Please Blog Responsibly: “The Hunger Diaries”

by Rachel on October 3, 2010 · 174 comments

If you’ve been on Twitter in the past two hours, you’ve most certainly seen the discussion (uh, outrage) about the article in the November Marie Claire, “The Hunger Diaries.” The article was scanned and linked to by Chelsea at Strawberry Sweat, and I highly recommend you read it. (Updated: Chelsea has removed the article for copyright reasons but it is now online here.)

I think I speak for everyone who has read it when I say, “Holy shit.”

Here are my thoughts…

First, I really feel for the women who were mentioned in the article. (Question: Can anyone own up to ever using the term “Big Six”? This was certainly my first time hearing it.) We’ve all read their blogs, commented, and Tweeted with them. I consider Meghann to be one of my favorite “imaginary friends” and my love for Jenna’s blog is borderline embarrassing. These are women I consider colleagues — perhaps if we weren’t in a virtual world, we’d all be in the same industry. Maybe we wouldn’t all work at the same company, but we’d see them at networking events and know who they are and what it is they do.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to get ripped to shreds like this on such a public level. Can. Not. Imagine. Suddenly, our quiet and happy little blogosphere is in the public eye, and the women we all know and love or just love to hate are subject to the criticism of people we can all basically consider outsiders. I’d be pissed too.

So. We need to talk about the article. Here are my initial thoughts…

1. The article was mean. It was. It hurt reading it, didn’t it? Like I said, this is a quiet and happy blogosphere. We’re expected to be nice. If we disagree with something a blogger posts, we are expected to move right along and not visit again. I think this article struck a nerve because it was written in a way that no blogger — not even us supposedly bitchy loose canon Hollaback girls — would dare write it.

2. Journalists don’t have an obligation to be nice. They just don’t. They do have an obligation to be fair, and whether or not the article was fair is debatable, but as a journalist who used to work at a fashion magazine, I’m going to go ahead and say that journalists cover their asses. No news organization is going to risk a lawsuit. The women in question are quoted in the article (admittedly, probably not in the best context) so we know they were given a chance to respond to these allegations. In that sense, it was fair, and again, that’s all journalists are required to be.

3. It’s really hard to take MC seriously when you flip three pages and see emaciated models. Just sayin’. I don’t think they are any less thinspo than the blogs in question are.

4. A blogger is a brand. We’ve talked about this before and it needs to be said again right now. If you don’t think a blogger is a brand, then you need to look at some of the figures being tossed around in the article. A book deal is no small chunk of change, and neither are Foodbuzz ad rates when you are pulling 10,000 hits a day. And even if you aren’t bringing in money, when you’re writing to people from the point of view of an expert, seeking out readers, and putting your life out there for public consumption, you aren’t much different from a reality TV star, even if you think no one is watching. You have to take responsibility for what you post.

5. Whether it was nice or whether it was fair it was something that needed to be said. It did. I know a lot of people will disagree with me here, but it did. We’ve started the discussion on eating disorders and “everything in moderation” on Hollaback, but I’ll be honest — we danced around it because we knew that we’d be crucified for making some of the same points that MC did. (And judging from how upset everyone is, we would have been.)

The thing was, it helped that Marie Claire didn’t have to be nice, because they could say things none of us could say, but most of us have thought, without the fear of being totally ostracized. This was a discussion that needed to be had. And I think the huge food companies that are choosing which women endorse their products are certainly going to walk away with some new information.

6. Are we a community of the blind leading the blind? One thing that I did appreciate is that this article was coming from an outsider. When you take away what we know about these women, and just look at them as a set of behaviors or “symptoms,” it’s a lot easier to see the problems. If you were presented with a list of behaviors and asked, “Does this sound like disordered eating to you?” you’d probably say yes. Pouring salt on food, eating really low calories, only indulging in treats when one has “earned” them through some very serious exercise, and experiencing amenorrhea…these are standard warning signs. But maybe we’re just too in it to see it when we read it, or if we do it ourselves.

7. I recognize that we don’t see the entire picture. As readers, we don’t know what you really eat or how hard you’re really working out. We don’t know if you’re going to bed hungry and starving yourself. But we do see what the MC writer saw, and what the dietitian they quoted saw, so we are potentially seeing some not-so-great stuff. But this is also a really good reason why just posting your food journal and race photos is risky business. Not only is it boring, but the potential for misinterpretation is huge. Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but when I see women eating vegetables all week just to binge on wine and chocolate on the weekends of a big race and call it “moderation,” yeah…I get a little concerned.

8. Blogging about your food and exercise does affect how you eat and exercise. Maybe it’s a good thing, maybe it keeps you motivated. But it can also lead to feelings of guilt and shame and “What will people think if I post this?”

9. This isn’t just about the “Big Six.” This is about all of us. It’s about the little blogger next door with ten readers. All of us. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: if one of us struggles, we all do. And if the most well-known of us lose credibility, then we all do.

10. Just because you have loyal readers doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop and think. I know negative comments hurt. Believe me, I know. And I know that this article probably won’t hurt anyone’s readership…but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.

I think this whole article brings up what I consider to be two problems in our community.

First, we clearly don’t hold each other responsible. We operate in a community with no rules, no checks and balances. So much of it is a popularity contest, and shit that needs to be said can’t be said because feelings will get hurt or the person speaking up will just get torn a new one. And that is why I started Hollaback — I wanted a place where we could create standards, where we could talk about these things, and where we could come up with solutions. Maybe if we had done a better job of that, this article wouldn’t have been written in the first place.

Second, this is why it matters. When I started Hollaback, everyone got all, “Who cares how you blog?” Well, because apparently, major news organizations care how you blog. Your agent cares how you blog. The companies paying you through sweet swag, travel, and endorsements care how you blog. I care how you blog. You should care how you blog. Your blog just isn’t some thing you do for fun; it has real implications, especially when it’s a source of income. If you just post whatever you feel like with no sense of how it’s going to be perceived — and no regard for the people who take what you’re saying as the gospel truth, because, the sad fact is, some people do not have common sense — you’re going to be vulnerable to criticism at some point.

Now…where do we go from here?

Disregarding how much it hurts to have our friends attacked, let’s talk about what we can do, as bloggers, about the undeniable issues that this article has presented us with. Let’s not spend our energy on writing angry e-mails to Marie Claire; let’s spend that energy talking about how to be part of the solution.

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