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Essay

Negativity Online: An Essay Inspired By 200,000 Comments

by Grace Bonney

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By the time this post goes live, I will have moderated over 296,000 comments during the past 10 years of blogging. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from reading and approving each one, it’s that people can be toughest on the things they love the most.

Most bloggers (and stat counters) will tell you that people don’t say much online anymore. Comments are being replaced by shares, likes and pins and unless someone has an extreme opinion, they tend to just read and move on. But when we read something that touches a nerve, or worse — an insecurity — the meanest parts of us can come out. In the beginning of my blogging days I was way too quick to be snarky online, but after years of having that sort of negativity directed toward me, I learned it was better to think first and speak later (and most times not to speak at all). Mainly because I believe that most people on the internet are trying to do their best. Whether that means putting out our best writing, artwork or the best version of our homes, we’re all just trying put our best foot forward.

But it seems like more and more these days we’re judging each other based on what we think we know of someone from photos, so it feels like a good time to stop and think about what we say, who we’re talking to and what the consequences of our words are. Because no matter what sort of home we’re looking at, we’re looking at real people inside of it. And I’ve grown tired of seeing people tear each other down based on assumptions that get us nowhere — except further apart from each other and our community.

So today I want to talk about how we might change the course of our conversations. Because no matter what inalienable rights we have to scream at each other on the Internet, it doesn’t release us from the obligation we have to deal with the repercussions of our negativity. I believe there are better ways to define what our problems really are and better ways to speak to each other and work toward creating a more accepting and understanding community.

*Photo above by Oddur Thorisson from Manger

I was reading through this year’s “Piglet,” Food52’s annual cookbook competition, and came across this review of Mimi Thorisson’s A Kitchen in France. I re-read it a few times and came away saddened, but also inspired to talk about what I saw happening in that piece of writing.

In his critique, the reviewer chose to depict the author, Mimi, as saying to readers, “I don’t even have to try,” and “my life is better than yours.” The review was informed largely by the book’s photography, which emphasizes what appears to be an idyllic life in rural France. The review then further mocked the author by depicting her saying she was “triumphing over adversity” by living without marble mantelpieces.

I found this take on her personal life, however “joking” it was intended, unfair and awfully similar to comments I see left under home tours on Design*Sponge that boil down to people assuming someone’s life is fake, showy or “talking down to others” if it’s perceived as too beautiful or too idyllic.

But where is the line between just the right amount of beauty and inspiration and what we deem as too much or too showy? And why do we decide that anything over the line deserves to be questioned or ridiculed?

The lifestyle community at large (home, fashion, food, parenting, etc.) is full of a wide range of ideas and inspiration that aim to show people things they CAN try if they want. I’ve emphasized the word “can” here, because I think that aspect — that the idea is optional — is getting lost.

Books, magazines, blogs, podcasts, Pinterest and every other form of social media are outlets for inspiration. Whether they’re showing ideas for a single DIY project or a larger plan for how to make your life happier and more fulfilling (cue Oprah’s a-ha moments), lifestyle media has always been about showing you different ways to try things at home and in your life.

But unlike 10-15 years ago, now we have what feels like a million outlets providing ideas, tips and recommendations. Every screen we load has a dream home to show us, the newest fashion trends and 10 ways to cook meals that make your family happier.

I understand why that rush of information can feel overwhelming, and why it might lead some people to feel as if they’re being bombarded with images of “perfection” that can seem hard to keep up with.

But this is where the line is drawn for myself. I don’t think the vast majority of lifestyle content being written is intended to make anyone feel bad about themselves. Every blog, Pinterest page and Instagram feed is operated (for the most part) by a single person who is excited to have that one place to share ideas and projects they think are inspiring or that they created themselves and are proud of. And if someone actually does live a life where they make their own cupcakes or sew their own curtains or save up to build their dream home, why do we assume that they think they’re better than us or that they have it easier or that they couldn’t possibly be “real?”

When I read through comments on DS, I get a very clear message that there seems to be some sort of unstated consensus that “normal” is best. People want to see homes and ideas and products that shock them with their creativity and beauty — but only to a certain degree. If it goes “too” far or is perceived as having been made with “too” much money or effort, it immediately tips over into negative comment land.

But what is “too” much? And who decides what’s “normal”? Here’s what I think: There is no normal and there is no perfect. Luxury and “dream lives” are all relative. What seems excessive to one person seems normal to another. And while we’re all entitled to our own feelings and reactions to something not being our taste, style or along the lines of what we would prioritize, when we cross over into making assumptions or judgements about that person’s life based on photos from their home or something they made, we’re distancing ourselves from people and writing them off without getting to really know them.

Here’s what I see happening in the comments here at DS:

1. We assume we know what someone is like because of one small glimpse inside their home/life. Just because someone cleaned up their house for their home tour or doesn’t have a pile of clutter doesn’t mean they have a team of house cleaners or think they’re better than anyone else. The amount of times people have commented that someone is probably “not a good” parent for NOT having toys shown on the floor of a child’s room blows my mind. The same goes for how clean someone’s kitchen looks (“they must never cook if it looks that clean”). The bottom line is — people clean up when they put their lives online. The only thing we can truly know from that photo is that they took the time to straighten up or, like a lot of us, shoved everything messy to the left of the photo.

2. We assume there is a magic “normal” we can find that will somehow make everyone happy. After 10 years of looking at thousands and thousands of homes and reading even more comments, I can tell you, there is no universally loved anything in the world of home design. There’s never been a single home where everyone agreed it felt like the ideal mix of relatable and inspirational or the perfect mix of styles. That’s because everyone’s idea of home is different and the only thing we can do is hope that each person finds a way to create a home that suits their needs and styles.

3. We assume that people who are perceived as wealthy think they are better than other people or have it easier than others. Those people are then deemed fair to attack because they think they’re “above” us. But we don’t know those people, and why do we feel the need to judge their perceived success or financial status? I don’t make as much as a lot of the people we feature here, but that doesn’t make me feel bad about my own life. I admire anyone who has created a home that makes them happy and I assume for the most part that they worked hard to get wherever they are. I’d rather be happy for them and send a virtual high five because that’s exactly how I would like to be treated.

I’m not so naive as to assume that we’ll all just stop judging each other because frankly, I don’t think we’ll stop judging ourselves either. And that, for me, is at the core of what’s happening here. I think that when we see something that makes us angry or upset, there’s usually a little kernel of something we see in ourselves. Whether it’s a kernel of jealousy (wanting that perceived lifestyle) or a kernel of recognizing someone else’s behavior as our own, we tend to get most upset when something connects to how we see ourselves in the world.

Here’s an example: The other day a reader left a comment on someone’s home tour saying that it was “too trendy.” They listed items in the home that are popular on design blogs and in magazines right now and went so far as to list a particular artist in that person’s home, further clarifying THEY had that same artist in THEIR home. The moment I read that part of their comment, I wondered — are they upset because that will make them look at their artwork differently now? That somehow that piece of art feels less special now because it’s in someone else’s home, or someone else’s home that doesn’t look the way we would assume it would look if they like the same artist?

No matter what the underlying cause is, we’re getting frustrated with people for not making the same decisions we would. It seems like we feel as if someone is squandering an opportunity by not doing what we would do if we were in the same position.

I realize that most people reading sites like this one don’t already live in their dream homes or live their “dream lives” yet. They’re working on building them, or drawing up plans and ideas and goals, or gathering ideas and inspiration for what will work for them down the road one day. So I understand why seeing someone who is living our “dream” already may be frustrating. But what if instead of letting that jealousy or frustration turn into an assumption about someone’s life, we just let it go and focus on what’s really upsetting us?

After reading through 200,000 comments, I think a lot of the upset that people feel comes from wanting to see more diversity, more honesty and more transparency online. And I think that challenge is one for me and other content producers, and not homeowners or the people who share their lives online.

It’s my job — and my privilege — to spend more of my days looking for homes, projects, profiles and ideas that reflect a wider range of everything, from styles and budgets to stages in life. I don’t think that will somehow make all of these people immune from hearing negative comments, but I think it will address — and help — the almost palpable desire in our comment section for more ways for people to click with, connect to and see themselves in the stories we post.

I’m thrilled and more than ready to take on the challenge of looking for more ways to share stories that reflect the wide range of people reading online, but where does that leave all of us as commenters?

I think if we all took a deep breath before we reacted we’d be in a better place online. If we cut each other a little slack and trusted that everyone has their own issues, we might see less anger and more acceptance — or at least fewer people being scared to be themselves online. Because no matter how fancy or not-fancy someone’s home is, everyone had good days and bad. Everyone worries about money and their health and their families. No one is immune to a broken heart, a bad hair day or a rough week at the office. And that includes the “angry” commenters, too.

I think that underneath every snarky comment is someone who could use more love and acceptance in their own life. This American Life did an entire podcast about this idea and it sums up everything I believe about negativity online. If you have 10 minutes to listen to the first story, please do. It’s a sad, but eye-opening case study about how we attack others because we’ve felt attacked in our lives.

I’d love to see our community grow to understand and respectfully manage the way the online world works now. I don’t think the “more more more” aspect of our world is going to change anytime soon. So rather than fight it, what if we worked harder to see behind the veneer of it a little bit more and understand that behind all those perfect DIY cupcakes and hand-sewn curtains are people who probably feel self-conscious about another aspect of their lives? Just because they choose to spend time making one part of their life look “beautiful” doesn’t mean that they’re not “real” or that they think they’re better than the rest of us. It just means that on that day, they decided to sit down and try that project and then share it. We all have moments when we’re proud of something we do and the great thing about the web now is that people have so many ways and places to share those moments.

I want to keep providing a home and a space for people to share those moments with all of us. Because I think those moments of inspiration and connection are valuable and important. They remind us we have something in common with each other and that we’re all connecting over a shared effort to create places and moments in our lives that reflect who we are. We’re a far-ranging and diverse audience and I promise to work harder to share stories, homes and ideas here that reflect that depth and breadth of our community. Hopefully that will help us all feel more connected to what we’re reading and feel more excited to build each other up than tear each other down. xo, grace

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Comments

  • It’s nice to see someone with as much influence as you addressing this kind of thing. I’ll admit, I don’t see much of the negativity these days, as I don’t have the high volume of comments to moderate and I consciously avoid the few blogs and forums where I know the negative comments flow freely. For a visual person like myself, the popularity of blogs and Instagram and Pinterest is an amazing thing. I love seeing DIY and design become so popular and it saddens me when it becomes a thing for people to turn their negativity towards. I’ll admit to frequently feeling a sense of panic as a new blogger when I think my room/project/post isn’t good enough, but that’s because I’m trying to do this for a living, not because all of this beautiful inspiration is somehow threatening.

  • I think this post could really apply to just about every facet of the internet, every subculture out there, and the way that we now consume information and entertainment. Oftentimes I think the cattiness comes from jealousy – that we don’t have the time or resources to replicate that which we admire on the internet, and it doesn’t feel fair that someone else out there did. It’s difficult to remember that we have a choice – if Pinterest is making me feel inadequate, I *can* close that browser tab after all.

    All of that is to say that I really liked and appreciated this post.

  • Beautifully said. And I couldn’t agree more. Whatever happened to – if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything? It’s a scary thing to put yourself ‘out there’ online – in images, in text. I submitted photos of my kitchen for a remodel contest online and while I didn’t expect everyone in the world to love it, I was taken aback by the vitriol. At the very least, didn’t these people stop and consider that the owner of the kitchen (aka, me) might be reading the comments?

    Anyway, kudos to Design*Sponge for taking a stand against all the negativity! And thank you for all you do and share. The beauty is inspiring.

  • Dear Grace — I am sure you’ll receive many notes such as this, but I want to thank you for your candid and heartfelt commentary and for keeping this design site feeling ‘honest’ and ‘real’.

  • I wholeheartedly agree. I feel like people throw negativity around on the Internet and forget that there are real people behind these things that we engage with. When I feel the urge to complain or say something negative, I always stop and think about what I’m adding to the conversation, the world, and my life. 100% of the time I reconsider my initial post and end up on the positive side instead. I truly believe you reap what you sow, and there is already enough hardship and drama in life without willingly and knowingly participating in it. If you don’t like something on the Internet, you are free to not participate in it or interact with it. Thank you for starting this conversation! I feel like this is a very important time for thinking about humanity and decency, in context of this unique way we have of connecting now.

  • Grace,
    Good for you, for writing this post. I am not one to leave comments on any of the design or mom blogs that I read religiously, but sometimes I do read them and I am usually shocked. It is so bizarre that there are people who feel negatively about something they see online and then talk sh&t about whatever it is that bothers them in the comments section, as if that will make something better for them. Or change anything.
    I know that I am among many loyal DS readers, so I can only hope that your post makes some people stop and think about what they are projecting into both the online and real world. What goes around comes around, right?

  • I love this website and I am constantly inspired by the people who share their lives and homes and creative spirits with the rest of us through this website. I hope that I am part of a silent majority simply appreciating the good works but not commenting. But just in case that’s not true, I’m going to try to comment with positive feedback when I am particularly inspired and continue to keep any snarkiness to myself. Thanks for the reminder that we’re all just trying to make our way through life and a bit more respect online can only be a good thing.

  • I may be unusual in that I read Design Sponge for the brilliant think pieces like this, I have far less interest in the latest looks for my home. If ever I paint a wall a trending colour it will be by accident rather than by design. Running with the crowd is anathema to me, I want to be different. So, assuming I’m not alone in that, perhaps another reason for some of the resentment filled comments you describe – but would never see from me, I’m all for ‘if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything’ – is that sinking feeling a person gets when she realises that something she thought of for herself is going to trend and everyone who sees it will think she has copied it from some ‘influencer’ somewhere rather than simply been equally open to the zeitgeist. In fact that influencer/influenced mindset is responsible for quite a lot of the angst out here on the interwebs I think … it’s made followers of most of us, meaning most of us have the potential to become what psychologists term alienated followers – the cynical, critical types – and the comments box gives those alienated followers a voice.

  • Thank you for addressing this. I appreciate the honest reflection and encouragement to reach out and connect in a civil and thoughtful manner. Admittedly, I can be guilty of immediate reactions, positive and negative; taking time to draw a breath and reflect on my reactions prior to addressing them is a better method than immediate yes/no/snark.

  • Thanks for this Grace, as usual you manage to put in words what many of us feel.
    I often wonder why there seems to be this need for ‘normal’ while at the same time everyone strives to have a home that is ‘different’ and ‘unique’, not a builder special.
    So yay to all of those that have the courage to share their homes online, it’s not easy to overcome your own insecurities of how you’d want your home to be and what others see and then comment on. I love the variety of homes you share with us. Thanks.

  • SO many virtual high fives to you Grace, and your whole DS team! I’ve kept coming back to you guys over the years because of this exact kind of thoughtfulness and eagerness to engage with all of life that surrounds and informs a design blog. Keep at it!

  • I think that in a lot of cases, we look at pictures and make snap judgements because we lack context. . . we have no idea how hard someone worked to make their home or space look *like that*. We see something that we believe is ideal – or is someone’s version of ideal – and it’s all tidily presented as a fait accompli with no discussion of the sleepless nights, the money anxiety, the sweat and the band aids and stitches that went into it.

    Okay. Possibly that last one is just me.

    Anyway, it’s hard when all you see is a glossy surface and I suppose it’s natural – and lazy – to assume that surface represents the total reality. But reality is never going to be communicated effectively in a blog where you only have so much space. The same goes for passion, personality or any of the other things that make real, actual human connection and community so important.

    And I think that’s the other issue – with so many of us living so much of our lives online, we’re substituting this 1D sense of community for a real, integrated life *in* community. I don’t mean that blogs and online living isn’t valuable, I just mean that we’re over-emphasizing it’s place in our lives and putting way too much emphasis on a medium that will never be able to take the place of a genuine connection. We crave authenticity and then turn to a format that is easily manipulated and designed to present in a very idealized way. And then we are disappointed – inevitably – and get angry when our cravings can’t be satisfied.

    Sigh. It’s a difficult thing. I like what you’ve written here and I’m going away thinking so all things considered, this entry, for me, is a winner :-)

    • Tara

      Thanks for your input. I wrote a MUCH longer version of this post (which I accidentally published at midnight last night when I was still writing) that included more detail about what we should and shouldn’t expect from home tours, etc. in terms of details about long nights of struggle and money worries, etc.

      But then I erased it all, because I think expecting someone to share their struggles- or to have them- is a form of judgement, too. What if someone was gifted a family home that was beautiful and chose to share it with us? Would that make them worthy of criticism because they didn’t “work” to build or buy it?

      I think questions like that are an interesting grey area. Obviously people are free to dislike anything they want, but I always wonder why we are so quick to jump to hating something we might not turn down if it was handed to us. And why do we WANT people to have suffered and struggled to get something great? I think it’s because most of us do, and we want to share that struggle and path with someone else we see online. But it doesn’t always exist and that doesn’t make that other person bad.

      It’s obviously such a sticky and complicated topic, but one I’d rather discuss here over just about anything else these days. I think we’re living in such a weird world of online inspiration and rather than let it control us and our emotions, I’m interesting in learning how to better control- and understand- my own reactions to things.

      Grace

  • Great article! I love your posts and will continue to be inspired by the creativity of others. Your lines I found the most important to remeber is this: “Every blog, Pinterest page and Instagram feed is operated (for the most part) by a single person who is excited to have that one place to share ideas and projects they think are inspiring or that they created themselves and are proud of.” Thank you!

  • I think the negative comments capture more than alienated followers. What they represent is extreme anger at the state of our world and country, the huge economic disparity between the have and have nots as a result of wealth transfer to the 1%, and any and all type of injustices perpetuated on innocence on a daily basis. This anguish and despair needs a place to go, and unfortunately it’s not always fairly directed. But I understand it, and try to remember there’s a lot of pain in the world right now driving negativity in all directions.

