When “Everybody’s Doing It” Becomes a Common Refrain

by Heather on October 8, 2010 · 22 comments

Group think. We’ve all fallen prey to it, and I’m pretty positive that no one is completely immune to it. If we’re part of a group, we tend to think of things the way the other members in the group do. Certain things that are completely normal, perfectly acceptable, and even expected of us in one group might be completely bizarre in another.

In college, I was part of the Greek system. I loved my sorority, but I was also a part of several other groups at the university which had much different aims and sets of values, like Project Community, my women’s studies program, and my a cappella group (yes, I was THAT cool).  When I first joined the house, I thought some of it was a little weird.  Going out on a Tuesday like it was a Friday?  Don’t you all have class? Making it a priority to get to Chi Phi’s frat party?  But I have rehearsal!  And ugh, frat boys. Including a Northface, Vera Bradley bag, and the side pony on your list of must-haves? What’s wrong with my backpack and hoodie? (Confession: I still love the side pony, so I can’t really say anything about that one.)

However, after I had been in the Greek system for long enough, the behaviors that initially made me feel like my sisters had their priorities out of whack seemed totally normal to me. Did I engage in ALL the things I first thought were silly? No, but I did accept my friends who did, and I ended up buying the ubiquitous quilted bag, kissing a few frat guys, and going to a few mid-week date parties. (Taking buses to Detroit to get drunk off campus still strikes me as odd, but that’s beside the point.)

Similarly, when I first joined the health blogging community, I thought it was so weird that people would take pictures of their salmon and asparagus at fancy restaurants or their green smoothies while rushing out the door to work. How did they make time for this? And how did they explain why they’re whipping out their cameras at candlelit dinners? People who wrote down their mileage or tracked their calories burned seemed obsessive to me (I had once been the exact same way, but with no online record, and it wasn’t a time in my life that was the good kind of healthy).  I love to work out too, but sheesh! How did they find time to work out for two hours every day? Did they not have jobs?

And then, just like in Greek life, I somehow found myself end my thinking that these women were crazy. Why? Because I was a part of the group.  I had immersed myself in it. I read about it on multiple blogs daily and I even started my own blog! While I didn’t track my food or calories burned for the world to see, I didn’t think it was so weird anymore that they did.

Now it’s not that anyone in the group is necessarily trying to influence others to do the things they do and talk they way they talk. If we joined the group initially, we probably had thoughts similar to them to begin with, right? That’s the thing about group think — if we are joining a group and suddenly find ourselves agreeing with a lot of their ideals that we might not have before, couldn’t it also be that we had similar values to begin with? Why would we join a group of people with which we had nothing in common? We wouldn’t. We joined the group because there was some common factor, no matter how big or small it might have been. I joined my sorority because I love being social, and because my best friends have always been girls. Did I disagree with the stereotype of sorostitutes drinking until they puked four nights a week? Sure, but I didn’t disagree with all of the other ladies who had joined the house because they thought sisterhood and the networking it could provide was valuable indeed. When I first started blogging, or even reading health blogs, did I think some people were a little extreme? Of course, but I also realized the benefit to keeping yourself accountable, sharing fitness and nutrition tidbits, and networking with people who had similar goals.

Here’s what it comes down to: group thinking can be a good thing and a bad thing. A blessing and a curse. A double-edged sword. Either way, we need to be aware of it, and realize when we are caught up in it. Thinking alike because we’re all trying to achieve an admirable, common goal is a great thing. But when we start taking on a ton of new qualities — we can only shop at Whole Foods, we can only eat almond butter and shun peanut, or we think it’s time we took up distance running — we can forget that there was a time in our lives when we were just girls trying to be healthy and not “healthy living bloggers.” We each need to take a moment to step back from the group and think for ourselves. Would the pre-health blogger (or even health blog reader) be proud of who you’ve become? Has your view of “normal” behavior become seriously skewed? It applies to sororities getting crazy over winning Greek Week or bloggers trying to achieve the — nonexistent — perfect body or ideal image of health.

No matter what, group think will seep into our groups. And to make sure it’s not hurting us or our friends, we should frequently step back and ask questions.

