Updated: Feb 8, 2021
Here’s my confession: I’ve succumbed to the rubbernecking allure of a fashion blogger. I can’t remember when it started—it must have been a year or so back, when the world shut down—but I’m now deeply engrossed in the life of a woman I’ve never met.
For those who don’t know what a fashion blogger is, allow me to give the briefest of explanations: this is a woman who gets paid to promote her lifestyle—especially her clothes—through unimaginably beautiful pictures of her living a very fashionable, highly unobtainable life that you forget (oh, how you forget) is all for sale through affiliate links.
I don’t begrudge the industry. Well, that’s not entirely true. I begrudge the industry to a grave degree. I may hate the game, but I try to support the players. In fact, a former colleague of mine is a fashion blogger (the first one I ever heard of) and her blog continues to be a highlight of my evening scroll through Instagram. She’s very down-to-earth, honest, and authentic with her work. For instance, she will often remind her viewers that this is her job and that no one should feel compelled to buy as much stuff as she shows off in her feed.
But that is not true of the blogger with whom I cannot help but be obsessed. (Fun fact: “Obsessed” is the most common phrase a fashion blogger will use. “Girls, I am obsessed with this new cross body bag. It holds everything, looks cute, and I am here for it.” Additional fun fact: Fashion bloggers are always “here for it.”) I have much to thank her for, after all. She introduced me to my favorite pair of fashion sneakers, my beloved skin care products, and a pair of leggings I would give my life for.
For whatever reason, I look forward to her Instagram stories, quick 15-second videos strung together for hours of content in which she tries on tops, skirts, hats, sunglasses, jewelry, shoes, and headbands (“for when the dry shampoo won’t cut it”). And I’m not the only one. This blogger has more than 200k followers on Instagram. This is a number, by the way, that publishers would clamor over if I could present them with that while pitching my next book idea. I’ve often wondered if my obsession with her is more curiosity about how she gets such a powerfully loyal following. How can I replicate her approach to boost my own followers to a number that would ensure higher book sales and better TV interview appearances? If I just tried to emulate her style, I would have to do a few modifications to my current state of being and looking. This fashion blogger has openly shared how she has 1) fake eyelashes; 2) tattooed eyebrows; 3) augmented breasts; 4) hair extensions; 5) a spray tan; 6) acrylic nails; and 7) more Botox treatments than I can track.
And yet, one of the reasons I am drawn to her blog is how naturally beautiful and effortless she looks and acts. Perhaps her transparency was my favorite part of her. How refreshing it is to hear a woman happily share her journey with Botox, rather than hiding it and claiming she just drinks a lot of water and wears sunscreen. How nice it is for a woman to say, “Hell yes, I have fake eyelashes and fake boobs—God doesn’t make them like this!”
And behind the gorgeous hair and bouncy breasts is an equally beautiful house—so expertly decorated for each season (she showed us all six of her fully decorated Christmas trees), so richly layered with rugs and curtains of materials that obviously don’t come at Target prices. And in the exquisite house—of which every piece of furniture and every throw pillow is linked for you (with a coupon code!)—are two children, who happily appear in and out of stories, as she kisses them and then rolls her eyes with a smile at the camera. Motherhood, amiright? It’s all just coffee until wine.
And if you’re not into fashion—which I don’t believe I am, so why the hell am I watching?—she shows you how to decorate your table for Thanksgiving, what she eats for all her meals, her go-to snacks, and the perfect way to make a matcha smoothie. I still don’t entirely understand what matcha is, but dammit, I know how to blend it with pineapple and liquid collagen. One time, about four months back, she did a five-minute tutorial on how to—I-shit-you-not—pull your hair into a ponytail. What’s worse? I f*cking watched it.
My draw to her feed and her stories is as baffling as it is irresistible. I think I liked the idea that I, too, could look that put together picking my kids up from school, regardless of the fact that I’ve been wearing the same three outfits—and have not had to pick up my kids from school—for nearly a year. I fantasize about having a house that looks as clean and organized as hers, dinner as healthy and easy-to-fix as hers, hair as long as hers, and a look so chic, so effortlessly beautiful, that I may be able to….to what? What am I not able to do with what I have now? How is my lack of makeup, my house strewn with Legos, and my fine, limp hair holding me back? What is the feeling that perfectly filtered pictures of her open-mouth laugh, gently touching her hair (a staple of the fashion blogger) evokes? My only answer is longing.