    • Cat

      I totally agree. I think that disparity is a huge issue right now. I’m saddened to see it inspiring people to attack each other, but I understand why it would make anyone upset, frustrated and angry to see people living what seems like “the good life” when they’re struggling. But that’s when I wonder, could anyone feeling that way stop for a quick moment and better articulate what they really want to see from us? I’m 100% up for the challenge. If someone wants to demand more of a certain thing and less of another, I’m happy to start that hunt. But those requests rarely come in. They’re instead logged at attacks at home owners.

      Grace

  • this is a very important conversation. thank you.

    i sometimes think negative commenting is a form of cyber bullying. i see a lot of full out judgmental, resentful tirades when i flip through instagram. it’s scary because the anonymity and ubiquity of internet forums allows a lot of unfounded hatred to flourish. we’re more willing to pick on someone when we don’t have the consequence of their in-person reaction and feelings. there is definitely something ominous about enormous “communities” of strangers excusing hurtful behavior in the name of “free expression.”

  • Your essay is spot on and well thought out. I can’t imagine all the comments you moderate! I don’t know why people feel the need to attack others. Just because you don’t agree with that particular style or choice does not give that person the right to attack. Why can’t we simply just stay quiet or say–wow that’s an interesting set up / idea / display, etc. We have this lovely and beautiful world we live in and should be able to enjoy all the different parts that make it unique. Oy-I could go on forever….

  • hmmm…

    Sometimes a picture is worth less than a thousand words. I don’t think I’ve ever commented on spaces that I don’t like because…what’s the point? I’ve also never thought about levels of cleanliness, wealth or parenting skills from a picture on the blog (although if someone were to have a bed of nails sculpture from an up and coming artist, that was the perfect addition for little Cassius’ bedroom I might be tempted to inquire about the wisdom of that choice, but hey, to each their own).

    On the other hand, I had an experience where I commented on a design blog about tiring of all of the sponsored content. My post was removed and the reason given was that the blogger was supporting the work of her friends who had gotten a Target gig and were really nice, creative people.

    great, support your friends but rather than delete the post just own your position.

    Grace, I do like the direction that Design Sponge is going. I appreciate your courage in expressing your views beyond design and your willingness to except criticism without compromising your on opinions.

  • Thank you for writing this essay. When I got to the part about the writer who mentioned the same artwork in his/her home I was reminded of Pamela Druckerman’s NY Times piece about life lessons after 40. She said, “More about you is universal than not universal. My unscientific assessment is that we are 95 percent cohort, 5 percent unique. Knowing this is a bit of a disappointment, and a bit of a relief.”

    I have struggled with a desire to feel unique, as many of us do. Yet the moments when I reflect on the universality of my nature to everyone, my life opens up to so much more than I could have imagined.

    I appreciate your request to pause when we feel that twinge of upset and direct the feelings back to our own lives with a gentle curiosity.

    • Christina

      I LOVED that piece Pamela wrote. It was SO good. Remembering that we’re more alike than different is a powerful thing. Even the people who hate me and send me awful emails, I want to sort of sit down and be like “I have a feeling we both got bullied growing up, let’s talk about it…”

      G

  • This took some courage to post. And it’s wonderful. I work in advertising and doing so has made me realize people really believe these perfect shots came without deliberate execution. Nope. Expensive photographers (or at least an expensive camera), cropping, photoshop, light correction, stylists, etc. these are standard practices. The end user never stops to think the photos are deliberately cropped, the person cleaned all week, they hid all the clutter in another room, and they probably unplugged all their electronics to hide those annoying cords. Grace, maybe do a behind the scenes post about what it looks like when someone has their home photographed for your blog? I think it’d be fun to see.

  • What might be interesting is to show a “before” and “after” shot of one home’s room – one with all the “clutter about” and one where it’s cleaned up for the photo shoot.

    Plus remember that people are reading the comments without any visual cues from the writers whatsoever. People interpret based on their own inner voices without the important cues of facial expression and tone of voice of the writer.

  • Excellent post. Beautiful use of an understanding and inclusive tone – not calling anyone out, but still using specifics.

    This is a wonderful contrast to one internet magazine that insists on posting articles entitled: You’re doing it wrong. It turns me off every time.

    • Mandy

      Oh man, those drive me nuts. It’s a weird abusive relationship some women’s magazines have with their readers. They tear them down and then make it feel like they’re the only source for the answers to fix what’s “wrong” with them. I see too many “Here’s why your man is going to leave you” stories followed by “Here’s how to keep him”.
      G

  • Thank you Grace.

    The following is one of my favorite quotes, which I think relates to this article:

    “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

  • Wow! This is so wonderful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Grace. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately.

    It’s definitely easy to get overwhelmed while looking at all the beautiful content out there. Often, I think my first reaction is to place the blame on the person sharing- assuming they must have so much more time or money to create such a lovely home, meal, etc.

    I think it’s so important to remember that the people sharing are not trying to make anyone else feel bad. They are truly excited to share and inspire and that’s why we are following their blogs or feeds to begin with!

  • Great post! Thank you so much for starting this conversation. I’m glad I had the time and space to read through the whole essay this morning. The first bit had me thinking we were taking this in the direction of “never say anything negative about any form of design” which made me think…wait, there’s got to be room for constructive criticism in any art form, I’m not sure I agree with this. But then I continued reading and realized this is addressing negative comments that are personal attacks that are NOT constructive. Homes are so incredibly personal, and the bravery it takes to share that space and invite people in puts the individual in a very vulnerable place. I think many readers forget there is a real person behind the pictures and this essay does a beautiful job of illustrating that. Thank you for sharing!!

  • 1. Excellent post. These are the things that nee dot be said more often.
    2. I was just listening to Seth Godin talk about why he does not allow comments on his site or engage with comments on Facebook, etc. That sort of blew my mind that he would encourage creative folks to deny themselves the feedback that we all crave. That sounds nuts. But then, he’s Seth Godin, and homeboy knows what he is doing. I would hate to think of D*S without comments as I think that is a vital reward for you and your team, but really, your compass is good. You know which way is north. You wouldn’t be successful if you didn’t. Just saying…
    3. And this is selfish comment, but as someone whose home was featured as a D*S home tour last month, I have a little inside perspective on the receiving end here because the only reason I was willing to show photos of my home in a tour on D*S is because I know you guys have created a community where things are worth sharing (I’m tempted to call it a “safe” community, but after reading what you said about baby toys perhaps that’s off). For what it’s worth, I actually turned down several home tour offers on other sites because I see the way their admin allow readers to gawk at the homes of total strangers then shred them apart. In a public forum. For fun. I understand everyone has different tastes and opinions, and that’s awesome, but there is zero incentive for any of us to share our most important and intimate space – our home – knowing that it will be thrown to the sharks. And for somebody else’s profit? Seriously? It boggles my mind.
    4. How can we make this conversation extend beyond the context of home/shelter blogs? Do you see the things people write on some of these fashion blogs? Ever read what people write to Kim Kardashian on Instagram? What on Earth compels people to say bizarre, unkind things to those who they will never meet? It’s a phenomenon. It’s not trolls or purposeful hateful, it’s just rudeness. We are getting it from somewhere. And I don’t know how to stop it.
    5. Pardon the longwinded comment. Excellent posts provoke conversations worth having. Thanks for articulating this so well ;)

  • Well done for writing this.

    You mentioned wanting to source content from people at different life stages and I just wanted to say how fascinated I would be to see the homes of some much older people on the site. I’m sure it might be harder to find willing participants, but we talk a a lot about objects in homes having stories and it would be wonderful to see some homes filled with a lifetime of stories.

    • Helen

      I totally agree. I’ve been working on that for a while and have found, sadly, that the people we’ve contacted so far value their privacy much more (understandably) and don’t quite understand the blog thing as much as I’d like. They were open to us including their homes in printed materials, but the web for some reason has been tougher.

      I was so happy when we got to share Maira Kalman’s home and I’ve been on a personal mission to showcase more women with incredible life and work experience we can admire and learn from.

      G

  • Thank you for this wonderful article. I’m sharing it on all of my social media platforms because it’s a wonderful piece that many people, especially those of us online, can relate to. Thank you!

  • This shit has to stop. This kind of snarky, cloaked put down of others completely nullifies the earnest hard work that went into (in this case) writing a book. It’s easy to sit back and deconstruct a year or more of work with a few comments. It’s so easy to type something you would never say to a person’s face. I thought we were over that (‘haters gonna hate’ is pretty old by now), but it does seem to be escalating. Let’s all decide to be happy for others and in turn for ourselves. Design is here to help us live and feel better and maybe make some $$ on the way.

    • Tara

      I agree. I always wonder if people would have the guts to say these things to people’s faces. I’ve found they usually don’t.

      True story: a college professor once got hung up on hating me online a few years ago and wrote a post on his site called “Grace Bonney is a fucking sack of shit”.

      I emailed him and he continued to berate me for being the problem with journalism and writing online. I was so upset and shocked by his utter hatred of someone he didn’t know AT ALL that it was hard to shake for months.

      Then…about a year later…a ran into him in a booth at the National Stationery Show. It turns out he was dating someone I knew (and had written about and supported many times in the past). Without missing a beat, I looked down, saw his name tag and turned to him and said, “Do you want to call me a fucking sack of shit to my face?”. He turned bright red, mumbled and walked away.

      It was one of the best moments of my life, truly. I felt like I had super powers. I went around punching the air like an idiot and feeling like all that fear and anger and hurt I’d felt vanished in a second. I realized he was someone who projected SO MUCH onto me and what he thought I was and what I “stood for” that when he had to actually face me in person he had nothing to say.

      Long story short, most people wouldn’t say the things they say online to people in person.

      G

  • I know this comment thread is a positivity-fest right now, but I have to disagree with this statement: “I don’t think the vast majority of lifestyle content being written is intended to make anyone feel bad about themselves.”

    That might be true of your blog, but not the vast majority. There is no way to escape that our desire to acquire and curate things in an aesthetically pleasing way is 1) a function of our ego and self-esteem and 2) a driving reinforcement of capitalism, which precisely encourages us to feel bad about ourselves and hence compare and derive our self-esteem from purchased goods. And the majority of content featured in lifestyle magazines and on lifestyle blogs is chasing this same inter-personally competitive/revenue-generating dream. You cannot wish it away or pretend to escape it. Love of design and aesthetics are real, yes. The love of beauty is hardwired in our evolution and has confounded rational-minded thinkers for millennia. However, so is making our neighbors feel bad about themselves.

    • Hi Longtime Sponge,

      Could I ask you to clarify your comment further? I understand where you’re going with your socio-political commentary about capitalism in theory, but to me, that’s not actually what I’m talking about here.

      If you feel that decorating your home is tied to capitalism in such a strong way that makes you feel bad about yourself, then perhaps design blogs will never be something you enjoy reading. But I do not think most design bloggers are helping people decorate their homes because they want people to feel bad about themselves. What is the actual point of that? Why would I, or anyone else, set up a business where we purposefully made people feel awful?

      We may just fundamentally disagree, but I truly hope that you don’t believe all people running blogs, sharing pictures and talking about their lives online are trying to “make our neighbors feel bad about themselves”. I whole-heartedly disagree that that is hardwired in our evolution. Do you have any studies or stories you’re referencing in particular that that desire is hardwired? I’ve honestly never heard or read that.

      The capitalism discussion is one that pops up a lot and frankly, I can’t argue it. Yes, buying things is tied to capitalism. But is everything on a design blog? No. Making things by hand, learning to do home-related skills that help you live a more efficient/happier/fulfilling life with your family doesn’t equal greed-induced shopping or the overly commercialized nature of big box stores, etc.

      I think there’s a strand of truth in that line of thinking, but I think if you actually look at who those bloggers are and what they’re writing, they’re not actually trying to come through the screen and ruin your day.

      If you have examples I’d honestly love to discuss this further. I hate to think that any blog or post might make you or anyone else believe that we’re out to make you feel bad.

      Grace

  • This is a such a beautifully written and relevant piece and I am so glad you wrote it. There is definitely a lot of very mean online commentary and the internet should be a more positive place. However although I do not agree with it, I do understand where the negativity may be stemming from. It’s okay to have a healthy conversation about this, right?

    I feel a good read to follow this post is Anne Friedman’s piece in NY magazine ” Why not admit we didn’t wake up like this?”
    http://nymag.com/thecut/2014/07/why-not-admit-we-didnt-wake-up-like-this.html

    I will admit that I do sometimes look at a post and feel inspired, but other times I feel that a home or a feature on someone is SO unrelatable, or SO perfect that I almost cannot appreciate it. What interests me if HOW someone got that dream job, or HOW they decorated their house. Sometimes the creative process, and sometimes the obstacles that a group were able to overcome are just as interesting as the final presentation! Why do we choose to leave these interesting details out?

    I agree with BRITTANY that nobody understands what goes into a shoot. It’s so much work! Again I don’t believe that it calls for nasty commentary, but since it does exist and we are choosing to talk about it, perhaps that is where it is coming from?

  • Once again, well said and thoughtful piece. Ten years ago everyone just focussed that hate towards Martha Stewart. And in a way, she did everyone a favor by being such a visible and proud supporter of the luxuriously handmade lifestyle. It was easy to recognize her and her name is a sort of short hand for those gorgeous projects that no one could really pull off without a highly skilled team and budget. But now we have a million tiny marthas on the internet and it is harder to see who has a team of helpers or a corporate sponsor or a trust fund. Because the smaller media feels more intimate, we think it is more real, less curated, that everyone but us has the perfect life figured out. We know enough that what is in a glossy magazine is edited and styled, but it is harder to recognize it in an Instagram feed after a casual shot from your neice’s birthday party. We all need to take a little more responsibility for our media intake and use our filters.

  • This posts reminds me on one of the many reasons I love Designsponge. I rarely read comments anywhere, to avoid exposure to all the hate, but I never leave your blog with that bad taste in my mouth. Keep accentuating the positive, writing thought provoking posts, and giving me my daily dose of beautiful unique images.
    As for showing diversity, I have been thrilled to see older people featured. We are too often overlooked on the web.

  • While I totally agree with you Grace, there is WAY too much negative judgement that happens online, I also think that blogs/pinterest/instagram etc have facilitated a “cult of perfection” where everything is so immensely over-curated it can be extremely alienating. And I think we need a critical voice to balance that. People can sense when things aren’t authentic, and I think that’s where the judgement comes in. I don’t think you should shut down critical feedback though, that’s REALLY important. There’s a big difference between petty personal attacks and critical feedback.

    I listened to that This American Life podcast. There’s a massive difference between negative or critical commentary and TROLLING someone with the twitter account of their dead father.

    Secondly, I’m not really sure what the problem is with the Food52’s review. It’s a negative book review. There always has been and always will be negative book reviews, and obviously the recipient of that review isn’t going to be pleased…

    • Sarah

      I think I clarified what I find to be problematic with the Food52 review in the first paragraph after the jump of this post. I don’t think judging someone based on their appearance or perceived lifestyle is ok.

      I agree that there is a lot of finished, styled and neat work online. Especially in lifestyle blogs. We provide so much of that “finished” and styled work because that’s what people seem to want and numbers, comments and traffic always backs that up. I think we’re naturally drawn toward things we personally find beautiful and then those of us running blogs feel compelled to share that online.

      I completely understand and agree with a desire for greater transparency and honesty (though I feel the word “authentic” has lost all meaning in today’s online/hashtag culture) and think that’s something most of us should work harder to provide.

      But here’s the thing: The reason I lead with the number of comments I’ve published over the past ten years was to show that I feel I have a unique take on this issue because I singlehandedly publish all the comments here. I see what goes live, what people attempt to have go live and what people say when you write them directly to confront them about their language in a post. And the bottom line is that people are equally mean to comes they feel aren’t pretty/creative/fancy enough. Those “real” shots and homes people say they want often get the meanest reactions from readers who “can’t believe” someone didn’t have time to straighten up their bookshelves or close their closet door. So while I hear people’s desires for more “real” and “authentic” spaces, I struggle to believe that that sort of space actually exists.

      I am not asking for an end to critical feedback, I’m asking for people to work toward constructive criticism, not personal attacks.

      Grace

  • Thanks for writing this. I’ve been getting upset on several different sites lately, upset by the mean-spirited, nasty comments that are left, the criticism that really only comes across as thinly disguised jealousy.
    It’s so simple:. If you have nothing nice to say… Of course we can disagree, we can have ten different opinions, but it’s not necessary to be mean when we disagree.
    I’ve seen some of my favorite bloggers simply ask their readers to take the high road and not engage with the “meanies” but I’ve been tempted more than once to jump to their defense. And I realize this sometimes only antagonizes them, but I just don’t get it:. If you don’t like the blog out the blogger, just don’t read them! It’s not necessary to criticize every little thing….

  • I personally did not think that comment left was “snarky”. Not exactly rainbows and butterflies, but they artfully found a way to compare two books and voice their opinion. I have seen hate filled rants and comments on the interwebs, and that one does not even compare. I think we need to share more kindness than critique but perhaps we also need to realize that there is such a thing as freedom of speech. If you put yourself out kn the web, you open yourself up to negativity. That is true for anything in life, not just on the internet. What about reviews on tv shows that say the actors are horrible and the writers should be fired? Should this not be said at fear that we insult or show less kindness. I say we all try to think before we speak and perhaps choose to rise above the negative chatter, but negativity can sometimes create and inspire. I know that I push back and work harder when I face adversity.

    Also, I do think there are far too many people drinking the perpetual kool aid of some bloggers, intagrams, etc. Not everything is beautiful and inspiring simly because you have tons of followers. I’m not being nagative nor saying these things because someone has been negative towards me. Just being an independent thinker and expressing my opinion. There is a difference….

    • Morgan

      I agree and hear you. If you put yourself online, you open yourself up to criticism and reaction, period.