Do you think we tend to fall prey to group thinking in the health blogging community?  Or are we pretty good at thinking for ourselves?  How can we make sure we stay away from the kind of group thinking that could be damaging to the community?

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MelissaNibbles October 8, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Great post. I definitely think there’s a group think mentality in the blogworld. You see something over and over again on every single blog that you begin to accept it as the norm. I think it’s important to take a step away to analyze what the difference between normal in the blog world and normal in the real word. After that, figure out what is normal FOR YOU.

Gules October 8, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I absolutely totally agree. I think sometimes group think is good when you develop good habits from other bloggers like re-vamping your social media outlets, adding pictures, posting recipes etc. But sometimes when I’m reading about people with similar goals to mine and accomplish them more quickly, I get upset that i’m not ” up to snuff” and start to re-evaluate all that I’ve done and take away all my own accomplishments. I often catch myself thinking about how to change my blog to be like others, so that get’s pretty dangerous. Overall, if you take the time to reflect about the reasons why you started your own blog and what it means to you, then I think you can break away at times from “group think” and be ok.

Lauren at KeepItSweet October 8, 2010 at 2:30 pm

i only recently started reading this blog but love these honest posts about the blog world. definitely thought provoking. I definitely got caught up at one point in trying to keep up with the way certain bloggers ate and worked out but luckily realized that just doesn’t work for me!

Gavi @ GaviGetsGoing! October 8, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I think we absolutely fall prey to group thinking in the blog world. It can be easy to think that what works for one person–or six or ten–works for everyone, but this is just not true! When I first started my own blog, I tried to take pictures of everything I ate throughout the day. This lasted for about two days before I realized that it was completely unrealistic–and unhealthy–for my lifestyle and, ultimately, that I did not want my blog to be just a chronicle of the food I ate and the miles I ran. I wanted it to be a narrative of my journey through life and my pathway towards health. But it can be so easy to think that other healthy living bloggers provide the model for a healthily lived life. We must each define our own idea of healthy…even if it means straying from what we see every day on our screens!
Gavi @ GaviGetsGoing!´s last post ..Hardly strictly ordinary

Bess October 8, 2010 at 3:23 pm

While blogs (such as HBH) are a valuable tool to help you learn the importance of behind the blog work, self hosting and blogging responsibly, I think that bloggers should strive to put their own unique spin on content and writing style. And focus on eating and buying what they want to eat and buy, not what they are led to believe they “should” buy/eat by other bloggers.

That said, there has definitely been a big batch of spiked Kool Aid circulating around the blogosphere…It’s more than a little embarrassing how much butt kissing and copycat blogs exist lately.

Great post Heather!
Bess´s last post ..“Hair Did” Etiquette!

Angela @ A Healthy Fit October 8, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Thanks for putting this out there Heather. I think it is very important and we all do fall victum to the group mentality. I see this a lot when people are commenting. If there is someone who disagrees, the other all gang up on them and get down right mean or everyone just says “awesome!” and no one questions anything.

I think it is so important for all of us to remember that the things that make us different and unique make us interesting. I am so bored with most blogs these days because they are seem so similar.
Angela @ A Healthy Fit´s last post ..Why ya smilin’

Janetha G - meals & moves October 8, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Bravo. This is a great point you have brought to attention. While I do get many meal ideas from the blog community, I definitely make sure to always do what I love and love what I do–meaning, I would never eat something just because everyone else is. What worries me is that sometimes I get comments of girls who are worried because they “just can’t make themselves like Greek yogurt” or they “really hate oatmeal but it is so popular”… well, then don’t eat the yogurt or the oatmeal! Nobody is making you and nobody will judge you for NOT eating something that several other people enjoy. You do not have to like spinach in your smoothie to be a healthy person. Also, you don’t have to like running to be healthy. I once ran a 10k and it hurt my knees. Sure, I would love to run long distances, but it’s not for my body, and I am still healthy. I that thinking as a group can be helpful and motivating, like you said, but I also see the down sides of it and the pressure people may feel like they have to do something to fit in or, even worse, to have success in their health goals. Great post, great comments, thanks for opening the discussion!
Janetha G – meals & moves´s last post ..top secret trick to perfect hummus