For what, I don’t know.
This fashion blogger isn’t suggesting that my life isn’t good. The blogger isn’t suggesting I need the makeup she does. And she isn’t suggesting I need to cook more—and if she were, to hell with that. But just because something isn’t said, or isn’t implied, doesn’t mean it isn’t perceived.
And it’s that nuance, that subtlety, that something just outside the frame, that elicits the most intrigue for me. Which means I noticed when her husband subtly, and over time, stopped appearing in her pans and scans around her everything-in-its-place home. I picked up on the fact that there were fewer and fewer #datenights. A sudden stop of her “Men’s Fashion” posts in which her husband—clearly two decades older—would stand awkwardly in a street modeling sweater vests and boots.
So it shouldn’t have surprised me when she came on her stories—sometime between showing off her new Garmin watch and her #paidpartnership with Wal-Mart fashion, to say to us “Girls” that she and her husband had separated.
My heart sank in two very different ways. The first was in the way it would if a close friend told me she was getting a divorce; the second was in the way it does when a celebrity couple known for talking about how perfect their marriage is splits up—betrayal, mixed with a narrative I felt a compulsion to write. Was she spending so much damn time on Instagram that her husband got fed up? Was she growing her business, and her husband was jealous and unsupportive? Was he refusing to use her affiliate links when shopping her blog?
For days I silently worried (stewed?) about this fashion blogger that I didn’t know, constantly observed, sometimes judged, but most often just felt a connection to. I worried about her kids. Hoped she was okay. Wondered if I should even DM her. But more than anything, I felt I was owed an explanation. As if sitting through her explanations of how to make a low-calorie salad dressing entitled me to hear about the dissolution of her marriage. It occurred to me in her separation announcement that I had crossed the line between checking in for good deals on sweaters to projecting my own life—or the life I should lead—onto her.
Along the way, I somehow forgot that her life looked good enough to buy because it was for sale.
I laughingly told Jim about the weird tunnel of the internet I had gone down, and to my great surprise, he said he went down a similar trail on Instagram.
“A fashion blogger?” I asked, confused.
“Nah, a Star Wars fan.”
“That is upsetting for other reasons.”
“This guy has every Star Wars trading card. Even more than me.”
“There are more than the ones you have?”
“God yes!” Jim swatted his hand at my ignorance. “And he posts these stories of unboxing them.”
“That sounds so boring.”
“It’s more interesting than learning how to do a ponytail,” he smirked.
“And for a few months I would watch these unboxings and get jealous.”
“Of his mother’s basement?”
“Har har,” he rolled his eyes. “This guy lives alone.”
“I’ll bet he does.”
“I would look at all his cards and suddenly feel like my collection was dinky.”
“Wow. I really relate to that,” I offered. “This fashion blogger models so many clothes that I was starting to worry that I don’t actually have a “fun, flirty, brunch outfit.”
“Yep,” Jim nodded. “So I eventually just stopped following the guy because, well, frankly, my Star Wars collection makes me feel proud."
“Is that the feeling we’d say it evokes?”
“Yes. Extreme pride,” he smiled. “And I also realized that this guy wasn’t probably buying them. He was being sent these cards. It was less of a collection he cared about, and more of a product he hawked.”
“I didn’t realize men could succumb to this social media comparison problem.”
“Well, sure,” Jim shrugged. “But it’s not as dangerous as what you experienced.”
“How so?” I asked.
“Because I just started to regret a collection. Something I owned.” He looked at me with thoughtfulness. “But I fear you were starting to regret how you looked and lived.”
Instead of envy, I now try to watch the blogger (oh yes, I’m still a follower) with respect. For me, the worst feeling in the world is the subtle shift of student eyes up and down my body when I enter the classroom. Are they judging my top? Do these pants not go with these shoes? Do I have a booger? And yet this blogger is paid to be watched. Paid to have you look at her, want what she has, and to offer you an easy way to get it for yourself. It’s her job. It pays her bills.
Anything else I put on her, is well, on me.
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