      But the same goes for reviewers and writers. If you publish a public review of something, you’re also welcoming people to comment on that. And that’s what I’m doing here. That “opening yourself up to critique” goes both ways- it isn’t only for the person being discussed- the person doing the discussing is opened up, too.

      Grace

  • Thank you, thank you, Grace! This is so well said, and it means even more than something like this comes from you – someone many esteem. I am really horrified by the things I see online, whether it’s comments on a blog, instagram, video, etc or a post/review that’s downright mean (many go past snark). We are all adults sharing an online space. We don’t have to all agree or even get along, but we should all respect one another.

  • I agree that meanness and personal attacks are unnecessary, but there is always room for respectful critique and disagreement. A forum full of “good for you, you’re doing your best!” comments just wouldn’t be very interesting or fruitful, would it? When people put their work out for the world to see, it will not be liked by everyone, and, contrary to what social media tells us, that’s just fine.

    • Nava

      I couldn’t agree more, but that’s not what I’m asking for here. I’m asking people to stop, take a breath and think about what they’re REALLY upset about. Are they annoyed for example, that a blog like mine is showing too many of the same-style homes? Too many homes from X area? Too many homes without explanation of how they were decorated or furnished in detail? Not enough price points provided? Or not enough range of price point? Let’s talk about that. But comments that seek to judge people personally based on their homes aren’t a respectful critique or criticism. It’s that respectful and constructive part that I find is rare in the comment sections here and elsewhere online. It doesn’t need to be all “this is great, yay!” but it also doesn’t need to be all “This SUCKS. BOOO. Your house is BASIC.”

      Grace

  • Thank you! This was a fantastic post. All too often I read comments wondering why there is so much animosity out there in Internet land. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and may you receive wonderful comments from now on ;).

  • Grace,
    The perfect name for who you were to become. I’ve felt the sting of angry comments and often wondered if its worth putting myself out there. And the unsolicited “advice”…oh yes, best to say nothing to those folks. I’ve “followed”, read and to my delight even tweeted with you over the years. I’m probably old enough to be your Momma…so is it okay to say I’m proud of you? Good. Job.

  • preach it, sister! i often just avoid comment sections because i usually end up feeling terribly sad. how lovely it would be to see kind comments ruling that space! thank you for speaking up; i wish i could tweet this a thousand times.

  • I don’t often leave comments but was so moved by what you wrote that I had to say thank you.

    I think some of the negativity we see online and in real life stems from personal insecurity and frustration. It’s not bad or wrong to have those feelings but when you’re taking it out on others, you’re misplacing your focus and not resolving the issues at hand.

    Like you, I believe people share with the best intentions and sure, we might not like everything we see but that’s the beauty of the internet – we have so many options. Dream homes and “perfect” lives seen online can be aspirational, and just because we personally aren’t there yet, doesn’t mean that we won’t or can’t be there some day. Just because someone else has what you want doesn’t mean that you can’t have it too. We should build each other up and support one another in a community. And really, if something bothers you that much -move on.

    Again, thank you for sharing. You’ve summarized so well the thoughts I’ve had swirling around in my mind for a long time.

  • Grace: I just read your comment about the professor who berated you and it reminded me of Journalist Jan Wong and her book Out of the Blue. Without going into detail, she wrote an article and received tons of negative feedback. She got hundreds of negative emails a day and went into severe depression as a result of reading every single one of them. It reminded me that there is a real person on the other end… not just a series of black and white words read from a computer. Again, great post.

  • Perfectly said. I am reminded of wedding albums or Christmas card photos, where everyone is absolutely beautiful or adorable or impeccably dressed… Nobody takes pictures of your relatives arguing over ordeuvres or the kids whining and fighting. These things happen, of course, but we don’t advertise it. And, I think your point about building each other up instead of tearing each other down is spot on and could be carried into every aspect of our lives, don’t you think? I’m reminded of this quote: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle (or living a life, etc) that you know nothing about. Be kind.”

  • I agree with your description and diagnosis of the problem and I applaud your pledge to do something about it through honesty and transparency (while still celebrating excellence and beauty).

    May I make a suggestion? This idea came to me because it happens that I have been a guest in one of the homes you featured on a recent tour. Clicking through your photos, I thought, “I don’t recognize this home–it looks so different–what did they DO to it?” Then I looked again, and closer, and realized that your photographs “see” much differently than my eyes. The place had not been changed at all. It had been photographed to show its beauty, by someone with both technical skill and storytelling talent. My idea: contrast your DS photos with amateur snapshots taken at the same time. I think this might reveal a lot to people about how our visual minds work. Also: photograph a more mundane home than you typically feature– the “before” home. I bet your photographer would find beauty.

    • Hi Kay

      I think that’s a great idea, and we actually do that most of the time. DS doesn’t have the budget to hire photographers for home shoots 99% of the time so most homes are photographed by the home owner. Sometimes artists have photographer friends, so those do happen, but most homes are photographed, with guidance from a worksheet we created to help people take their own photos.

      We based our worksheet guidelines on what people seemed to respond best to, but we’re in the midst of changing that now to reflect a wider range of shots, more full room shots and more photos that show “lived in” spaces.

      We look through at least 50 home submissions a week and only 2-3 make it through, usually because they’re the ones that feel lived in and homey.

      G :)

  • You are spot on with this post! Thank you for sharing. It is such a shame people cannot see beside the fact that home tours are staged and portray beauty, balance and emotions instead and that they are rarely a piece of day-to-day reality. Especially when people tend to forget there are real people behind those pictures in comparison to rooms portrayed in Ikea catalogi and such.

  • Thank you for writing this. Really, thank you.

    Negativity is something I see bloggers responding to and writing about more and more these days, and while I hope it’s just the bad weather causing all the snark, I know realistically it’s not. We live in a time where people can facelessly and namelessly bully others, and we all suffer because of it.

    If we work hard to take great photos of our homes during the 5 minutes they’re actually clean, we’re trying too hard. If we take realistic photos of the dishes in the sink, or laundry on the bedroom floor, we’re not trying hard enough. We can’t win over everyone, and thankfully it seems like many of us are okay with that.

    I hope that, over time, those people who are so disappointed or angry stop reading and find something better to do. Until that happens, I spend a lot of time reminding myself that “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Oh, and a glass of wine helps a bit, too. ;-)

  • Wonderful post Grace.. I think the internet and access it gives to others lives for some of us creates envy instead of inspiration.. As a lifestyle photographer who has shot many homes the moving of furniture, emptying rooms to make thrm look perfect, the styling brought in creates perfect images that aren’t always the truth but hey photography isn’t the truth!! It’s about beauty and what looks good through the camera, not always the same as the eye.. I adore Mimi, her life her hubby’s photos and love that such a combo exists in the world.. kindness is still one of my favourite qualities.. Great post Carla

  • Man, I’m just loving these personal essays lately Grace! First the one about how it’s not OK to plagiarize creative work, and now this. It’s obvious that you write passionately from the heart. Sing it sister!

  • Fitting you should mention the episode of TAL as I thought to comment and add it to the discourse. I cried listening to Lindy West speak to her “troll.” And yet I was heartened by the simple truth that the biggest reason we heard her story is because the troll reached out to apologize.

    Thanks for writing this piece Grace. Sometimes it hurts my heart to see the things I see online. We can be so mean to one another. And other times we can be so good. It just g further proves that being a human is hard work. It doesn’t just happen, or come naturally. We must work at it, just like we work at anything worth having. A good heart and an open mind, when put to work, can do beautiful things.

    Sometimes I wonder if we–and I include myself in this–are judging others because we’re so used to judging ourselves. Day in and day out, I think I’m not good enough, or working hard enough, or achieving enough. It’s the days when I feel the best about my efforts and know that it’s my life and I’m doing the best that I can, that I’m able to love and offer others an open heart and a blank slate. So my contribution to this conversation is to maybe start inside. Love yourself. Give yourself a break and a hug. You’ll be amazed at how much goodness you have to share.

  • Grace, I have long seen you as one of the most thoughtful people on the internet. Thank you for addressing this topic. Ditto to so much of what you said here. There’s a place for thoughtful, constructive critique but so many negative comments online are just mean-spirited personal attacks. Our online discourse needs more kindness. As a creative, it can be hard to find the balance between beauty and authenticity and to know how much to edit the work we share with the world. I’m beginning to love Instagram as a way of sharing my photography. However, a friend of mine recently said that she has a rule that she won’t “style” any photo she shares on Instagram and does minimal editing because she wants her photos to be “real.” Personally, I see each of the photos I post as story, and if that means I have to put the potted succulent on the window to catch the sunlight instead of its usual spot on the darkened bookshelf, I’ll do it. I don’t think styled = inauthentic. In most cases, I wouldn’t want to share a candid photo of my messy kitchen for the same reason I wouldn’t want to publish my first draft of an essay. Memoirists and novelists don’t publish their rough drafts. They publish the final (typo-free) versions of their stories. Yet no one takes issue with that. (Well, I’m sure someone does somewhere!) It’s strange how people are fine with “editing” some types of creative expression, but not others.

    • Andrea

      What an excellent point I never even thought of. We don’t question writers and photographers for not publishing their drafts, but we definitely seem to take issue with real people who don’t show their faults and downsides and mistakes.

      Grace

  • The Great Gatsby begins with sound advice: ‘”Whenever you feel like criticizing any one…just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”‘

    I try to live my life with this in mind. It reminds me that we no one is better then anyone else. In fact, there’s no such thing as ‘better’ – we’re all just trying to get through it as best we can – so should cut each other some slack. Comparison is a dangerous gremlin to let in, yet sadly, in a scenario where an individual doesn’t have to take responsibility for their comments, it’s all too common.

    Having listened to and read a lot of Brené Brown recently, especially this talk – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-JXOnFOXQk – I couldn’t agree more with this essay, Grace. Keep Daring Greatly.

  • Grace,

    I’m so happy you wrote this. You mentioned:

    “No matter what the underlying cause is, we’re getting frustrated with people for not making the same decisions we would. It seems like we feel as if someone is squandering an opportunity by not doing what we would do if we were in the same position.”

    To add to this, I think people want to see themselves reflected in other people’s lives because they need confirmation that their own life is okay. A lot of the negative comments come from their own insecurities.

    …anywho, I think your idea of showcasing more women with awesome life/work experiences and knowledge is such a good idea.

  • Hi Grace,
    Thanks for your response. And I could not agree with you more, constructive criticism is really good and important, and personal attacks suck. I’m an artist, and I’m used to critique, but I don’t want to hear someone attack me personally or make judgements about my personality or life. When I was talking about that transparency/authenticity, I wasn’t actually referring to your website, I was referring more to my experience on other websites/blogs where usually comments that aren’t idolizing are deleted into oblivion. So many times I’ve tried to open up a discussion/ask a critical question elsewhere and it just gets deleted immediately or shut down by fans. I think the posed/styled photos combined with what appears to be only praise in the comment section just starts to feel so phony. I’ve never felt that your blog is inauthentic, which is why I’m a longtime reader.

    You were clear about your criticism of the Food52 review, but I don’t agree. The reviewer never made any comments about her personal life/family/personality, he was simply addressing how overly posed the book is and how many images of Mimi there are. That’s not a personal attack, it’s a criticism of the book.

    I really appreciate that you use D*S as a venue for dialogue and discussion. That’s pretty rare.

    • Sarah

      Thank you. I really love a discussion, a debate and a constructive conversation about almost any big topic. It’s what inspired me to start my radio show and I really love when people- especially when they don’t see eye-to-eye- can sit down and talk about something and try to find their common ground.

      G

  • Thank you for this, Grace.

    It is so true that all of us – the owners of those so-called ‘perfect’ homes, negative commenters, bloggers, and readers alike – have our own personal struggles. Keeping this in mind can only encourage more empathy and respect for one another, rather than negativity, judgment, and assumptions.

    Both the reviewer’s rebuttal and the support he’s getting in the comments on Food52 really sadden me, too. I can’t believe people don’t see the problem. Roberts says, speaking to Mimi: “You found my response sexist, but I disagree…” That’s basically telling Mimi her emotional response to his review was “wrong” which both makes no sense and lacks basic human decency. The point is not that he doesn’t consider himself sexist; it’s that Mimi and other people including myself did find his review offensive. You’d think the immediate response on his part would be sensitivity and contrition, not defensiveness. The blindness and condescension is unbelievable.

  • Grace, I love seeing your evolution as a blogger and what seems you are becoming since finding your own truth in love. Congrats with making life a little more honest… for yourself and everyone who comes here for a little relief from the daily grind!

  • Thank you so much for this post! I love it and I absolutely agree.

    I have to admit, I’ve been a long time reader of DS and other design blogs and I’ve really started to lose my love for them the last year. It seems that every blogger is connected to every other blogger and when one house tour goes up you can bet that within a week it will appear on at least 5 other blogs.

    I know you mentioned this in your comment to Longtime Sponge, but I feel like one of the ways that blogs pressure capitalistic behaviour is through the recent trends of large companies advertising/working with a large number of blogs. Target, West Elm, Lowes are some companies that I have seen lately. When you see the same 5 products shamelessly plastered over 10 blogs in 1 week it does feel like pressure to go out and buy those items that are so obviously on trend. I think its great that smaller bloggers are getting this support but sometimes it is overwhelming. Especially because this is available design as far as budget and access go, so in some ways, to NOT go out and buy the affordable design you’ve seen from 10 blogs at your local Target leaves you with this feeling like you are doing something wrong, or missing out, or deprived since clearly EVERYONE on the internet has X or Y.

    Maybe, its not so much the common sponsors but the fact that so many blogs overlap each other nowadays? Not sure, but just a thought.

    • Bea

      I wish that didn’t happen, but sadly most of us can’t do anything about it. We don’t all work in the same office and we don’t have the ability to know who is posting what when and most of us don’t want to NOT talk about an artist (especially an indie artist) that deserves all the love and attention they get.

      I agree with you in terms of sponsorships though. I have struggled with this personally, a lot. I’ll cut this short and say, right now, we need ads and sponsorships to survive. To provide free content, we have to bring in income from somewhere and ads are the easiest way to do that without creating more work for our writers, who we pay fair rates.

      That said, I’ve had to complain to more than one ad network that we do not want to run similar campaigns, ads or stories to other sites. But we sadly have no control over that. If a brand wants to promote one product or line for that season and buys ads on 5-10 sites (which is common), we overlap because they’ve paid for that exposure. If we turn that down, we often run the risk of not being able to pay our bills or worse, our employees.

      I know that sounds overly simplistic, but it’s often pretty accurate. But I think that brands are starting to understand that SO much overlap is bad for their business, too. No one wants to see the same thing plastered everywhere all the time. It’s half the reason we stopped making products a part of our main coverage. I used to write about 3-4 products a day and then when we all started overlapping each other, it became impossible to get things online fast enough to be the “first”. That felt like a losing battle, so I switched to less product coverage and more original coverage like homes, projects and essays. It’s a tough battle to avoid all overlap, but it’s one that IS being discussed by bloggers and brands alike- most of us dislike it as much as you do.

      Grace

  • Re: The before and after photos idea

    I’m not sure if it’s against blog etiquette to refer to other people’s blogs, but Emily Henderson has done several posts that show “how the sausage is made.” I’m an architect myself, so it’s not like I don’t understand that it takes a lot of work to make something beautiful, but seeing the absolute disaster that’s going on behind the camera was a bit of a revelation. Personally, I’ve been frustrated that I can never arrange my handful of decorative objects into blog-worthy vignettes. They just never look right, no matter what I do! But then it clicked- I don’t have closets full of tchotchkes that I can mix and match into the perfect arrangement, like professional stylists do. I’m embarrassed that it took so long for me to realize that, but it certainly relieved me of some decorating angst :)

    That said, it always irks me a bit when commenters say that there’s no way someone’s house could be clean and neat all the time. Some of us actually are tidy, I swear!

    • Katie

      I think you might enjoy the post I linked to at the end of this essay that’s on YourTango. Lauren Hartmann wrote about how she actually DOES keep a home that neat and that while she prioritizes that, it means she de-prioritizes some things other people might care about more than she does. It’s a great take on why the comparison game helps no one.

      Grace

  • I never read comments on any website anymore because they are almost always a huge bummer. Thanks for addressing this issue in such an open and honest way. I think it’s human nature to want bigger/better and our consumerist culture compounds that tendency. Negativity can be ameliorated by using just an iota of compassion.

    Just because someone has your dream home while you’re in school and working a minimum wage job doesn’t mean that they’re happier than you or that they don’t have real struggles of their own. A large(er) bank account and an aesthetically pleasing home aren’t markers of happiness or fulfillment. So why the judgement and the jealousy? Real human beings are behind these stories, people with feelings and problems. Maybe they grew up in horrible circumstances, worked hard, went to graduate school and paid their dues to get to where they are. Maybe it was all funded by their parents. So what? As it’s been mentioned elsewhere, the anonymity of the internet has made it very easy to say what we’ve always thought without seeing the consequences spelled out on our targets’ faces. Think before you type.

  • Maybe it is just me, but I think that what is irksome and perhaps causes people to lash out (completely unnecessarily, I agree!) at people is the emphasis and often melodramatic cheerleading that designers/homeowners with beautiful places get. While I believe that it’s really important to give people kudos for creating beautiful homes, furniture, jewelry, accessories, etc, I think that what gets lost here is that other people have really, really important jobs that aren’t applauded on the internet/glamorized on Instagram and in life (teachers jump to mind…) and, like the disparity that a commenter above mentioned, this becomes irritating to people. I love looking at beautiful homes, but it does seem like a great imbalance that people who actually keep society running aren’t given the props that they perhaps deserve, while artists who are churning out $45 tea towels are bowed down to. I think, at least, that that’s part of it.

    • Sarah

      Teachers, as well as anyone and everyone else that keep the world running should be celebrate online and on social media. There’s no two ways about it- people that do some of the hardest jobs don’t always get the most love and attention online.