Kendra October 8, 2010 at 7:20 pm

I have a distinct dislike for group think mentality but I’m not naive enough to think that I don’t fall prey to it. I mean, it’s great when you find a group of like minded people but it’s not so great when people stop thinking critically for themselves.
Kendra´s last post ..Beauty From Ashes I Suppose

Aj October 8, 2010 at 7:33 pm

While I have never been shy about standing up for my beliefs, I do sometimes fall prey to wanting to be well-liked and popular. However, that only lasts so long before I am exhausted by trying to be someone I’m not. In the end I wind up with great friends, people with whom I am proud to be associated, even if it means not being a part of the majority or the most popular. I feel lucky, given my tendencies, that the only two blogs I read regularly before starting my own did not track workouts/meals. As a result, from the start I never considered doing either. I’ll post a picture of a meal if it’s particularly awesome. I’ll describe a workout if it’s noteworthy. But neither dominates my blog. I did struggle at first to find my own voice, but when I did I found that blogging was much more rewarding, not only for me, but also for my readers – my posts are generating much more interesting discussions!
Aj´s last post ..Monday Fun Day- Food For Thought

Claire October 8, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Well, I may not be entirely qualified to comment about this, since I blog about books and not healthy living, but I do read a lot of blogs. What I’ve found is that the danger of the group think mentality is that it can rob you of your perspective. Writing posts similar to another blog is a problem, too, of course, but the larger problem is that you’ll suddenly be gauging your own behavior or food or lifestyle against other people’s. Sometimes, that’s a good thing, and it can lead to new ideas and experiences. Other times, it results in feelings of inadequacy – “Oh, I thought I was doing well because I ran 8 miles today, but Jane Doe ran 15! Now I no longer feel good about my run!” And even worse than that, it can promote acceptance of unhealthy behavior because of the specialized nature of the community. A blogger might write a post about training for her marathon, and that’s fine, but she might also write a post about running until she got sick, or cried, and that’s not fine, especially if there’s a positive community response to that kind of behavior.

Even the simple fact of listing calorie counts and weight loss can be a bad idea. When a blogger writes a post about slipping away from her ideal weight, and worrying about that, a reader who has gained healthy pounds recently may be sort of “infected” by that worry. Does that mean you shouldn’t write about what you want? Not at all. It simply means that both writers and readers need to be careful to maintain a perspective outside of their specialization.

I like that, at the end of your post, you recommend asking yourself if you’d be proud of who you’ve become. That was pretty resonant with me. I lost 120 pounds (130 at a high point, 10 of which I’ve gained back in, I think, healthy weight) and have kept it off and become infinitely more fit, and yet I constantly struggle with worrying about food and exercise. I definitely have too much exercise guilt if I don’t work out, and plenty of food guilt when I overindulge, and am often worried about gaining back the weight I lost. It’s so hard, when you’ve made major lifestyle changes that have been lauded by so many people, not to define yourself by your success, and become a little obsessed with making sure you maintain. My point is, I guess, that I’m not sure I like how preoccupied I often am with food and exercise, and it’s possible that that preoccupation has been, to some extent, validated by the healthy living blogs that I read. Is that their fault? No, but it’s something to think about.
Claire´s last post ..No man born of woman

Aby @ always.aby October 8, 2010 at 9:07 pm

This post really appealed to the sociologist in me – in college I spent an entire semester contemplating the incredibly negative effects that group think has had in the past. It was one of my favorite classes, and I think you summed it up really well here! I really want to thank you for this post; increasing awareness about issues like this is one of the best safeguards against negative group think!
Aby @ always.aby´s last post ..Fall Fantastic- A Walk Through REO Town

Natasha October 8, 2010 at 9:12 pm

I couldn’t agree more!

Lisa October 8, 2010 at 10:25 pm

This reminds me of a recent post about healthy living conferences. I can’t afford to go. I don’t have a fancy camera. But I think my blog appeals to readers because I had to lose a significant amount of weight AND I’ve kept it off for over 2 years. Since I’m technically in “maintenance” mode my blog is different. I don’t weigh in once a week (or daily). I weigh myself once a month only.
Lisa´s last post ..Dinner and a Live Show

adrienne October 9, 2010 at 1:13 am

Exactly! I can’t eat Greek yogurt by itself but I love to use it as a mayo/sour cream substitute. It was a matter of finding the right brand.

