! My style, which I like to think of as "elliptical" but is really just "rambling" probably is a protective coating against trolls. If someone is invested enough in what I'm saying to want to harass me, they may actually just wind up contributing to the conversation. In any case, thank you for your kind words--and, of course, thank you for reading.

    Courtney, thank you! Putting up our private lives for public inspection is an odd place to be in. It's funny, as open as I am on here I feel oddly separated from whatever someone might say about me as a person--of course, since I've only rarely been trolled, this is easy for me to say. (Every so often someone will be nasty to one of my interviewees, and that's when my mama bear comes out.)

    Erin, you can't see, but I'm saying neiner-neiner and running way, SO THERE.

    Rebekah, I can't remember what post it was but somebody was just ever so slightly unkind to me here once, and it was awesome yet unsurprising that you were able to defend me before I was able to do so myself! As for not being ready for "prime time," I had a good long talk with myself about that before I launched The Beheld. Not that I'm on prime time (more like cable access), but this is the first blog I've had for which I've actively tried to find readers. And while I was afraid of what I mentioned above, I also had to sort of promise myself that I wouldn't let any of that get to me. And for once, it worked--even when people were totally mean about my face on AOL, it really didn't bother me. I'm certain that soon enough there will be comments that get me where it hurts, but the point is that since I'd prepared myself for it, my shield remains intact. If you decide to actively "recruit" readers I'd be happy to let you in on my awesome armor secrets.

  5. I never got the point of leaving negative comments. If I'm looking at a blog with photos of the blogger and I happen to think she's looking less than fabulous, I don't see what I would achieve by leaving her a nasty comment telling her how awful she looks. I wouldn't feel better, she wouldn't feel better - and the photo definitely wouldn't look any better. When I first started blogging I got comments saying that I should "throw yourself off a bridge to spare us the ridiculous s**t you write. Or at least be ashamed of yourself."(this in a post of me preparing for a trip to London and things I wanted to see there...still have no idea what made this reader so angry about that particular post). I write a lot about animal cruelty in fashion and I've had some less than nice comments on my anti-fur posts in the past as well. But overall I would say people have been nice to me as a blogger and being that I have much fewer readers now than I used to, I find that they're almost always nice.

    But why is it that the nine out of ten nasty comments come from an "Anonymous" reader??

  6. Aw, Thank YOU! Happy Thanksgiving, Autumn. I am thankful for stumbling upon your blog. And I am forever thankful every time you comment upon mine. xoxoxo

  7. Aw, I love this post. I feel the same way with my own little attempt at blogging. It's given me the ability to connect with a lot of wonderful people who share my passions and I really cherish that. I feel lucky in that I've only ever had two negative experiences with commenters - once from a commenter who said I wrote something "idiotic" but then quickly apologized after called on it, and once from someone I've known for several years who kind of makes a hobby out of arguing pedantically on the internet. But as far as what I've seen with the #mencallmethings tag? I have been blessed to have dodged all of that thus far.

    Anyway, I'm glad that you are out here blogging about beauty from a critical, feminist perspective. It's a subject that needs to be looked at critically, because it exercises so much power over the way we interact with ourselves and each other, and you do a wonderful job of doing so with intelligence and sensitivity. The internet is a better place because of you!

  8. Sascha, I never understood the point of leaving nasty comments either. I'm sure I've fired off a couple of gems in my day but nothing pointless; if I don't like something why would I spend my time telling the blogger that? If it's a topic I care about I might get irritated and it probably shows as I try to present my view, but I can't imagine coming onto someone's blog just to tell them how wrong they are. What's the point?

    Cameo, it still cracks me up that we know each other better from online than we did through (five?) years of college!

    Caitlin, your words humble me. Thank you.