      That said, I don’t think that niche blogs that cover design, food and DIY are necessarily the places I’d expect to see celebrations of those job fields because they’re not within the given topic or mission of the blog. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t appear there (for example, we’ve run recipes, makeovers and home tours that belong to teachers, doctors and other people who help in those ways I think you’re referencing) but I don’t think that’s quite a one-to-one comparison of coverage. I also don’t think we need to make people who design textiles (even tea towels) feel bad as if they’re not contributing something to the world, too.

      Do you follow the feed “Humans of NY”? They just raised over 1 million dollars for students in NY and it was inspired by one great principal. The feed has been celebrating her- and the other teachers and students- for a while now. It’s wonderful to see.

      One feed is by no means an answer to the problem, but you might enjoy that story and their coverage there if you’re interested in seeing more inspiring teachers in social media.

      Grace

  • Grace, thanks for this post! I echo what other a couple other commenters have said here: it’s this kind of thoughtful posting that keeps me coming back to DesignSponge.

    I think some of the negativity can come from a perceived disconnect between the mission of a given site and the content that’s posted on it. This doesn’t excuse unkind and unproductive commenting, but I think it can be an underlying contributor to it. For example, I recently saw an article on a site that brands itself as promoting quality & livable design — interiors and products that are worth paying for because they last for years, you only have to buy it once so you save money in the long run, etc. The article highlighted a home designed by a superstar designer for some very wealthy clients, which included an underground tunnel leading to the owners’ personal spa (not a DIY spa, an actual luxury spa). To me that felt like a disconnect: I think it’s great that someone can afford to have their own spa, but it wasn’t anywhere near realistic for the readers the site claims to appeal to.

    Regardless, that doesn’t excuse nastiness, online or in real life. Pointing out that someone is being inconsistent with their stated brand/ideals is very different from being nasty. Grace, I love your story of confronting that college professor!

  • Grace

    Thanks for your feedback, it helps to know its an issue thats known and being addressed in the community. I definitely think y’all should be paid for your amazing work(!), just wanted to offer it as an example of the kind of overload consumers are facing if they read multiple blogs.

  • I am so glad you wrote this. After reading the review of Mimi’s book on Food52, I was struck by the strong negativity and saddened that Mimi would likely read it. So much of these nonconstructive negative critiques are based on the commenters own insecurities and are not helpful, they’re only hurtful.
    As a Mimi fan, I felt hurt as well. Negativity towards something that I love and appreciate is hurtful to me. Mimi has been an inspiration to me, not only in pushing my cooking to the next level (which my family is so thankful for!) but also by taking more interest in my own appearance. She has helped me a lot! And, with that, though I don’t see it in the photos, I know she has her tough days too. We all do.
    Thank you so much for writing this. Constructive criticism is one thing, being intentionally hurtful and negative is another.

  • Just a small thought, when I read in your post about people wanting “normal” homes shown, it seems to me that they want homes they can relate to, design they can actually accomplish. In my area of the country, most people live in subdivisions. 2 story vinyl clad colonials. Boring, nondescript, but home. People want to know how to make that cookie cutter home more individual. Show cookie cutter homes that have been made more personal. Show that double wide that has been turned into a comfy warm space. Most people don’t have the designers ability to “visualize” so they need to see a design concept in as close to their own home as possible before realizing that it could work for them. I learned this selling furniture, i would hold up a sample fabric to a sofa, and say, cant you see how great this would look? I almost always just got blank stares back. I could see that sofa in my head, they could not.
    So lets see a few vinyl clad cookie cutter homes, a few double wides, a few ranchers and see what “normal” (lol) people have done with them.

    • Hi Pam

      I understand your point here, but we actually have shown a good selection of “cookie cutter” row homes, new construction and homes that are way out in the country, on farms or are part of what I think you’re suggesting as “normal” people. We have admittedly not gotten a double wide on the site yet, but coming from a family that actually used to be know for managing a trailer park, I would love the chance to show homes like that and what people have been able to achieve in small spaces. I’ll see how we can go about trying to reach out to people in developments like that.

      Our process with home tours, in case anyone is interested, is to start with the people first. We don’t look through photos of homes to pick homes or home types we feel fit our style. We make huge (HUGE) lists of artists, designers, creatives and people we think we’d like to know more about. Then we email those people to see if we can do a home tour/studio tour/interview with them. We see what is the best fit (not everyone wants to share their home online) and we go from there. Most people take their own photos of their homes so by the time we’ve agreed to share their home, we’ve seen only a small bit of the interior.

      From there, we work with them to find the best angles of their home that we think we be best received by the audience. No one wants to set a home owner up for mean comments, so we try our best to have people focus on personal and family details that will have a great story and other aspects that feel unique to their life and home.

      I still haven’t quite found the best way to reach out to people based on their home type and not their work, but we’ll work harder on that.

      Grace

  • Admiring applause for this essay–what you said and how you chose to say it. You, your team, and this blog continue to set a high standard, raising the bar for yourselves. You don’t take the easy way out. A whole of lot us appreciate that aspect of D*S. Thank you!

  • Great post! But the negativity can work both ways. I can’t tell you how many blog posts there are out there with some variation on “yuck I hate cherry kitchens ew so dated I had to paint it white or grey”. I have a cherry kitchen. It was installed by the previous owners, and is definitely not generic builder quality. (Ack! I just felt the need to justify its existence and quality! ) I was so influenced by those posts that it took me a while to realize that I actually love my kitchen as-is and I don’t care, or least shouldn’t care, that it is seen as horribly dated by…bloggers and commenters I will never meet. Admittedly, most of the posts like this try to soften it with “well, I know some people like them but they aren’t my taste” but still when you see something in your home, that you love, constantly dismissed by people whose taste you respect, it can sting.

  • Grace,

    Thank you for your reply and yes, I agree! Design blogs aren’t the place for it. It’s just that the attention—and the appreciation—tend to be skewed, in my opinion. And I think that’s where some of the negativity comes from, not to excuse it.

  • Grace,
    Such an insightful post!! I love your blog because it is so diverse. I have come away numerous times with wonderful ideas, and inspired by fantastic images. I know not everything is for me, but we all need to be opened minded and maybe see things through a different set of eyes. In design school I had a professor that always reminded us of that point when we did a class critique. It has always stuck with me and made me aware that I won’t like everything, but think about it first. Yes, I have been jealous when you have shown someone’s beautiful big new kitchen. Yet I have to laugh, because mine is so small I can reach just about everything from one spot. There is beauty in that too…at least for me
    Perhaps if more people reflected on the some of these images, instead of firing off a mean reply, they would feel differently at a later date.
    Thank you for such an honest viewpoint!

  • A brave and articulate piece about a big issue, and with reference to Andrea’s comment and your response: along with the photographers and writers who don’t show the outtakes or the rough drafts, we artists don’t show our “roughs” or mistakes either! Why should homeowners? And, as someone on the farther end of your readership age spectrum, I am guilty of always commenting in praise of Design Sponge: about the joy of watching that house of yours come together, and the DS site just gettting better and better. I’m always struck by the hard work and energy that goes into all these things – and that’s true of my pleasure in peeking into people’s houses as well. It is inspiring.
    Reading your piece, and all the comments, I kept thinking, how about the Golden Rule? How about that old-fashioned notion of “doing unto others.” Thank you Grace – all your efforts are so appreciated! (And I loved it that you nailed that guy! Same thing happened to the Oxford professor Mary Beard when she confronted acommenter who attacked her personally online.)

  • Grace,

    You rock. Your thoughtfulness really distinguishes this blog from many other choices out there.

    As a teacher, dealing with negativity and its effect on my own community (the classroom) is something I think about frequently, and I really admire the way that you respond to criticism in comments here on the blog. Keep up the good work.

  • This was such a breath of fresh air. When we, as creatives, put ourselves out there, we’re opening ourselves up to a sea of vulnerability. The authors of these cookbooks– as two creatives, both very different from each other– are penning their hearts on paper and sharing them with the world. Their works are never two that I would ever find comparable, yet they are both wonderful in their own right. Each is expressing their love for what they find to be beautiful, and their target markets are those who find beauty in the same. I hope that as a creative industry, we can make the active decision to start building each other up in our efforts to make the world around us more beautiful, and to document and share our experiences. As artists, we are fighting against our own ambition to create and share beauty by criticizing the ones who do. Every time we experience jealousy or competition with another creative, we’re missing a huge opportunity to connect with someone who clearly shares our aesthetic for beauty. Instead of dismissing people as show-offs, wouldn’t it be nice if we allowed their work to inspire us in some way? The review, to me, was unfortunate and regressive.

  • Well said Grace! I follow Food52 (The Piglet) and Design Sponge daily and occasionally Manger (Mimi’s blog), so I have read all of the fallout from the review of “A Kitchen In France”. It was mean spirited and sexist in my opinion. The following is a link to a great article on Eater today about this particular review.
    Thanks for taking the time to write so thoughtfully about this!
    http://www.eater.com/forums/cookbooks/2015/3/6/8161215/is-it-sexist-to-judge-a-cookbook-by-its-pictures

    • susan

      i think helen’s post was SO good. while the talk about lifestyle writers being calculating didn’t sit well with me, i agreed with everything she said.

      grace

  • Blogs are confusing to me. I agree some comments on them (and even worse on news sites) are unnecessarily mean or bigoted, but often any dissenting attitude is all lumped into one category. I wonder why there are comments at all, if any criticism or alternate ideas aren’t welcomed. I loved blogs in the beginning, but after bloggers started making such big bucks from them they aren’t any different that the glossy magazines. Instead of hearing from editors and advertisers (or letters to the editor), you get those comments and criticism in comments. Again, I appreciate your sentiment, but can’t help but thinking you may need a different job…and that a lot of these head pats come from your fellow bloggers.

    • Anna

      To reiterate my post, I never asked for criticism or alternate ideas to stop. I asked for personal attacks and assumptions about people’s personal lives to be rethought. There is a difference.

      Also, most design bloggers don’t make big bucks. I don’t know why people assume we do, but I can speak from experience and say most people who have other writers or team members aren’t rolling in money. The advertising market crashed a few years ago and we’ve all been working double time to make the same or less than before. Fashion and beauty bloggers are in a very different world than we are, with luxury brands that shell out a lot more for sponsorships and ads, but that doesn’t haven’t as often in our community.

      Grace

  • I think the motives of other people are something that is almost impossible to know. Even my good friends sometimes surprise me, by what they say or do, and you’d think that I’d be able to guess their motives right? I think it is so much harder when it comes to people you know only online or via some other format, like a cookbook or a home tour or an internet comment. How could we ever know why they said what they said? We can’t.

    I don’t know why the worst of the worst comments are written. Maybe it is as you say – that people are just jealous, or that they recognize something in whomever they are criticizing that resonates with something inside them that they don’t like about themselves.

    Personally, I found the cookbook review you cited to be funny. I didn’t see it as me laughing at Mimi or her life. I know that I don’t know her, if that makes sense? Her book isn’t an accurate portrait of her life and neither is that comic strip review – they’re just creative depictions of the type of person she might be. I laughed at the not-real Mimi that the cartoon talk bubbles had created – it’s a fictional Mimi that made me smile.

    I don’t know why it’s so hard to be honest and authentic online (or in print), but it is, and I get that. Even when you know that it’s just your image, and not your actual self, that is out there for people to judge, it’s hard. I get that no matter what is being said or shown, there is someone out there that doesn’t like it and is going to let other people know about it. I wonder if that’s why YHL ended – too many negative comments overshadowed all of the love that was out there in the blogosphere for Jon and Sherry? It’s sad when you know that no matter what you do, it’s not going to be good enough for some people.

    Maybe, just maybe, if we all took ourselves a little less seriously, we’d be a little happier and a little more likely to give others the benefit of doubt? If we all took a step back, maybe we’d be more compassionate when we give criticism, and be more willing to shrug off negative criticism which we receive? Take the trendy home tour artwork in your earlier example – let’s say it is super trendy and we all have it hanging somewhere in our homes and that the last thing we need is to see that another person has it – would not that actually be kind of funny? Or take Mimi – she’s posing with a snail on her shoulder. Maybe even she’s in on how funny it is, if you think about it, to deliberately take a photo that cuts off half of her face and half of her hand after someone very carefully posed that snail just so in order to get that shot?

  • …but you have gone further than criticing the critic. You are suggesting negative comments stop. How can we allow people to post their cupcakes and cookies but not let someone say they think said cupcakes and cookies taste bad? Also, by criticing the critic are you not doing the dame thing you are suggesting others not do? Negative comments are negative comments no matter how you slice it.

    Kudos for standing up to the professor though. Love it!

    • Morgan

      That’s not actually what I’m saying. I’m saying yes, disagree, dislike the cupcakes. But don’t look at the cupcake BAKER and say “wow, her life must be soo easy because she has alll day to sit around baking cupcakes”. That’s the difference. One is personal, one is about the work.

      I have no problem with the cookbook reviewer as a person, I just didn’t like his review and I stuck to that. I know nothing about his life and make no assumptions about what his personal life is or isn’t.

      Grace

  • Thank you so much for this post. I’ve been irritated by the many negative comments on the design blogs lately. Especially about the point of things having to be authentic to a point where it just seems unrealistic anyone can achieve that.

    Also I feel there is are much more interesting topics to discuss and about when it comes to style and design like displayed in Max’ article about gender in design.

    I’m really glad you guys are tackling those topics (and sorry for the bad grammar, I’m not a native).

  • This is a wonderful and well-thought piece. I have seen the negativity at times, and admit I have “felt” my own negativity at times. For the most part, I enjoy and appreciate the ideas and glimpses into homes and lives that have encouraged and inspired me. But I will say, there are bloggers who don’t have much transparency, therefore, I can see where the perfectly tidy images they post daily, can portray a false sense of perfection to those who don’t realize it is quite possible, there is a mountain of “life” cleverly hidden behind the sofa. ;)

    We also must understand that not everyone is a blogger or professional; they are everyday people. I have a friend (and no the friend isn’t me) who gets so frustrated by the amount of “likes” she gets on her posts. One day she said, “Look at some of the pictures… They are of rocks, a half-eaten cookie, a basket of eggs, a hand holding a coffee from Starbucks. They get hundreds, even thousands of likes!” She said if she posted the exact same photos, she’d be lucky to get 5 likes. I asked her if she’s noticed that most of “these people” are bloggers, professionals, or celebrities, who have hundreds of thousands of followers? That right there, ups their “like” quota considerably. I also said to her, “If I may be brutally honest, you are worrying about how many “likes” you get from complete strangers! You are placing your self-worth based on “likes” from people you are 99.999% most likely never going to meet IN-PERSON! Instead of spending your days trying to capture that perfect picture, hoping it will garner stranger “likes”, and then waste time grumbling because not many “liked” it… be yourself, and spend your days living life for yourself and those you love; rather than trying to be something you are not for the acceptance of strangers.” This is where I feel many are losing touch with reality…the physical face to face interaction is being replaced by “virtual” acceptance.

    I look at the online medium just as I would the magazines on my coffee table. It provides ideas and inspiration; because personally, I don’t have time to take pictures of rooms in my house from 50 different angles, nor do I have time to rearrange my furniture, switch out pillows, throws, flower arrangements, or take daily selfies of my ootd. But for those who do, instead of resenting them, thank them. :)

    It is easy to be hurtful when hiding behind a computer screen. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, then don’t say it online.

  • Why so much negativity? First, envy. Big, bad old envy. This is the first time in history where we have income/lifestyle disparity in our faces. We can see on a daily, minute-by-minute basis how the other half lives.

    We can try to make ourselves feel better by saying “oh, they probably have a tough life in other ways”. But you know, some people DO have better lives than us. They are wealthier, better looking, have had better opportunities – it isn’t a level playing field and we can’t all “make it”.

    Referring to Grace’s comment about the cupcake baker – her life might be just that easy. Now I’m not saying we should judge that cupcake baker for having a life that allows daily cupcake baking – we shouldn’t. But there are cupcake baking lives being lived.

    Second, social media has made it much too easy to snark without acknowledging that it’s a real person who is being criticized. And we’re lazy – it’s much easier to snark and be nasty than it is to come up with thoughtful criticisms. When we lived in smaller communities where we had to face the person we were criticizing, we took a breath and thought a moment before blathering on. When you are going to see that person at your kid’s soccer practice, you might hold back a bit.

    Third, and this relates a bit to my first point. People used to criticize Martha Stewart for promoting a lifestyle that wasn’t achievable. Of course not – she has a staff to back her up. Did anyone REALLY think that she was doing all of that herself? Or that she thought everyone else should do so? She was selling an aspiration – pick and choose what you want.

    Bake amazing cupcakes? Great! Hand knit gorgeous sweaters? Go crazy. Have a spotless house? Go for it.

    Do what you like and own it. Don’t do it or not do it for head pats from online strangers. Life is too short.

    I’m not advocating “la la la all is great and sweet” with no analysis or criticism. I might not like your home decor and I might not have the language/terms to describe accurately why not but I’ll certainly try to do so in a way that doesn’t cast you personally in a negative light. And I’ll get better at it the more that I do it. The more that I take the time to know my own taste and learn how to express it in words.

    And if I don’t like blog x or designer y – I’ll just unsubscribe. Nothing personal, just not to my taste.

  • After reading this piece, I feel a sense of tranquility, thank you for reminding us bloggers that we are just normal Jill and Joe trying to share our inspiration with the world wide web.

  • I totally agree with your very timely essay. Beautifully written! I’ve been reading DS daily for at least 5 years, and find it inspiring and creative. Occasionally I find homes, designs or crafts that aren’t to my taste, but I appreciate the artistry and creativity involved.
    As a blogger of my own creative journey, I long for the days of comments. I used to get multiple comments per entry (I’m pretty small time, but 8-10 comments was pretty usual). Now, I’m lucky to get 2 or 3 comments a month. I’d almost rather have negative comments than none at all. Makes me wonder if there’s anyone out there. I guess in the blogging world, people just don’t leave comments like they used to, as you said. I do miss those days.

