Issue #87: The Surprising, Dark Underside of Lifestyle Blogging
A conversation about "hateblogs."
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📺 “Tiny Beautiful Things” on Hulu: It was almost a year ago that I wandered into a bookstore looking for a sign and opened up Cheryl Strayed’s collection of advice columns to the essay, “The Truth That Lives There.” This Hulu series, which came out earlier this month, adapts Strayed’s columns and experiences for television, with a mother-daughter relationship at its center and Kathryn Hahn at the helm. Although the show shares the same penchant for melodrama that I didn’t love in the 2017 stage adaptation (starring Nia Vardalos), I appreciate its attempt at something therapeutic, through its raw portrayal of emotions, grief, and motherhood.
📚 Happy Place by Emily Henry: I owe Emily Henry an apology. After years of judging her books by their covers, I finally requested her latest novel after reading Allison P. Davis’s New York Magazine profile, and was thrilled to find myself lost in Happy Place, a unique combination of fun, romantic, and smart that I never should have doubted. Harriet and Wyn broke up months ago, yet decide to fake their relationship for their annual trip to Maine with their best friends from college. Though they hope for an escape, self-enforced re-coupling forces them to look at their relationship in a new light—and the things that drove them together and apart, out today!
🎥 'Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields' on Hulu: This two-part documentary, which came out last month, explores the immeasurable harm inflicted on women by social expectations to be beautiful and commodified, through Brooke Shields’s experience. From childhood, Shields was objectified and sexualized to shocking extremes and survived only by dissociating and finding strength elsewhere. “You instantly become a vapor of yourself,” she says of one particularly difficult experience. It’s an old story, but one that’s often repeated: The documentary points out similar pressures placed on women via social media (which is on theme with today’s topic). A must-watch if you have a passing interest in the beauty industry and celebrity culture and the ways they shape our sense of self.
P.S. “Mrs. Davis” on Peacock, “about the world's most powerful AI and a nun devoted to destroying it” came out Thursday and looks bizarre but great. Also interested in seeing ‘Chevalier,’ in theaters now, about the composer Chevalier de Saint-Georges.
At 24, I landed what felt like my dream job.
After a nail-biting interview process, I gave my two-weeks’ at my job as a food writer in New York and moved across the country for a position at an L.A.-based lifestyle blog. The opportunity glittered with promises which, for most of my five years there, it held—with the exception of one major caveat.
I had only worked at the blog a few months when I was pulling a photo of the founder from Google Images for a post. I clicked into one that brought me not to the blog as I’d expected, but to what I now know is a “hateblog,” a forum where anonymous users leave vitriolic comments about lifestyle bloggers.
My stomach dropped as I scrolled through page after page of hostile sarcasm directed primarily at the company’s founder, but also at me. Some of the comments were superficially hurtful, along the lines of her hair looks terrible or she’s so unfashionable. But many cut deeper, questioning what my then-boyfriend could possibly see in me, pulling apart my words with surgical precision, and, on one surreal and violating occasion, anonymously live-reporting as they watched me at an airport. I spent days consuming the posts, frozen like a deer in the headlights, until I gradually weaned myself off of the weird dopamine hits they gave me and never returned.
Still, I remained curious about the people behind the commenters and their motivations. Unlike one-off mean comments on blogs or social media, hateblog communities are unique in their intense level of scrutiny. And, though online trolls tend to be male, these posts are largely written by women. Although a large part of me would like to pretend they don’t exist, I believe they’re worth talking about because of the broader sociocultural context of horizontal misogyny they sit in and perpetuate. It’s a unique phenomenon, born out of social media, that I explored with today’s guest, who has spent years researching what she calls “passionate communities of anti-fans.”
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