I’ve never felt pressured to eat something just because the health gods deem it healthy. I’m always open to try new things but I’ll never suffer for it.
adrienne´s last post ..Do You Want A Workout Buddy

Stefanie October 10, 2010 at 6:31 pm

What a great post! I think falling prey to “group-think” is inevitable when joining most new groups, healthy living bloggers included. If we didn’t eventually start “thinking alike” then being a member of the new group may not last very long. At the same time, as long as we are aware of this fact–then hopefully we can still keep our own unique thoughts while adopting habits of others (habits that we agree with, of course!).
Stefanie´s last post ..Recipe inspired by Pumpkin Froyo

Jenn (GH) October 11, 2010 at 5:15 am

I’ve been blogging for over two years and to be honest I still think it’s weird that people take pictures of all their food. Dude, it’s an apple. I tried to do a food blog and it lasted all of a week. I also think it’s weird that anyone would want to run distances that are meant for cars. That’s not to say I will always feel this way. I learned a long time ago to never say never.

I’ll admit that I often feel like an outsider in the “health blog world”. I’ve made a few good friends but I as I said I just don’t relate to so much of what is being said (and I’m fairly shy). There are times I feel sad about not being able to relate but when it comes down to it I make my choices based on what I know are the best choices for me.

I just found your blog through Charlotte’s blogroll (although I think I may have stumbled upon it and commented once before through guest post you did) and I like your honesty and straightforward tone. Although I’m leery of anyone who once belonged to a sorority. 😉 I kid, I kid.
Jenn (GH)´s last post ..11-000 Kisses

Melanie October 12, 2010 at 12:08 am

I stumbled on your blog during the whole MC episode, and I’ve been devouring posts ever since. I remember when it first hit me that I was falling into “groupthink” practices when I started my food blog last year. When I started blogging, coconut water was the big thing…everyone was drinking it during and after runs, putting it in their Camelbaks….it was everywhere. I was SO excited when I found some on sale at a health store while on a camping trip, and I couldn’t wait to blog about it.

And then I tried it.

And it was horrible.

Completely and utterly horrible.

And I felt like a bad healthy living blogger.

I’m still trying to find my blog voice, but I can absolutely tell you that the last week has been far more enlightening than anything I’ve encountered in the blogosphere.
Melanie´s last post ..Recipe- Crockpot Taco Soup

fittingbackin October 12, 2010 at 1:53 am

I too found your blog through the MC article – and I like your style! You bring up great points and it’s interesting. I too was in a sorority and took parts that worked for me (i.e. pep rallies, t-shirts, chapter, sisterhood skates) but couldn’t get up for some things (back-stabbing, calling people to standards because you’re mad at them, 7 a.m. cookie shines) – anywho – you get the idea. I will say blogging has given me ideas, but they usually don’t pan out. And I still haven’t tried a green monster, or spin. I see a lot of patterns and part of me wants to try them because it looks like fun or what not, but in other ways I know what works for me and can’t always get on board. I don’t do food pics, post calories sometimes, i’m all over the place! haha

Retta @ RunRettaRun October 18, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Perfectly said, Mel.

Deb (SmoothieGirlEatsToo) October 27, 2010 at 3:03 am

Good point. We definitely need to stay true to ourselves. For all of the fabulous photos of pancakes, waffles and egads, Oatmeal…I simply can’t ‘do’ a proper real breakfast. I HAVE to have a smoothie (toppings are welcome though, hello!) or it sets me up for inexplicable starvation for the rest of the day. I can’t do what others think is ‘cool’. I also can’t run. Nor can I eat as little as most of the bloggers. We just have to do what works best for us and not be lemmings! Thanks for the post.
Deb (SmoothieGirlEatsToo)´s last post ..Cuckoo for homemade Coconut butter

Deb (SmoothieGirlEatsToo) October 27, 2010 at 3:03 am

“Dude it’s an apple” I die laughing!
Deb (SmoothieGirlEatsToo)´s last post ..Cuckoo for homemade Coconut butter

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