  • And here’s another “Thank you” and “Well said”!

    I wonder if a part of the negativity is due to *not* seeing/understanding/imagining the work it took to reach magazine-levels of perfection. TV design shows make it look so easy: Poof! complete re-do in an afternoon! Poof! Hoarder to neatnik in a day! etc. The process is under-emphasized and so for the aspirant looking around at their, well, dump, the distance from dump to desire feels insurmountable.
    I loved the very early seasons of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy precisely because they did address process, as well as the fact that learning to maintain the new/aspirational “normal” was going to be a lot of work!
    As someone who has very clear ideas of what I want my home and life to “look” like (very different from current reality), I understand the negativity – a bit. I know that my problem is that I get overwhelmed by the forest and can’t focus on the trees. But when I allow myself to take my time and work on something, I get better results. I am still *cringe* in boxes 6 months post-move, and consequently no one has seen my new home. Which is stupid of me, and I hate it, but there it is. I have a vision. I can sort of see how a reader, frustrated with their own issues, might lash out (not saying it’s OK, just that I can grok it) at a poster who appears to have achieved what the reader aspires to, with little of the effort the reader is encountering being mentioned or shown.

  • My first comment on your blog! But I really loved this post and had to tell you! I purposely don’t make comments because I don’t even like scrolling to the bottom of the comment list because I always see things that make me angry. I know that it’s a good thing to have a comment thread so that people can have their own little forum about a topic, but in general comment threads on any sort of topics can get really ugly really fast. I think anytime someone wants to be anonymous means that they can’t really own up to something hurtful they are going to say. If you can’t put your name on it, then you really ought not to say it.

    I also think in this blogosphere that so many of us love, it’s important to be respectful of the blog authors. They CHOOSE to do this, and they have chosen to make it their career to entertain us and provide us with interesting curated content. We don’t pay for this service and it’s our choice to subscribe, participate, and and visit the blog.

    Thanks for this great reminder and thank you for making the internet a much more beautiful and positive space.

  • It happens with so many topics, esp. Those who touch women closer: you can’t win! Too lovely? Not real enough! Too messed up? So lazy not to prep for the shoot/post whatever.

    I think there are several voices now on the internet celebrating mistakes, messes and realness. Negtivity might continue, but these new perspectives will become more popular, too.

    Thanks for leading the conversation!

  • But still… people creating content that is being ridiculed in reviews like that I think need to be a little more aware of how they come across. A little self awareness that the message – and images – they are sending may be perceived as a little too precious. It comes across as insensitive.

    • William

      I think that insensitivity is projected. Why should someone have to temper their real life to make other people feel comfortable? In Mimi’s case, she’s not showering in gold and cooking in diamond-covered high heels. I think she, and other authors, are fully aware that their work will be criticized and possibly torn apart. But they shouldn’t have to expect that their personal life will be questioned and judged in the same way.

      Grace

  • This is such an interesting and important conversation. One of my favorite sayings is, “Comparison is the thief of Joy.” If I approached my favorite blogs, cookbooks, magazines, etc. by comparing my life to the author, chef, designer, etc., there would be so much sadness…..like stay in bed all day with the shades drawn sadness.

    I love honesty and transparency with the personal/mommy blogs that I follow. I find comfort knowing that I am not the only crazy lady that gets overwhelmed by it all. I’m forever trying to find balance in my life so when someone I admire, for whatever reason, keeps it real. It makes me feel better.

    HOWEVER, when it comes to a lifestyle/design blog, show me the beauty! Show me the creativity! Let me see those gorgeous of pictures of those gorgeous homes. Let me read those interesting articles about how the home owners approach “design”.

    My “design” is making sure my two year old can’t reach anything dangerous or breakable, and that my messy kitchen has enough clean dishes to get through the next meal.

    But, oh, please let me escape that from that for a minute. I read blogs like DesignSponge to feel inspired. I love to dream of ways I can realistically incorporate those design elements I admire into my perfectly, imperfect messy little house. :)

  • True. And the reviewer certainly projected unfairly with the comment bubbles. But what he quoted in text – the adjustment moving from Paris to a farm – is the problem many would like to have.

    • William

      Yes, many of us would love to move from the city to the country. But why does that envy mean we feel it’s ok to judge and mock her? Envy does not give any of us permission to make fun of someone else or project what we think we know about their life.

      Grace

  • After reading this article, I actually expected Robert’s review to be a lot more ‘negative’ than it was. And as much as I dislike internet trolls, I think that we also need to consider the reviewer’s points, rather than just dismissing them because they are not ‘positive’ and full of praise. I don’t actually follow Mimi, but I am familiar with the type of blogger whose content says more about their own vanity then it does about the subject matter (food, interiors etc.) I can understand why people really dislike being lured into a book or a blog that is meant to be about one thing, but then really ends up being more about the blogger themselves, complete with carefully constructed glamour shots of the blogger in various settings, to represent a ‘lifestyle’ that is more often than not, inauthentic and superficial. I liked the reference one commenter on the article made to Nigella Lawson, and her “good sense and grace to find points of connection between herself/her fabulous life and the rest of a wide scope of humanity that loves what she does”. I feel that this is what bloggers/authors should be striving for rather than being ‘aspirational’.

    • Anne

      What in Mimi’s book (which is what was being reviewed here) make you think she is vain? Because there are photos of her? In her own book? Having worked with publishers, I can tell you that they are smart people who realize that photographs of the author, especially if they can be beautifully taken and styled, sell books. So I highly doubt that Mimi was sitting in her editor’s office demanding “more photos of MEEE!”. It’s that sort of jumping to conclusion that upset me in the original review- which I didn’t say I dismissed because it was not “full of praise”. I took issue with it because I felt the criticism was personal and not as much about the recipes as it should be for a cookbook competition. Does the book contain beautiful and useable recipes and delicious food photos? Yes, it does. The reviewer barely acknowledged that and got hung up on projecting what he felt was Mimi’s personal snobbery and beliefs, which was my problem.

      Also, the idea that we know best what is authentic or inauthentic for someone else is a fallacy. How do we know that Mimi doesn’t shop in a local greenmarket for her groceries with her children? She lives in rural France, shopping in a greenmarket is a way of life there, not an over-styled photo choice.

      The funny thing about that logic is that if we’re supposed to be upset that people promise one thing and deliver another, I think the competing book should have been guilty of the same supposed let-down. I own Brooks’ book and think it’s a fascinating and wonderful look at how to subvert the world of traditional cookbooks. I love all the references to strong women he admires (ie: Kathleen Hannah), the punk rock references and all of the things that make him an interesting well-rounded person. But when it comes to the actual book, the recipes are almost impossible. The majority can take days to complete and require cooking techniques most people will never try at home. The final reviewer, Bill Buford, even acknowledged that he only felt inspired to try ONE of the recipes from that book and that the rest he would probably never try to cook.

      That for me, is a discussion about the work and the meat of a book. If we waste time projecting what someone’s life is like or what their “vanity” level is based on a photograph, we’re forgetting to consider the context and what else the book provides. Mimi’s book provides a ton of workable, useable recipes that are photographed beautifully. I don’t think that makes her vain- I think that makes her- and her publisher- smart and aware that beautiful photos often help sell books.

      Grace

  • I will differ with you. A lot of the snarkiness of comments on many sites comes from the snarkiness of the language used for the article. One site that I no longer visit insults its readers–“create a room that your guests REALLY want to stay in” (the implication there is that my guests don’t really want to stay in my room)–and then becomes upset when their suggestion is far inferior to what their readers are already doing. If the language on your website does not clearly indicate that a particular option is realistic only for those who have a great deal of money, or is realistic only for those who are in a position to be quite that “creative” (some of us might lose a job were our coworkers or supervisors to see our homes), or is only realistic for those who have intense leisure time and are pretending that they are “normal”–then it invites the reader to reply. Marie Antoinette syndrome is a very real thing–if you are in a position to be quite that wealthy and indulge yourself quite that much, then maybe this is not something you want to portray as “normal.” It is not normal–and it might not be something to flaunt on the Interwebs. There is a degree to which flaunting your wealth in front of those who have so little ability to do the same thing that their only outlet for amusement is surfing the web does invite snark in the same way that walking up to the secretary in the building (who is struggling to pay healthcare bills, take care of her three children, and care for her sick mother) and complaining that your personal assistant got you the wrong color of hose invites snark. Use better rhetoric–that is, be aware of your audience (not a wealthy one), be sensitive to their situation (don’t act like moving from Paris to a farm you have purchased is within the realm of possibility for most), and particularly be aware of your language (don’t demean others by “self-improvement” criticism). If you look in the mirror rather than blaming others, you may find the source of the snark–and, further, you may find the source of your snark is far more controllable. But, then, I don’t personally find that DS is a prime culprit with this sort of humble-bragging or average-shaming. On the whole, your site is far more sensitive than other sites already–but, still, let’s not blame the audience for an honest reaction. If you don’t like the honest reaction, the solution is probably looking at what you’ve done to provoke it. Well, that’s what we teach people in rhetoric and critical thinking–take it for what you will. As I said, I don’t find that DS is a prime offender in this category (which is why I read your site).

    • fOb

      I understand your point and agree that anyone setting up a post with language that implies people are doing something wrong is an awful idea (please see my comment above about the headlines in women’s magazines).

      That said, I don’t think sharing your life is flaunting. If someone was actually saying things like “Now take our your diamond-covered saucepan and have your personal chef cook up something made from the finest ingredients flown-in from Japan” then yes, that would seem over-the-top and out of touch for me. But in the case of Mimi, she never ever says anything like that. In her discussion of moving to the country, she doesn’t imply that moving to the French countryside is something “everyone” should try or do. She’s telling her story. And I think the idea that we should silence and restrict anyone with an envious story to tell incredibly limiting. I want to hear everyone’s stories. It’s up to me to manage how I feel about those stories and how they effect me. If you read Mimi’s book you’ll see she’s not complaining about how hard her life in rural France is- she’s celebrating it, appreciating it and trying to help other people find approachable ways to cook like people do in rural France- which is with simple greenmarket ingredients. The photos may be glamorous, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of reach.

      But ultimately I agree- no one should set readers up to feel bad by implying something is what it’s not. I would never run a high end design project and say “what a DIY budget success!”, nor would I run a story that tells people their life is less than, or needs to be better. But what I would do is write an essay like this that’s informed by reading literally hundreds of thousands of comments that tell a much bigger story about how we’re all feeling about each other- and ourselves.

      My goal here was to get people talking- about how they talk and about how they react to others online. If this gets even one person to think about the other person they’re about to critique or snark about, that’s worth it to me. Rest assured, you’ll never see a post here that states that your home, your life or your way of being worse or more real than anyone else’s.

      Grace

  • Thank you for this. The way we treat eachother over the Internet has been on my mind lately as I am about to launch a blog to go along with my online business. As much as I am looking forward to sharing a tiny piece of my life , and that’s what blogs are, tiny pieces, with those who enjoy my work, I am very nervous about putting myself out there. I have a feeling I will refer to this post (and the thoughtful comments!) often as reminder to not only take rude comments with a grain of salt, but to inform my own writing on the blog, to not get overly political or preachy. It is great fun to see a home, a cake, a craft, an outfit, or whatever else, just for its own sake. And if I don’t like it, so be it. Do we really need to explain and justify everything? Do I need to always share what I think? Guess I just did. But really just wanted to say thanks for giving me something to think about!

  • I can tell that you put a lot of care and emotional integrity into this piece, and I completely agree with you on 95% of what you’ve said. It’s well written, thoughtful, and I appreciate it greatly. I also love Design*Sponge and have been a reader for years. I love the community that you’ve built here, and the beautifully curated posts on this site. It’s all very stunning. The one thing that I’m a little stuck on, however, is the parts where you critique people’s criticism of wealthy people. I feel like class inequality is very real, and felt sometimes through the most beautiful things. As someone who grew up working class I can deeply relate to someone looking at the home of someone else and knowing that there is a likelihood that I’ll never have that. While I’ve definitely grown past my own jealousy and frustration, the ramifications of being a poor person are real for some people, and I can see why they’d lash out. When people are suffering from social inequality it’s really easy to be angry about everything and with everyone, especially if everyone you see seems beautiful, happy, stable, and put together. That said, I really hear what you say about there being a real person behind every blog and website who is excited about what they’re posting and doesn’t deserve to be the target of an attack. And I can imagine how frustrating and probably at times traumatic is can be to sort through negative comment after negative comment. All that criticism is bad for our self-perceptions. I think that if we all empathetically recognize each other’s differences, privileges, and oppressions, we can foster better community, in the lifestyle category and beyond. Keep up the beautiful blogging!

  • Your conversation struck a cord. Mean remarks always hurt. I am now retired and it was the same when I was working. I was a buyer. One department head used to leave my office, go back to her office, phone and then yell at me.

    I had to have a sense of humor. I could either get things done or win an argument. I think these people were hurting. They did not realize that yelling while it felt good initially, made people resent them long term.

    I see your courage and strength to even admit this common problem exists. You have my admiration and respect. Oh, and I forgot the most important thing. YOU HAVE A GREAT WEBSITE! THANK YOU FOR ALL THAT ENJOYMENT!!!

  • It’s been said before by those more eloquent than I, but I wanted to add one more “Thank you for this post” comment.

  • I love to read blogs where the comments and the blogger’s replies create something more than the original post. Like this one. Personal attacks are not an intelligent or effective critique. Everyone knows someone whose pride in their vicious personal attacks (self-labeled “honesty”) blinds them to the harm they do, especially when their ridicule is so deadly funny. My God, what if she turns on me next? But, my preference, the blogs I love to follow? Living, legally or illegally, in a ruin and sharing with me the trials and triumphs and injuries, physical and fiscal, while restoring sweet thing to beauty.

  • Thank you for sharing. As up and coming bloggers we have not received any hate yet. It’s sad to see that our world has come to a place where people spread negativity behind the anonymity of a computer screen just to make themselves feel better. Reciprocity and love are being replaced by distance and the selfish deeds. Thanks for being so honest and shedding light on a topic that must be talked about.

    xx Leesa & Kate

    Travel inspiration? wanderlustchronicles.com.au

  • I think you’re conflating two issues here. One is the negativity of internet commenters which, let’s face it, is a pretty universal and uncontroversial viewpoint. The other is your reluctance to accept the particular response to lifestyle content, represented by the review of Thorisson’s book, as a valid response. I think it’s a bit disingenuous to run the two together so that accepting the first makes it look like you also accept the second. The sort of response Roberts had in the review is perfectly valid, and not an uncommon reaction. I think it comes down to personality and personal taste: some people eat up that type of fantasy lifestyle content…and that’s ok.. and others of us would prefer if it came with at least a hint of self-depreciative humor or self-awareness as to the fantasy being sold (the fantasy of time, of unlimited resources, etc)…and that’s ok too.

    I think your observation that “when we see something that makes us angry or upset, there’s usually a little kernel of something we see in ourselves” is very apt and I hope you can see now that that also applies to your reaction to the review. I think you just (inadvertently) hit on what’s really going on here. In any case, I’m glad to see you chose to drop the accusation of sexism—a very powerful charge to make—from from the discussion altogether and instead get down to the real heart of the matter. (Needless to say, I don’t think the review was sexist.)

    • Kristin

      I still think there was sexism in that review, but this piece isn’t about that, so that’s why I left it out. And yes, it is a powerful and important issue to discuss.

      I agree with you- my observation applies to me as much as it applies to anyone else. I know what it feels like to have someone accuse you of living a life you don’t or making assumptions about you based on pictures, so I saw a bit of myself in Mimi’s side of the equation. But I also see a bit of myself in Adam’s review. I know what it’s like to write something, intend it as humor and have it not go 100% to plan, or to have people react in a way you didn’t expect or intend. Both people here were trying to do their best, but that doesn’t change that people have reactions and opinions about both pieces of writing.

      I recognize and accept that people have their own reactions to a certain type of lifestyle content, but I don’t accept that they have to take that reaction to a personal place. I think we’ve all discussed the possible reasons here in the comment section, but for me, the end result is the same: when criticism crosses from commentary on the work to commentary on the person and their perceived personal life, I don’t think that leads to good things.

      Grace

  • You rock!

    Seriously, I think that this post is worth every letter and then some. I think that most of the negativity comes from the anonymity that people have online and a mixture of resentment toward their own lives. In addition, the negativity can also be a result of people rationalizing that “those” people have to have a flaw in order for them to feel better about their own flaws. It’s the same thing that I have grown tired of in the photography industry, of which I wrote a similar blog post about bashing clients. A trend that unfortunately has grown amongst new photographers.

    It’s a sad reality that we have to feel like a part of the Mean Girls Club in order to feel justified, secure, right, normal, and real. Doesn’t make sense. We should be beyond that with thousands of years of progress… Seems like we as a society have a long way to go still.

  • Came across this randomly after being @mentioned on an Instagram post to view a design. I agree that negativity is rampant, and I can only begin to weigh in on the “new age” sociological reasons why people are comfortable criticizing from afar… it seems similar to road rage, fueled by lack of immediate physical confrontation. It’s worth mentioning, however, that the new age has brought about ways of publishing and sharing information that’s unprecedented for our life time. As a result, people such as myself (unlikely, yet perhaps interested readers) are able to stumble across material with a simple type of the phone keypad by a friend. Such simple, broad exposure (reward) brings simple, broad feedback and commentary (consequence). If that’s not cared for it, perhaps seek out more traditional outlets that include vetting for a more dedicated audience by way of subscription, etc. Realistically, this likely won’t change moving forward, and although it may be rather painful, it’s reality. One thought: do what you like, publish what you want, and don’t measure your success by poor comments, but by the # of followers and/or dollars in. If the followers or dollars aren’t there, well, maybe it’s just not meant to be…

  • Grace
    Your story about meeting the college professor in person is one of the best stories ever. I wish that everyone who has had to deal with an a-hole online can have a moment like that of vindication for themselves.

