Wednesday, 4 May 2011

On personal style, blogging, and our narratives, part 2

I have a confession to make. Both before and after my last week's post on style blogging and style narratives I have spent a good amount of time browsing through blogs and style websites that I don't normally follow. I do that every once in a while, to get a feel of what type of world exists beyond my own blog and the blogs that I read actively. I do it to reaffirm my own commitment to spending less, thrifting, and writing about clothes in a way that makes me feel good about my own style and spending. In a sense, I look at "the other side" of style blogging to recognize what my own blogging is about. There are times when the end result is a harmonious sigh of relief, an awareness that I am in a good place, and then there are times, like last week, when the whole concept of style blogging feels overwhelming and meaningless. I think this is a good thing. As you all know by now, I have the tendency to complicate simple things by engaging in excessive thinking and over-analysis, and in order to shake that system that inhabits my brain, it is good for me to tap into my gut feelings at times, even if the end results look a little ugly. With your help, my dear readers, I always reach at-least-momentary clarity and enlightenment about why I have a blog in the first place. Milla's comment last week echoed the reasons behind my blogging beautifully: that at the heart of my style blogging is the need to belong, to meet people who understand why I make the types of style choices I do, the need to share my love for beautiful things that make me happy with like-minded people.

The reality gets to be a little bit more complicated though. When a bunch of people share their narratives, in the words of Katie (whose comment I am sort of butchering here a little), we "[let our] observations of style bloggers influence [our] interpretation of [ourselves], which in turn will influence others' observations of [us, and we] lock [ourselves] in a tension in which [we] are a conduit, not a result." This can be a problem, because like I wrote last week, the narratives start to feel repetitive and meaningless at times, and I, for one, occasionally feel completely lost in the framework of too much inspiration and too many surfaces to reflect upon.

Since I started blogging, my personal style narrative has gone from general frustration to a happier place and back to occasional moment of frustration, from pale pastels and girly vintage-y clothes to studs, faux-leather leggings and superficial fashion, to circle skirts, and now, to flared jeans and dreamcatcher earrings. It is not just that the clothes have changed. It is at the heart of all narratives to move forward, to hit highs and lows, to make some sense of (or simply portray) our choices, and to show those choices to others the best we can.

Just like with any written work, or any piece of art or imagery, some narratives are more successful or fascinating than others. The most interesting narratives are born when they flow effortlessly, when they seem organic to us, despite how much work might actually go into them. Personally I find it easier to tap into the type of written or pictorial narratives that don't actually seem to be saying anything at all; they truly appear to come from a place inhabited by a living soul. Those narratives are compelling because they appear honest and straight-off-the-brain-and-off-the-heart. I cringed at style narratives last week because the work that goes into them is sometimes too visible, and it doesn't always seem truthful, original or anyway natural. Let's face it; there are some god-awful blogs out there; the ones where mindless consumption trumps everything, where professionally shot pictures are sure pretty but lack any context, where writing is so poor that it makes the reader blush, where all heart is missing. But here's the important thing: I need those god-awful blogs too, to keep myself in check. It is not about gaining the higher ground compared to someone else's narrative; it is more about finding one's own way, and sometimes that comes with the help of the types of bloggers I in no way associate myself with. And it is not just about my personal need for those types of narratives; the narratives of those "others" are important in the grand scheme of things, too. Elly's comment was an eye-opener for me last week: "I don't feel that those "wanna-be" stories [Miu-Mius-in-the-woods-type blogs] are necessarily less true to ourselves or hinder our trying to understand our self-identity stories. [...] I see that the kind of art, the stories we choose to create, reveal powerful information about ourselves."

This means, then, that all narratives matter, despite how fictional they might be. Like Cynthia wrote in her comment, "any time a deliberately self-reflective person sits down to construct some kind of narrative about themselves, it becomes like art and not quite like reality." All narratives are fictional, to some extent, because fiction is in their nature. And there is nothing wrong with that. They still provide us a way to understand the human experience, or in the case of style blogging, the experience of being a woman in postmodern times attracted to beautiful things, and surrounded by a culture that encourages, to use Jesse.anne.o's brilliant term, "consumption unexamined".

In this sense, style blogs are very valuable. Whether we look at narratives of completely mindless spending and fashion-victim-ity, or narratives that portray our attempts to keep ourselves in check, the story is what matters. Whether we blog in order to simplify our cluttered lives, to parade our weekly fashion or thrift fix, to seek rational solutions to our wardrobe dilemmas, or to share our thoughts on clothes and style, I think we all do it to share our style narratives with each other. In the community that I actively engage in, we support each other when someone has decided to go on a shopping ban, we share our ideas about responsible consuming, and we help each other feel good about ourselves. We put our own faces out there because it is not just about the clothes; it is about real people coming together and sharing their narratives. For too long women's interest in clothing and style has been labeled superficial and frivolous, and too many times we've all heard the claim that style bloggers are only looking for admiration or approval.

Katya raised great points in her comment, by first announcing that there was no need to label style blogs as "just" style blogs, because: "A blog [...] is something in a way artistic. Not artistic in a sense that it's great and innovative, but artistic as creating something. Transforming yourself and the world near you into something else, something better. It's not self-deceiving but self-expression. And style blogs seem to be the epitome of such thinking." Style blogs are about giving voices and faces to a movement that allows women to be happy about who they are, about what they look like, about what they wear and how they consume. Our style narratives offer a small glimpse of what can be seen with the naked eye and the brain that guides that eye. At the end of the day, we long to relate to narratives that somehow touch us, and we long to make narratives that help us understand our own behavior. This is what I want to channel to everyone out there, both as a blogger as well as a part of the audience.


Shey said...