    I am often truly baffled (and saddened) by humanity when I read comments online. It really goes to show that people generally don’t say these things in person.

    ps congrats on the new house and please bring back the podcast!

  • THANK YOU for a truly inspirational article. It was just was I was searching for – words cannot describe how much this relates to what I am experiencing right now… and the apparent “perception” of who I am by others.

  • “There is no normal and there is no perfect.”

    So true!

    Thanks for this thoughtful post, Grace. I want everyone to read it!

  • Such a great post. The anonymity and distance that the internet *appears* to afford seem to exist in direct relation to some people’s willingness to openly express their darkest selves. But I sometimes see this same negativity expressed in real life too. I am someone who likes to make things with my hands — whether it’s baked goods or art — and I like to gift those things to others (because for god’s sake, i do NOT need to eat all the donuts). If I give you something, it means I like you. It does not mean I am in competition with you. So I am sometimes taken aback by the responses I receive, along the lines of “Ugh. How do you have TIME to do things like this? I am SO BUSY. I could never….” or “Ugh. You’re so perfect.” Look. We’re all busy. And none of us is perfect. So let’s accept that it’s OK for each of us to spend our time doing the things that we love — whether it’s crafting or baking or decorating or watching TV or staring out the window — and be kinder to each other, in person and online.

  • Thoughtful article and heartfelt too. Creativity often takes the form of artful living. This has nothing to do with money but is more related to mindset. Those who respond in a negative tone might be better served to shut their devises off and make cupcakes!

  • I think we have such a desire to be thinner, more fashionable, chic that we tend to attack those that appear to have more than we do. Home design is hard. It’s not cheap and it isn’t fast. A lot of people not in the ‘industry’ think it should be. Everyone wants to suddenly find out that they can have the perfect home with a few cheap diy projects. It doesn’t doesn’t happen that way. Some readers may just be figuring out that that fixer upper is a bigger project than they thought.
    I may sneer at a few images that seem too perfect for my taste, but I prefer to keep that to myself.

  • I love this so much. At the risk of being THAT person, I wrote a post on a similar topic recently (here: http://www.sarahrooftops.co.uk/2015/02/smugness-and-happiness-are-not-same.html); I think so much of our online negativity is defensiveness – it’s easier to criticise someone else than to admit that we’re jealous of how happy/tidy/stylish/whatever we (perhaps incorrectly) perceive them to be. We would be better asking ourselves what our negativity says about our own ambitions, not what their success says about them.

  • Interesting piece. You’re right that people like and share, and don’t comment so much. I’m trying to change that in myself and take a more proactive role, however only to add positive or constructive comments to discussion.

  • Yes to thinking before ‘speaking!’ Yes to knowing that just b/c we have opinions doesn’t mean anyone wants or needs to hear them.
    Yes to no judging! Yes to remembering things and people aren’t usually what they appear to be. Yes to the fact that there are multiple facets to every story, every person. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful insights.

  • Grace,
    Thank you for taking the time to write this. I felt unsettled about The Piglet article as well – I have “A Life in France” and had read and enjoyed it very much. Though, I am certainly open to critiques about its merits – the personal attacks lingered long after I’d finished reading. It’s funny though – if someone had said something about a friend or even Mimi (who I don’t know personally) I would have voiced disagreement and defense. But, I did neither of those things, thinking well, he’s entitled to his own opinion. Your pieces challenges that response – and I’m glad. As a comms person, I moderate my organizations social media and going forward (personally as well) – I’m rethinking how I encounter and respond to the rampant negativity and judgement online. Thank you!

  • To be honest, I’ve never noticed significant negative commentary here at D*S. I hear about it existing, but that makes me so sad that people are so judgmental of other people’s homes. Do you just delete negative comments? I was a little confused about whether you see them come through and are filtering them, because I didn’t know this was happening so much as you mentioned here at D*S.

    We all edit our online lives, when I share pictures of my home on facebook (like last week), I ONLY shared the ones that were clean and pretty, no one needs to see my unmade bed…or laundry all over the bathroom floor! (although maybe it’s time for a D*S hashtag challenge for messy homes, if what we all need to see is “behind the scenes” :) )

    It seems like people forget that we all have different “normals” the fact that we admire/pin/read design blogs and style our homes is not the normal for many people! I love the inspiration that people one step ahead of me provides, and I love seeing what people are able to do on lower budgets as well. Hats off to everyone and anyone willing to share online! It makes me sad, because I think one of the reasons YHL retired was due to negative commenters. Who has time to give such critical negative feedback!!!???!!! I’ve heard of bloggers being afraid to share they are pregnant because people will be mean to them. I mean, WHAT?!? Come on people!

    Anyway, I just wanted to offer a bit of positive feedback and appreciation for what you do here at D*S and to all who choose to share their lives online. As a reader, I am infinitely grateful.

  • I know I already commented earlier. But I’ve been so fascinated but the dialogue in the comments and have been reading along. Grace, I think you summed up the entire conversation with this statement: “when criticism crosses from commentary on the work to commentary on the person and their perceived personal life, I don’t think that leads to good things.”

    You can justify emotions and feelings however you want and try to dig deeper into the “why”. But let’s be real here. It’s just not nice.

  • These are my life lessons.

    Judge no one, we do not know what road they have traveled. Hurt people, hurt people.
    Share your experience, strength and hope.
    Normal is just a setting on the washing machine.

  • You have just said what I have been feeling for years and I personally see a lot of those comments as cyber-bullying. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all (in this context). If you don’t like something, what’s wrong with the “good for you, but not for me” attitude. And if you do like something, what’s wrong with letting it be known in a positive way?

    We are all people; living one day to the next. Let’s help each other out because after all, it feels good to do good!

    Thank you for addressing such an important subject!

  • Well said. Thanks you for creating a positive community of inspiration online. It sounds like no easy task to moderate comments, but thank goodness you do. It vastly improves the experience for those of us who prefer not to read all that junk.

  • Thank you for writing this post, Grace. That comment you referenced about my D*S home tour stung like crazy. It made me regret my decision to put myself out there, when I should have been happy that such an amazing blog wanted anything to do with me and my home. The funny part was that the painting she was talking about wasn’t even by the artist she assumed it was by. I had a very hard time biting my tongue because I wanted to lash back so badly, but there is already enough negativity out there that I didn’t want to add anything else that could possibly be attacked again. Sharing my home with D*S this week has definitely made me reconsider whether or not I want to share anything at all anymore. I don’t think people realize how painful online comments can be sometimes, and if they do realize it then they are just cruel (and likely miserable) people.

    Thanks again for this post, it came at the perfect time for me.

  • Grace: you said above “I don’t think judging someone based on their appearance or perceived lifestyle is ok.” That’s good advice IRL. But when it comes to the online world, it’s not so straightforward, especially when talking about Mimi Thorisson and others for whom their appearance or perceived lifestyle are essential components of their personal brand.

    Look, Mimi *could* publish a food blog and cookbook devoted exclusively to the food she makes: instead, she chooses to fill her food blog and cookbook with artfully composed photos of her meticulously put-together self, her charmingly decorated home and photogenic family and dogs as a way to separate herself from the foodblogging herd. She has chosen to put herself and her lifestyle front and centre; surely, she can’t expect to be able to do that and then act shocked and offended when others make those elements the focus of their critiques? And yet her desire to have her cake and eat it too came across pretty strongly in her response to this Piglet business, which betrayed the same kind of entitlement and lack of self-awareness that drives people bonkers when it comes from Gwyneth Paltrow or Blake Lively.

    So I do understand your broad point here about how people should be nicer to each other in online interactions. But the (in my opinion, very valid) critiques of brands like Mimi Thorisson doesn’t help you make it.

    • Jer

      I understand what you’re saying, but I still don’t see why people like Mimi, Blake and even Gwyneth shouldn’t be extended the same “be nicer to each other in online interactions” courtesy? To me, the logic there is that someone who has money isn’t due the same level of respect and kindness? Or maybe I misunderstood? I’m genuinely interested in talking about that angle. I think people see people like Blake and Co. as fair game for mean comments because they’re wealthy and famous. I don’t put Mimi in that exact same camp at all, but it feels like the same logic is being applied to her. Why do people who have money or a “nice” life not deserve respect when it comes to how we speak to people online? I’m not saying people aren’t entitled to dislike that lifestyle or what they’re selling, but I don’t think they’re entitled to be rude and mean to those people without repercussion or feedback.

      Grace

  • Thank you for your essay, your beautiful blog, and the thoughtfulness you are clearly putting into responding to comments on this essay. I read d*s because I like to see possibilities to bring beautiful things into my life. Sometimes my days are pintrest-worthy, some days I’m at the Roseanne Barr standard of parenting (If at the end of the day, none of the kids are dead, then it was an okay day.). It’s all good.

  • I think this discussion is merging the sentiment and the method of expression too much. Critique isn’t the same thing as snarking and controlling, although the two can, at times, merge together. Whenever I see discussions about negativity and comments, the worthwhile is lumped in with the cruel. The discussion here should be around how we express our critiques, not about the critiques themselves. And likewise, how often critiques can reveal that what we intend to express might not be how another will read it.

    In the case of the cookbook, the reviewer made a comic that embraced all that is ridiculously snarky about the internet (and I find tiresome and overdone). However, while I could do without his delivery, I completely understand and relate to the opinion behind it. The frequency and type of photos he shares from the book create a modern Donna Reed-esque fantasy life of the perfectly coiffed woman musing about the deer outside her window, the (in her words) “stately” aspects of her old life.

    He is critiquing how she chose to appear and describe her life. He didn’t insinuate her life into a conversation that wasn’t there; she wrote about her life and offered pictures that she and the publisher thought exemplified it. If someone uses their life, or elements of their life in their work, those elements are open for critique. Though his method of critique is grating, he isn’t jumping on her life, he is criticizing the presentation of it and how it reads to him (and other people).

    In other words, the problem is with the interaction between the writer and the editor. I read the excerpts he included and wonder if the editor talked with her about audience perception — that some will love the fantasy these things evoke, and others will react against it — and what result is intended. If it was meant to be a slightly glossy look at a real life, it didn’t quite hit the mark.

    Intent and perception are very, very different things. It goes back to Barthes’ death of the author and the many discussions of meaning, and it applies to books and websites — intent doesn’t matter if the execution paints a different picture.

    Even then, not everyone will agree, but in critique, people can find out what hits the mark and what they aren’t expressing well. EVERYTHING deserves to be questioned (respectfully) if it is put into a public forum. And in that questioning, the creator can choose to ignore it, or learn from it, whether the critiques help them notice and correct mistakes, or help them solidify their beliefs even more.

    In the world of food and lifestyle, I think much negativity comes from the ongoing disconnect between the vision and the practicality and ease of it. When a reader can look at something and see the impracticality, or how something will fail to work, or be impossible to maintain without extreme effort, it breeds a snarky frustration. It can usually be expressed in much better ways, but it’s worth noting and considering when we frame the content we publish.

  • Grace,

    Thank you for your….grace. Like icebergs, 90% of people’s make up exists below the surface, those bad hair days are the 10% that bubble up, and the rest sometimes comes out in judgement of things that may merely be an outlet for the negativity they feel towards *insert crisis/issue/challenge here* at the moment.

    What an eloquently stated essay, thank you for putting out there what so many of us feel.

    LA

  • Just adding my two cents about the discussion in the comments about advertising funding – I think webcomic artists have a really awesome model that is gaining traction at the moment, using Patreon, it was developed to help people see their daily/whenever dose of webcomic as a subscription like a paper comic – lots of creators have been able to take off all their site advertising from it!!! I get that it’s a little different for design blogs, but I would think that making people view it like a design magazine subscription could help people see the “value” in your work – I certainly do! xo Lauren

  • Thanks for the essay. I try so hard to live my life by the “there is no such thing as ‘normal'” mantra. It’s a reminder to me to back away from the little judgmental voice in my head, which gets louder when I’m feeling scared, vulnerable or insecure. I want to live my life free from judgement and so I should allow others the same. It’s great to see you proclaiming this kind of thinking on your site.

    In my mind I see the comment sections of websites as a megaphone in a dark room. Anyone can step up and anonymously say whatever they want without anyone knowing they said it and thus any repercussions. In the real world if nasty commenters were able to say the same things they would be shunned and find it hard to make friends. My opinion is that we’d be better off without internet comments. Flip on the light and turn the no-repercussion-megaphone off completely.

    Granted, I realize it’s nice to receive praise for posts and articles, but I totally think you can’t have one without the other. Why elevate comments to the same level as a well thought out content? Have something nasty rolling around in your head? Without a simple, no-repercussions comment form to publicize the negativity, the nastiness can stay in the person’s internal world rather than trying to squash other people’s joy and bravery for sharing their truth.

    Just my 2-cents. Back to the never-read-the-comments-land I go. :)

  • Great post. I don’t really read comments too often on any of the blogs I follow, usually only the type of posts that have people gushing all goodness, and I want to participate in the joy of that. Leaving snarky comments is something I’ve never understood. I’m in my early fifties, so the whole social media thing isn’t really my thing anyway, but I am truly amazed at the things that upset people, and the things they feel comfortable saying in response to that personal upset about others. When email first became a common source of communicating, it was shocking to me how people would actually argue with another, insult each other, etc. via email, that somehow problem solving, collaboration, talking in person or at least on the telephone went out the window. There was this new tool that one could hide behind, which created a dangerous breeding ground for lots of yelling and screaming. As social media has grown so HUGE, it has created the most abhorrent behavior in people. I love looking at blogs, and I will continue to do so, however, it’s important to remember, it’s just stuff, content and pictures and ideas. No reason to attack, if you don’t like it, so what? Does it really require a personal attack? Part of the problem with social media is that people have forgotten how to truly communicate effectively, spend too much time on it, and actually take the time to say nasty things. It blows my mind quite frankly. Thanks for the great post. Your points are very, very meaningful and important for people to think about.

  • I loved this post. Thank you for writing this. I have become increasingly concerned about the level of snark online – not only on design/lifestyle blogs, but on a host of other sites as well. Why do some immediately discount those who are, perhaps, wealthier than they are? Or seem – I stress the word ‘seem’ – to have it all? Why does anyone think that being online entitles them to say things they would never say in person?

    I have a definite design sensibility after living on this planet for 62 years and I’m comfortable with it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love seeing the way others live and the choices they make. And if I don’t like something I see, I realize that design choices are subjective and highly personal and wouldn’t dream of leaving any sort of negative comment.

    Back to being 62. I love Helen’s suggestion about showing the homes of older people. If I have any complaint at all about design blogs, there seems to be a tendency to focus on those who are young and hip (maybe 20 – 40 age range?) That’s lovely, and I enjoy seeing their design choices. But there are a lot of us out there who have homes full of interesting things that tell a story, who have developed a knack for decorating over the years and have a wealth of experience to share.

    Again, thank you so much for this much-needed message. It hit home and reminds me that pictures never tell the whole story about anyone.

  • I’m left wondering what is the real purpose of blog post comments in 2015 — and if it’s time to reconsider what purpose open comments on blog posts actually serve? When someone agrees to share their home, their recipe or their story with the world is it necessary to have open comments? If so, why? To get feedback? If people have questions about what is shared what other options are there for making an inquiry? Do we really need to know how many people “like” something or what their comments are? Is it time to re-examine the motivations behind online sharing? Is it to inform? Instruct? Inspire? Aspire? Cause envy? Generate $$, Or….? Are the online tools that are employed currently for generating feedback and creating meaningful dialog really appropriate to the intent and the purpose behind the online content?

  • “After reading through 200,000 comments, I think a lot of the upset that people feel comes from ***wanting to see more diversity***, more honesty and more transparency online. And I think that challenge is one for me and other content producers….”

    the stars are mine. Yay Grace. I WOULD love if DS introduced us to more designers/makers/stylists who identify as POC (person of color). Not that being a POC is the main driver of their creativity but that DS subtly reinforces the idea that creativity doesn’t only come from a narrow slice of the population.

    • Lorraine

      I agree. We’ve been working harder on that aspect of the site, but it’s not coming through as much as I’d like, so we’re double down across the team to work on making sure DS represents as much of the full spectrum of the creative community as possible.

      Grace :)

  • I’ve actually never commented before, but I have to agree that this is an important conversation to have. I’ve been following certain blogs (specifically in the home design genre) for a long while now. I rarely if ever participate or read comments, but I have to say that when I do they tend to shock me a bit. Websites like Apartment Therapy and the now-retired YHL can be awful examples for obsessive, angry, and deeply personal negative comments. When you started talking about a saddening review of Mimi Thorrison’s work, I actually winced and braced myself for far worse. Reason being that Thorrison – gorgeous, talented, french (what is it with us and french women?)- seems like a prime target for remarks inspired by jealousy. But what does it say that I expected something more terrible than those few bitter jabs? I suppose after all this time I’ve begun to assume that there is a correlation between the level of perceived effortless beauty and success (however defined) and the level and intensity of negative attention. I couldn’t help but think while reading your essay, Grace, of a house tour featured in Vogue that garnered a lot of internet attention ( http://www.vogue.com/865279/american-pastoral-miranda-brooks-and-bastien-halard-brooklyn-home/#1 ) and the torrential downpour of hateful things that were said about it in various forums. The more idyllic, the more picture perfect something seems, the more I think people want to tear it down. I agree that many who struggle in their own lives might easily make assumptions or create labels (such as pretentious, or boastful) based on a single article. And it would be refreshing if some high-resolution honesty could be injected into our regular stream of “inspiration.” That being said, I do actually believe that some people’s lives are much easier than others. We may all have our own trials, but some are given better chances, maybe have more luck, and some women can actually wake up in the morning that beautiful. But because of this, I don’t know that showing the nitty gritty side of things – all that crap just to the left of the photo – is enough to make angry commenters feel that much better. Will it help them to find peace and stem comparison, or will it just validate the belief that everyone has metaphorical crap outside of the frame, and create more compulsion to seek it out or make more guesses as to it’s nature or plenty? Perhaps I’m too cynical. However, I can say it’s promising that people are talking about it, and considering options besides the best image possible.

  • Mostly off topic- for a few years now I have been berating myself for saying “asshole” to you (in reference to myself, not to you) during your book signing tour. Oh the relief I felt to see you type, “fucking bag of shit.” And, I know you were just quoting someone else- but the relief-is definitely there. Thank you for that. :)
    Here is the on topic bit- I think your new house is exactly what people want to see…a project that is going to be *so* beautiful- someday- but we get to see all of the fantastic (and not so fantastic) befores, durings and afters. We get to witness all of the mishaps, mayhem and marvels.
    Dang, (I’m curbing my sailor speak here!) it’s impossible to please everyone…but it’s really fun to talk about.

    • Becca

      You have no idea what a laugh that gave me. I try to keep it clean and put my best foot forward here- but I regularly use those sorts of words in “real life”. I just leave them off the screen because people might have children reading near them and I think most of them don’t come here to hear me talk like that. ;)

      Grace

  • This is such an interesting topic. I wish it was as simple to say Mimi should have been judged on the quality of her recipes and writing if she was in a cook book competition, and it doesn’t have to get so personal. Just like if you are a design blog, let’s look at design and not pick someone apart personally.

    I’m a big believer that we can create the life we want. If I have envy when I see someone living the dream in Europe, I ask myself what’s stopping me? Am I in control or just a victim of my own unrealistic standards? I think if we all work at getting to the bottom of what makes us happy, or turns us on visually, the comparing game goes away. And the negativity follows.

    At the end of the day, I clean my own house and do my own laundry. I’m happy with my dirty laundry pile. I think it’s beautiful.

  • This is an interesting issue for me. I used to write for a lifestyle blog on the subject of parenting– an area of lifestyle media that is more personal and enflaming than design or food blogging. After I got called out a few times in the GOMI forums, I found myself wondering if putting myself out there was a wise decision– would my children or future employers someday find this GOMI forum? Likely not, but the idea did cross my mind. I started to get depressed and anxious about it, so I decided to quit cold turkey. Looking back I realize that I put too much of myself into those blog posts. I was constantly looking for fresh new blog inspiration, and was making decision that weren’t totally natural to me because I thought it might make for good blog fodder. So when I faced criticism, I was deeply hurt, because blogging had become personal to me. I wonder if part of your rationale for writing this is to defend the people who help to create content (and thus generate profit) for you? I also contributed to a multi-blogger site and the site runners were extremely sympathetic to the plight of the bloggers, which I appreciated. But ultimately it was too much for me. At the time I was a new mom and very vulnerable to criticism. Now my son is older, I’ve re-entered the workforce (finding something to fill up the void left by leaving my job was part of my impetus to blog), and I can understand that some of the criticism lobbed my way was valid, if not perhaps generous. So my suggestion to all would-be-bloggers would be to ask: is working in design or media so energizing that it makes the criticism worth it? If not, maybe dig deep and look into another field. Humans naturally criticize each other, and it is only worth it to expose yourself to that if the work really matters to you.

    At the same time, I also agree with others that increased self-awareness would be great for the blogging community. I find I rarely go to Pinterest nowadays because the material is overly curated and staged. It doesn’t resonate with my life at all. I have read Adam Robert’s blog for years and thought he killed it in his Piglet review. Yes, it was harsh. But at the same time I think it is naiive to pretend that you can separate your work life from your professional life when you are essentially selling a lifestyle. The Thorisson book is selling a lifestyle that is unattainable for many people, due to financial and economic and cultural constraints. I think it is excellent to celebrate your life and to find art in the everyday– it is something I strive to do myself. But it is hard to focus on living an artful life when you are constantly bombarded with images of people who are doing it better. You mentioned that “authenticity” is a dead word on the internet; I personally find that “inspiration” is similarly dead.

    At the end of the day something I think is missing from this discussion is the fact that blogging is a form of self-publishing. Anyone can start a blog. Even if it catches on and is hugely popular, it is essentially self-published. You mentioned that people with “basic” homes or messy shelves get criticizes at the same rate as those whose shelves are color-coded. Part of the reason why is because non-bloggers are always wondering about the rationale behind blogging. There is something that “smells” of self-aggrandizing about blogging (I’m saying this from personal experience as a former blogger) and self-selecting from your life what aspects you think would be “inspirational” to other people. That’s the reason why messy and “basic” people get criticized at the same rate as people who have million dollar homes.

    I last want to say that I just don’t buy that the Roberts article was sexist. The fundamental argument of the Eater article was that lifestyle posturing is the domain of women, and that punk rock posturing is the domain of men. But the most lovably grating lifestyle cook in my mind is John Besh. I love to watch him cook, but his show certainly promotes a lifestyle that is nonsensically unattainable (he’s always telling us about how his neighbor brought him the veggies from her garden, etc., everything is hand-canned, they have a giant house and three kids, etc.). I still love him and devour every episode. Maybe since he is a man and I am a woman, I don’t have any evolutionary need to compete with him, so I let it slide. But still, there are men out there selling lifestyle as well.

    • CP

      I’m sorry to hear about your GOMI issues. That site is a whole other can of worms that I won’t even begin to touch here.

      First of all, I am also a John Besh fan. He is just wonderful. And I’m so glad that you agree that lifestyle isn’t just the domain of women “selling a dream”, that men do it all the time, too.

      To get at the core of my issue with Roberts’ Piglet review, which is I think the only thing you and I might disagree on, is this: “The Thorisson book is selling a lifestyle that is unattainable for many people, due to financial and economic and cultural constraints.”

      The same could be said of the winning book in that contest, Fancy Desserts. I own both books and have read through Brooks’ book twice and the average person is not going to be able to find, let alone afford, half of the ingredients and equipment required in that book. Mimi might be showing a lifestyle that is expensive and hard for some to achieve, but the recipes are doable and call for pretty readily available ingredients that aren’t too expensive. Brooks’ cookbook is chock-full of recipes that require dehydrators and all sorts of equipment and tools that aren’t “realistic” for the everyday cook or baker, either.

      The reason I personally felt sexism came into play here is because the reviewer only took Mimi to task for selling a vision that was “unrealistic” or “unrelatable” for the everyday reader. That vision was primarily based on photos, which is only one part of the book (and not even the real meat of the book, which is the recipes). I felt that if you want to take that whole “selling a fake or unachievable vision” aspect of any book to task, that’s a-ok. But you need to do it to BOTH books, not just one.

      I agree that men and women equally promote dream lifestyles in the media, but so far (and I read a lot of reviews about this area), women are primarily the ones being criticized and held responsible for promoting the hurtful and inauthentic versions of their lives. I rarely, if ever, see a review of a man doing the same. I don’t want to see anyone, chef or homemaker, torn down for promoting what they hold as their ideal version of living, but because criticism and reviews are an important and necessary part of any niche, I just want to see that criticism applied evenly to everyone.

      Grace

  • Thank you so much for creating a community to have these important conversations! This site is such a breath of fresh air in the blog world and at the top of my daily read list. It’s so enlightening to read through your thoughts and readers comments–I really appreciate your honesty and realness, Grace.

  • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and starting a construction conversation. In design school we used to do group critiques on our projects throughout the design process, and I really loved them. Everyone was respectful and supportive of each other, but free to express their honest opinions. We all have so much to learn from each other, and there’s no need for anyone to be rude. The internet should be a place where we can share ideas, be playful and creative. It’s not a competition, it’s just a giant collaboration.

  • First of all, I rarely comment and when I do I don’t write write rude, snarky things.

    This topic really interests me though…

    I read many blogs, including yours and Mimi Thorisson’s. I’m reminded of a recent exchange between myself and two girlfriends. I’d read Mimi’s blog post about giving birth to her daughter at home, in a room filled with garden roses. I thought it was lovely. My friends hated it and made fake vomitting noises. From my friend’s point of view mimi’s blog post was in stark contrast to her own experience of giving birth. Mimi described her experience as somewhat idyllic, my friend found giving birth clinical, humiliating, scary and painful.

    I defended Mimi. “But she said she was lucky! That the home birth was a privilidge!” My friend understood, but felt proliferation of these idyllic perhaps unrealistic birth stories could be dangerous to women.

    We agreed to disagree, but I could see where she was coming from.

    I do love Mimi and her recipes are truly scrumptious. But she appears in her blog to be confrontingly perfect. She is stunningly gorgeous, she makes amazing food from her French farmhouse, she is thin and every photograph of her home/family/food looks magazine perfect. I would not look that good in a magazine and nor would my home. In that sense, she is better than me.

    Do I hate her? No. Do I think her life is perfect? No.

    Do I desire a little more authenticity? Yes. Do I think the proliferation of these sorts of images are dangerous to women? Ummm

    I think we (women who read these types of blogs) are bombarded with images of perfection all the time. I think we try pretty hard for everything to be picture perfect (I do not think men have the same affliction). I think we could spend more time being happy instead of trying to make everything look like the picture of happiness.

    When people are at home and something comes on the news, they might not like what they see and they might voice their concern or disagreement. Social media is different to traditional media in that you have the ability to socialise your content. I don’t know that people are necessarily more negative online, I just think there is no comment button on the TV.

    If readers are being overwhelmingly negative and snarky, that’s one thing. But if they are all saying the same thing and even the nice commenters are making a case for authenticity, then there is something to be explored. Everyone needs balance.

    Can you copy in Mimi please? And ask her to wear some track suit paint in a post?

    • Kate

      I wish I could sit down and talk with you and your friends in person. Your dialogue is the one I go back and forth with all day with friends.

      I understand their concern, and the general concern, about too many “perfect” images setting up expectations that are difficult for everyone to match. But my issue here is that I’m wondering what we can do to try to curb that “I need to match THEIR life” thought process.

      The reality is, some people are naturally thin and some people really do have lives that are pretty darn great. I think if people acknowledge that (and their privilege for given situations), that’s a wise thing to do to try to contextualize their story and their experience. And everyone is entitled to their reaction to that person’s story. But why do we want to make sure we seem them in the mud or wearing a track suit? What if Mimi- or any other woman- doesn’t actually wear track suits? What if Mimi’s version of a track suit is not getting the kids out to school on time or burning the recipe she’s been trying to test for her next book or not having enough time to devote to her family, etc. Why does it have to be such a physical manifestation? I find that request is present in a lot of emails I exchange with readers on this topic. “Why can’t we just see her on a bad hair day?” “Why can’t she ever look a little chubby and slobby?”

      I think it gets back to what is authentic for that person, not for us. I think the financial divide and issues facing our country right now make most of us too stressed and/or tired with our own problems to worry about the real life of someone who appears to “have it all”, so I think we’re sort of at an impasse there. I’m yearning for people to take a step further and accept that just become someone’s life might look (or actually be) ‘prettier’ or easier, it doesn’t mean we have to hate on them online.

      I keep going back to this being my job, and the job of editorial people everywhere- to provide more balance in the general content so that people who represent either end of the perceived spectrum aren’t held to such harsh standards. This has been all I’m thinking about this week, so I’m working hard with our team to come up with new columns and types of content that can better represent these moments that so many people seem to associate with “real” life, ie: struggle, mistakes, the proverbial “track suit” moments in life.

      In the meantime, I also am going to work to do a series on how people in photos we see online and in print look so darn good. Your line, “I would not look that good in a magazine and nor would my home. In that sense, she is better than me.” broke my heart a little because no one’s worth is determined by how good they look in a picture. And, if you saw what goes in to most pictures online and print, you’d know we can all look “that good” if we had the help of make up artists, professional photographers, great lighting and Photoshop.

      The bottom line is- I hear you- and your friends. We all want to see what we feel is “real” and “authentic” to us represented online. Because those terms truly are subjective. There is someone somewhere who feels all of our lives are probably pretty privileged, despite our struggles, so finding a way to better represent the full spectrum of home/life experiences is the challenge.

      Grace

  • Thank you so much for covering this!
    I see a lot of this on social media as well as blogging – it’s easy to sit behind a screen in the comfort of your own home and criticise people because they’ve got what they want already. It’s a new way of Keeping up with the Jones’s!

  • “I think that when we see something that makes us angry or upset, there’s usually a little kernel of something we see in ourselves. Whether it’s a kernel of jealousy (wanting that perceived lifestyle) or a kernel of recognizing someone else’s behavior as our own, we tend to get most upset when something connects to how we see ourselves in the world.” This part of your essay really cuts to the chase. I so appreciate you writing this piece. I love this blog for the wide variety of content, the ideas, and the accessibility of the tours. People can be so inherently competitive, even digitally. The mean girl comments are so diminishing especially from people that criticize the blog. If they don’t like it, it’s so strange that they keep reading it.

  • The thing I always notice about the “mean girl” comment syndrome is that unfortunately some women view other women as competition. Competition doesn’t always have to be negative, it’s often what helps us want to exceed. The sad thing is women sometimes view other women only as adversaries rather than allies, and this is such a hinderance.

  • Oops sorry about the typo above, I meant “succeed” not “exceed” early morning commenting isn’t always the smartest idea

  • This post was a brave one to write and one I completely agree with. Constructive criticism is one thing but unnecessary mocking another.

  • simply speaking, after reading your article I cannot imagine why viewers would be on an online design site and have such negative opinions or things to say. What’s the point? Aren’t we looking at your site and others to be inspired? Why judge so harshly? If you don’t like it, don’t comment. I guess it must come from that kernel of jealousy but it seems so wrong to “want to” see messy rooms or messy hair or someone having a hard time. I come here to see beauty. What inspires me; pictures of a beautiful life, hopefully well lived, and happy, wonderful rooms to aspire to, great architecture, interesting recipes and many more. Keep up the good work, I am always inspired by DS and thanks for all that you do!

  • grace and team,

    i know the blogging world is unsettled right now with revenue up in the air. but please, please know that it’s these kinds of heartfelt, honest, open, and–at their heart–the realest of the real kinds of posts that keep me devoted to sites like yours. i love the pretty pictures and and inspiring projects, too, but it’s the heart your team has developed here that makes me want to be your bff 4 eva.

    it’s also these kinds of essays (no project, no products, just talking) that are the opposite of what attracts advertisers, which makes it tricky for you guys to balance how much time and effort are put into the different kinds of posts. just know, you’re doing SUCH good work, and talking about SUCH good topics. thank you. thank you for sharing your hearts with us.

  • Grace:

    It seems like you’re conflating criticism with being mean. One can be civil and still make valid criticisms of the brand. And that’s really what it’s about. In my opinion, Gwyneth, Blake and, to a similar if lesser extent, Mimi are all selling a lifestyle in the same way Nike and Coke are selling shoes and soda. Why should they be immune from the same kind of critiques one would extend to a big corporation simply because they put their face to the brand?

    Now, does the line between criticism and empty snark get blurry sometimes? Sure, but that’s to be expected when the person (or a version of the person) and the brand are one and the same, and it’s not hard to separate the valid criticisms from empty internet rage. And in Mimi’s case, I think the critiques around privilege and authenticity are completely on point and have nothing to do with her as a person (though her tone-deaf rebuttal to the Piglet review would certainly invite one to draw conclusions about her personality).

    • Jer

      I’m aware of the difference and I’m not arguing for an end to criticism. I’m hoping for an end to criticism that gets personal and makes assumptions about a person’s personality based on images or branding. I think if we’re all savvy enough to realize there’s a difference between the public face of a brand and the private life of the person behind it (there almost always is. I doubt any of us is EXACTLY like everything we post online).

      Your comment about her privilege and authenticity are exactly what I’m talking about. She’s always acknowledged her privileged. I’ve read many, many of her posts, Instagram updates and her book where she talks about how lucky she is. But how many times does she have to say that to please people? And in terms of authenticity, who are we to tell HER what’s authentic for HER? To me all I hear are people demanding she fit THEIR version of authenticity.

      Grace

  • You have hit the nail on the head.

    I have a lot of “I wishes” in my life right now and I read design blogs as a form of daydreaming, of exploring, and of planning for the day when “my ship comes in”. But I can’t imagine criticizing someone for the choices they made in their house (unless they made it completely structurally unsafe for the inhabitants, then I might suggest they have someone check it!). Sure, there are things I wouldn’t choose for my house, but I admire their vision, their commitment to their style, and am thankful that they shared with me as a reader.

    I love the sneak peeks, the before and afters – those are my favourites.

    If you ever want to feature an almost 100 year old semi-detached Arts & Crafts style house in Dartmouth, NS, I’d clean up the kids’ toys for you. And maybe I’d finally tackle painting the risers on my stairs.

    I love

  • hi Grace,

    another blogger sent me in the direction of your thought provoking post as this is something we all struggle with daily as bloggers / designers / creators … comments can fuel and inspire us, or simply throw tacks in front of our tires.

    Brené Brown gave a *brilliant* TED talk “Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count.” the discussion is to a group of creatives / designers and has helped me so very much by positively affecting how i react to negativity or insensitivity that is unfortunately inherent in this online world. as a designer, it was also a bit of a gift in helping me focus on my gut instincts more and and shutting out peripheral noise.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-JXOnFOXQk

  • … i just realized my comment was incorrect in giving attribution as a TED talk … Brené’s talk was for 99U and some of the content was influenced by her viral TED talk … nonetheless, i think it could be played on constant loop for all those who vulnerably “put themselves out there.”

  • Wow! This is fantastic. Thank you for taking the time to so eloquently write about this. It was an inspiring read, and has created such a vital conversation. Thank you!

  • ” But my issue here is that I’m wondering what we can do to try to curb that “I need to match THEIR life” thought process.”