What can I say, you are amazing, I love how you analyze things and you think beyond the box, it's so refreshing please do continue to talk n this I'm enjoying it a lot. I'm taking a small break from blogging, last week I decided to post almost everyday and by the end of the week I felt tired, bored, and out of inspiration, there are times when I let the blog take over the way I dress, sometimes when I dress nice enough I feel the urge to run and post it because it's "blog worthy", this week I'm taking off, I'm dressing nice for me, not for the blog, I get home and change quickly and take a nap, instead of having to take pictures for the blog, retouch my greasy face and my out of control hair that is usually up in a bun by the time I make it home. Something else has changed, at first when real people gave me compliments about the way I dressed it made me feel good, I felt like a little girl all happy inside to be validated in that way, however now something has changed...being the girl who is "always dressed in the cutest outfits" is...not as good anymore, really? is that all I want to portray? that I can dress nice? How about being smart, caring, compassionate, helpful or Creative!? Everyone in my church group and work now me for dressing nice, but suddenly that starting to feel like I'm just a vain person who's just interested in clothes. I don't know, there goes my vent of the day. I'm liking how relaxed your outfits have been lately, they seem so real and yet you wear them so good, I hope I can do the same soon, for now a short break is needed, kind of like detox hehe blogger detox. =D

Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent post honey!!! oxox, CR

Anonymous said...

I knew that this post of yours would not be a disappointment. You're an absolute pleasure to read.

Now, to business. I have recently read an autobiography by Stephen Fry (don't know if you even know who he is, but if you don't, I highly recommend his writings) and he would write about autobiographies as being a kind of a mirror for ordinary people. It is important that we can see ourselves in the portraits of writers; it is just as important as it is for the writer to be able to reflect him/herself in the eyes of an audience. Fry writes about picking the nose: if a writer admits publicly in a book that he picks his nose, he/she's doing that in hope of reader's reaction being "Wow, I do it too, I also pick my nose and wipe my fingers on the tablecloth when no-one's watching! It is amazing how much we have in common!". However, Fry continues, there's always some risk that the audience's reaction would be: "Omg, what an effing idiot and barbarian this writer is! I mean, I would never ever pick my nose!". Writing anything, as seems to be Fry's conclusion, is always exposing ourselves to others, sometimes showing them the deepest and most intimate parts of our mind and soul. And since each time we write it is the first time we write about it, we constantly push the boundaries of what we say about ourselves, about our view of the world.

I guess it is the same with blogging. All of us have our shopping and dressing habits. We inherited them after our parents (usually), developed into our own styles of dressing and shopping. Yet we do not know whether the way we do it, is the way other people do it too. Style blogs give us a glimpse of other people's lives or - as you would say - narratives and this can make us feel either relieved that we're "within the norm" or nervous because we do it in a completely different way. And here I would seek the phenonmenon of the vast majority of style blogs being copy cats (because they are, let's face it). It is a mixture of what we normally do and this artistic element of transforming ourselves in order to fit in, to tune in with the others. It is not simply craving for acceptance (although that too), but it is putting on a face of style blogger, of trying to find a way between what's popular and accepted and what's totally individual and only ours.

To conclude this longish rant,I have to agree with you- all blogs are necessary. The good ones and the bad ones, even if our definition of good and bad blogging may differ. Still, I miss some deeper thought in most of the blogs, that's why it is such a pleasure to come here and read your essays (I can call them essays, right?). And also to enjoy your outfits which are stunning every single time.

And thank you for your kind mention,
all the best,

editor said...

lin directed me to your blog this morning. i'm glad she did. i can relate to much of what you've written. still processing it all.

editor said...

i went back to lin's blog again, then came back here. my very first blog was purely visual, just outfit posts (i had given myself a set wardrobe of 34 pieces and wanted to see how many unique combinations i could make from those). it was not about my personal style, but instead about the results, the combinations i produced. it would have been more gratifying for all involved if it had been about personal style, i think. at any event, i did learn something about my preferences by giving myself that assignment, and putting it on a blog kept me obedient to the assignment. i haven't tried a public personal style blog, but i can definitely see how one might transform from blogger/authority to people-pleaser, wanting to keep the readers happy, rather than being true to their unique perspective. and readers do seem to love personal style pics. most bloggers who do create slick shoots of slick fashion don't realize that then they are just mimicking the magazines, when i think the whole appeal of the blog is to get closer to the author, to have the human touch. it is also, for me, what is scary about blogging. the exposure.
so i'm still left wondering, to post (personal pics) or not to post.

Madeline Quaint said...

Such a good analysis of something most bloggers just do and never look into deeply. There is much to ponder...

Thank you for drawing all the strings together and producing such a brilliant piece of writing.

Brittney said...

This was lovely and thought-provoking to read...your own narrative and thought process flowed effortlessly, although I imagine that's an illusion of a beautifully scripted thought process--it surely involves effort. I'm still considering all you've mentioned here and am pretty sure my blog's lighthearted, usually flipant text would be one that helps to counterbalance the deep reflection of yours. Which is good--like you say, it's nice to compare, to assess all types similar and not, and to find one's own manner and way. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and I'll probably be thinking about it for days.
-brittney (come on by if you'd like... although I won't tell you you'll walk away a deeper, more reflective individual. :) )

jesse.anne.o said...

I am late to comment on everything because I was traveling for work but!

I love this section and I find it to be exactly how I think about the blogs I read and what I try to post!

"In the community that I actively engage in, we support each other when someone has decided to go on a shopping ban, we share our ideas about responsible consuming, and we help each other feel good about ourselves. We put our own faces out there because it is not just about the clothes; it is about real people coming together and sharing their narratives. For too long women's interest in clothing and style has been labeled superficial and frivolous, and too many times we've all heard the claim that style bloggers are only looking for admiration or approval. "