    Grace! THIS. Where is this coming from, because I. don’t. get. it. at. all. For instance (random example), I even see it when women talk about Beyonce and how they feel like she puts pressure on them to be a certain way and they resent her when they know they can’t, I guess, meet her standard. Why are we (as women) doing this to ourselves? It seems to me that people aren’t dealing with their insecurities in a healthy way (or are even self aware enough to notice them). It’s like all of this meanness is a defense mechanism…putting other people down to lift themselves up. It’s so sad :(

    And I’d like to mention that your response to these comments fits your name, gracious. You’ve had to repeat yourself several times :oP

  • Grace, I love what you wrote here and I agree wholeheartedly. There’s no reason to tear someone else down based on likely flawed perceptions of their life. We aren’t privy to the private struggles and heartbreaks of people who may be wealthy or thin or always look so pulled together in photos.
    However, I do understand the impulse (I’m not perfect either). I can’t say I’ve never rolled my eyes when I see Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest “must list” filled with $400 silk robes. The concept of being in the “lifestyle business” is inherently offputting- the implication being you need to *buy* my lifestyle because it is *better* than yours. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t need to read my blog/book/newsletter.
    Is that fair to the author? Of course not. But I believe the overwhelming perception from people who tear down Gwyneth, Mimi, Blake, etc. is “I have little and they have everything, so my negative comment won’t affect or even reach them in their crystalline tower. And if it does, good, they need to be knocked down a peg.”
    This issue touches on so many societal hot buttons- class & privilege, sexism and the historic pressures placed on women to be perfect specimens, consumerism, probably even race to some degree. I love that you opened up this important dialogue.

  • Grace,

    You hit the nail on the head! I am a true believer that these negative comments, assumptions, judgements and harsh words totally stem from a heart issue. I can’t help but think that the root to being motivated to say such awful things is due to jealousy, envy and ultimately hate.

    I have had plenty of negative comments on my blog, but surprisingly, not as much as being personally judged and gossiped about in my personal life because of my trying to be creative. I’ve come to realize that it really doesn’t affect me as much as it does the person saying the hurtful words. It reveals so much about them, that I can’t even be upset by it anymore. What you said really hit home for me,

    “I think that underneath every snarky comment is someone who could use more love and acceptance in their own life.”.

    I’m trying to be more gracious and loving, especially when I want to just lash out in self defense or stick up for my reputation. Really, I pity those who have to get down so low that they feel better about themselves.

    Thanks so much for sharing and approaching this issue that’s become such an epidemic these days. There ought to be more love, acceptance and support for one another!

    XO

  • Hi Grace!

    Thanks for the exchange. Hpe you don’t mind if I quote you here for the purposes of my response (and I swear I’ll leave it at this).

    “I’m aware of the difference and I’m not arguing for an end to criticism. I’m hoping for an end to criticism that gets personal and makes assumptions about a person’s personality based on images or branding.”

    OK, but what does that look like? Let’s not forget that the original Piglet review which inspired all this wasn’t all that harsh and didn’t make any assumptions about Thorisson’s personality (at worst, it was snarky, but that was the tone of the entire review).
    Her book and blog DO contain an abundance of highly-posed glamour shots! And surely there’s no real argument that, intentional or not, the message that readers are going to come away with from her stuff is that her life *is* perfect or at least better than theirs (based on what I see in her comments section, that’s not a bug, but a feature). If Robert’s review is an example of the kind of stuff that’s supposed to be dragging down the discourse, there’s no hope for legitimate criticism whatsoever.

    (It’s also interesting how quickly people look at such critiques and dismiss them as being a product of jealousy or something, essentially turning the personal attack back on the critic instead of examining the argument on its merits.)

    “Your comment about her privilege and authenticity are exactly what I’m talking about. She’s always acknowledged her privileged. I’ve read many, many of her posts, Instagram updates and her book where she talks about how lucky she is. But how many times does she have to say that to please people? And in terms of authenticity, who are we to tell HER what’s authentic for HER? To me all I hear are people demanding she fit THEIR version of authenticity.”

    Well, she could acknowledge the sheer amount of work that must surely go into cultivating her brand (please no breezy humblebrags about how lucky and hashtagBLESSED she is). You don’t get a book deal, thousands of loyal followers and a TV show without a hell of a lot of hustling. But we don’t see any pictures of her dropping the soufflé, yelling at the kids, or looking like crap after a bad night’s sleep because that would be off-brand. Her brand is about making great food while looking amazing and living a wonderful life in gorgeous surroundings with adorable dogs and tow-headed moppets scampering in the sunshine. It’s meant to be an escapist fantasy and, again, based on her success it’s one a lot of people are happy to indulge in (seriously: read the comments on the posts about this “controversy.”) It’s also a façade, an artifice. So in that sense, I suppose it is foolish to expect authenticity from it. But it’s still fair game for criticism and that criticism is not aimed at Mimi Thorisson, Human Being, but Mimi Thorisson, Lifestyle Brand. That’s important distinction.

    All the best!

    • Jer

      I totally respect your opinion here, I think we just don’t see eye to eye. For me, the core is this:

      “It’s also a façade, an artifice. So in that sense, I suppose it is foolish to expect authenticity from it.”

      I don’t believe that what Mimi puts forth is an artifice. Is it styled and are the best photos chosen? Yes. But anyone would do that who is putting their life and work online (whether that’s a home tour, recipe or headshot). So I don’t agree with the idea that living a beautiful life is, inherently, inauthentic.

      I do understand, and hear, the very loud cry from people to see more of the things that DON’T work out from people like Mimi. I personally don’t feel anyone owes anyone a glimpse into the parts of their life they don’t want to share, especially if they’re messy and don’t make someone feel good about themselves (my rule of thumb: if YOU don’t feel good about it, don’t put it online, because people will often will zero in on and criticize all the things YOU also see that aren’t working out). But I understand that seeing more of that- and the behind the scenes aspects- of something would make people who feel left out or put off by the “perfection” feel more connected to that sort of content.

      I just feel like we should ask the same of everyone in the lifestyle sphere if that’s where this is all going. Could we ask Brooks to show us how he did the lighting for his photographs in his cookbook? Could we see the hours he spent dehydrating and smashing and liquifying celery for ice cream? Those sorts of details are messy and laborious, too and I don’t see people demanding that sort of “reality” from everyone.

      Grace

  • Grace – I can’t even imagine the education you’ve received from moderating D*S over the years. It sounds like you’ve tried to find grace for the ugliness instead of spiralling into misery. I’ve been skimming the comments here (it could take all day!) and there’s too much to unpack.

    If I’m real with myself, I become annoyed when I see perfect appearances (my version, of course) but no substance in writing. I seem to completely change my attitude when the person behind the image evokes a bit of humility or honesty. This isn’t exactly fair of me. Sharing personal/vulnerable words isn’t natural or easy for a large chunk of people.

    I appreciated what you said in a comment here – along the lines of: your version of authentic isn’t the ruler for everyone else. That will stick with me.

    • Lydia

      Thanks for your open mind on this. It’s hard to work on treating each other more kindly and I know that it’s not a priority for everyone, I understand that. But as someone who loves the online community and has seen the course of its dialogue change (and with it, the way we treat and interact with each other), I hope at least a portion of the people online will consider that words like “authentic” and “real” are entirely subjective. I wish I could publish (but never would) some of the private emails I’ve received from readers over the years who are offended by homes I think most people commenting here would never dream of calling extravagant or “too perfect”. It’s a constant reminder that everyone is working to get by the best they can and almost everyone’s life looks pretty perfect and great on the outside to someone else.

      Grace

  • At times, there is something inherently selfish about the way we, as readers, approach design blogs. Perhaps it is indicative of the broader culture of narcissism our age of social media is breeding. Why must everything relate to us, personally? Why is it so hard for us to find value in domestic realities that differ from our own? I know it is unlikely that I will ever personally relate to the experience of living in an industrial loft in Soho, a converted barn in Europe, or a yurt in the wilderness, but I deeply appreciate the opportunity that others afford me by offering me a glimpse into these unique worlds so different from my own.

    I think we also need to address the fact that design–and blogging about design–is, by its very nature, a creative and subjective process. Behind every blog post is a real, live photographer or stylist or writer or homeowner making conscious choices about how to present his or her craft. There is immense pride in this pursuit and a desire to push one’s craft to a level that satisfies the maker’s own, often very high standard.

    In most cases, I can’t imagine an architectural photographer putting forth images showing underwear strewn all over the floor or shooting in the crappiest light of the day and thinking, ‘this is good enough.’ Yes, ‘real life’ is important to capture, but I suppose that there are clever ways of doing this that won’t compromise a creative person’s commitment to his/ her work and finding quality, beauty and uniqueness in a space, from which certain extraneous elements (like excessive clutter) may prove to be a huge distraction.

    I think that the style of photography on Mimi’s website resonates with beauty. The ease and naturalness of the images is magical and has the ability to momentarily transport a reader to her ethereal little world. As a photographer and someone who appreciates the medium as both tool and artform, I know this is not easy to do. A real person has worked very hard to create a dreamy world. To share with us. For free. And there is huge merit in this alone. Has reality been embellished? A lot? A little? Who knows. Aren’t most online photos embellished to some extent or another? Like the meticulously-curated personas we create for ourselves on Facebook? It’s hypocritical for us to question authenticity when we continually fabricate our own realities at every turn. At the very least, perhaps we can appreciate the huge amount of thoughtfulness, skill and artistry that went into capturing an array of small, beautiful moments.

    Thank you, Grace, for your dogged, ever-evolving pursuit of quality and beauty–in all its forms.

  • I have thought quite a bit about this topic, starting with a gradual disillusionment with my beloved print shelter magazines. For many years, they inspired me. But then I started to notice all the “loves to entertain”, the “perfect spot for morning coffee in the garden”, the ubiquitous bare feet and San Pellegrino bottles, the designer clothes on polished home owners, and I realized every article was an advertorial. They were selling me a lifestyle that was increasingly out of reach and out of sync with my messy reality. It wasn’t that I couldn’t compete, but that we couldn’t relate to each other anymore.

    I fell in love with blogs because of their immediacy and intimacy. I felt, conspiratorially, that those early, intrepid design bloggers had found a way to outsmart the pesky media middleman, and we could finally concentrate on doing what we all loved. But who doesn’t want to get paid for doing what they love? And again, I found that some bloggers drifted away from their readers in favour of peddling a marketer’s vision of the must-haves we need to achieve that perfect life.

    I don’t think bloggers owe me a picture of their messy bathrooms, or apologies for their success. Nor can we change human nature, and how we perceive ourselves, each other and the greener grass that feels frustratingly out of our reach. But if I make my living selling The Dream from the comfort of my free Montauk sofa, I could expect that others might not be too charitable about my intentions. The negativity might not be justified, but I believe it is understandable.

  • I am 71 yo and I love DS. I very am impressed that all the comments I read on this blog are all so nice and so openly appreciative of design art. Walking back from the gym today -LES I was wondering if I cared about humans actually and then I went shopping for food and wanted everyone I encountered to have the best. Yes the horrid Food 52 link happened but the Design Sponge will rule. I am old enough to know this. Fashion in any form lures snark. As long as you maintain your message we are all safe.
    Much love from Kip

  • Oh Grace, you know that you are uniquely poised to write a dissertation on these important ideas. Why not go get your Phd, you have done all the hard work already?

    I do read comments on blogs, and when they go bad, I often think the commentators are young and just don’t know themselves yet. They are trying so hard to be clever and edgy like your abusive professor. But sometimes the negative comments cue me into some balance issue in the photos that I personally hadn’t noticed. I like to go back then and see what I missed. That to me is fascinating – I look, I think I see, but only when there is a complaint do I really see.

    My third point is that when we only say nice things, it is really hard to read the comments (“I love, love love that couch!!!”). Finally, if we don’t comment unless we have something nice to say, sometimes not much is written at all and that’s got to hurt too.

  • I first read this post not long after it went up, and have been thinking about it ever since. That’s because although I agreed with what you wrote, I found myself conflicted after I read the Food52 review. This is perhaps not my better self speaking, but the review resonated with me. I think Cat’s comment earlier in the discussion helped me hone in on why.

    I think the negative comments capture more than alienated followers. What they represent is extreme anger at the state of our world and country, the huge economic disparity between the have and have nots as a result of wealth transfer to the 1%, and any and all type of injustices perpetuated on innocence on a daily basis. This anguish and despair needs a place to go, and unfortunately it’s not always fairly directed. But I understand it, and try to remember there’s a lot of pain in the world right now driving negativity in all directions.

    First off, I think there’s a difference between the trolling described in the TAL episode and the snark of the Food52 review, which I saw more as poking at unacknowledged privilege. I’ve read the comments here and see you’ve stated that Mimi has acknowledged her privilege in other places, but the fact remains that she didn’t in the passage cited in the review, and I can see how that would rub a lot of people the wrong way. It rubbed me the wrong way, and I say that as someone who understands and empathizes with the fact that a big lifestyle change is hard regardless of how much privilege you have. You asked how many times those who are relatively privileged must qualify their struggles. If you are speaking/writing to a broad audience, I’d say: every time, and I’d argue that he same call for empathy and sensitivity that you are making here is the reason why. I honestly don’t think it’s asking a lot to take a minute to think about and acknowledge how your struggles, however real and hard they are to you, fit within the context of the larger world, especially before lamenting things that are problems most people would feel lucky to have. I think that acknowledgement matters, particularly because so much of what hurts about being marginalized is the invisibility of it. Will such qualifiers appease everyone? Of course not. But I do believe they help more often than they hurt. All of that being said, I do think there are much better ways than snark to point out unacknowledged privilege. Obviously, the reviewers tactic wasn’t particularly productive. But I think I get where it comes from. I’ve been on both sides of the economic divide, and when I was on the upside, I made a conscious decision to approach snark of the ilk Mimi received from a place of understanding and empathy, to take a step back and try to think about whether, underneath the snark, there wasn’t a legitimate point that I could learn from. If there was no legitimate point then I tried to understand that the anger underlying such snark oftentimes comes from a place of pain fostered by unfairness and injustice, and it really was no skin off my nose to try not to take it so personally and move on. Anyways, I’m not being really clear plus I’m rambling so I’ll shut up now. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

  • I remember the day my father told me about the World Wide Web (yes I’m mature, as in “I once owned a Walkman mature”) What it would mean. What it would do. What it would change. The answer to all of these points being – everything. This anonymous landscape that we leave our footprints on thinking the dust will blow away our tracks and therefore our actions aren’t accountable. Crazy.
    This game changing forum that gives people (sad, lonely, frightened, angry, overwhelmed, insecure, frustrated … Notice a theme?) people AND happy, well adjusted, confident, compassionate, patient, enthusiastic people an avenue of expression. Sometimes I think it’s the responses (or the promise of a reaction) that motivates the negative. My mother always said “they have no power if you refuse to acknowledge their existence”
    Grace – your words come from a beautiful, secure, authentic and passionate perspective. Thank you. Not just for articulating what most people (I’d like to believe that the haters are still a minority) feel but for your relentless dedication to sharing and inspiring.
    Cliche and a little glib I know but … Haters gonna hate.
    At least the lovers gonna be having a waaaay better time.
    As they say here Downunder – “Good onya mate!!” X

  • Very well said. I have started to implement the “avoid reading the comments” rule when reading things online. :)

    A friend of mine who is a psychiatrist once told me that people who put others down do so to make themselves feel better. So I try to keep that in mind when encountering negativity and actually feel badly that such folks don’t have better self-esteem.

    Regarding #3 above, you are absolutely correct. I have a wealthy relative with a lovely fancy house that has custom-built everything. It’s not a place where I would choose to live, but I know he’s very happy with it all and so I’m happy for him. He definitely does not think he’s better than others and, in fact, loves his job where he gets to help people from all walks of life every day.

  • Really beautifully written and sage insights. I think this applies to life in general! Thank you for writing this!

  • To one degree or another, all of could work on being more positive simply because no one is perfect and no honest person would choose a negative comment or situation.

  • Well said.
    My life isn’t as picture perfect as I would like it to be, and it could be easy to feel negativity like you mentioned. However, I love following this blog and I love seeing these beautiful spaces because it is a bright spot of beauty and creativity in my day. I am thankful to you (and so many other artists & makers) for sharing.

  • This is timely for me as I just launched my creative blog. I admit the thought of negative comments scares me somewhat. But I’ve worked so hard to be a positive person IRL so I think I’m ready.
    I do usually find a silver lining in all negative situations.
    I agree with you that those comments reflect more on that commenter & their own insecurities.
    Your essay is quite insightful. I think jealousy & envy is just human nature…but it takes a bigger person to overcome those feelings & just say bravo!
    My outlook has always been rock em if you got em! And to each his own.
    I guess if one can grasp that attitude than they wouldn’t feel negative about someone else’s fortune to begin with.
    Congrats on your 10 yr success!

  • I don’t comment on blogs often, but I wanted to say how much I’ve appreciated reading this post and the massive amount of comments on this topic. I read a big handful of design and lifestyle blogs, for three main reasons:
    1) inspiration/creative ideas/connection with beautiful things.
    2) observing the psychological impact that has on myself – do I want those “things” that I see other people have? does my style change from looking at others’ styles? does it lead to feeling like I can’t keep up, like I’m not good enough? (sometimes I answer yes to these questions and find it so interesting – why would I want to keep reading these blogs if it makes me feel bad?? I’ve thought about quitting blogs, but I can’t seem to do it!)
    3) observing the blogging world is an incredible sociological study, and this thread of comments is a great example of that. So fascinating. Thank you to everyone who participated in this discussion.

    Anyway, I had one real comment to make, and it’s regarding the format of the comments, so I hope Grace will still read this comment on Monday! It’s super hard to follow the thread of the comments, and responses to certain comments, with the current format. Some other blogs have the capability of replying directly to an individual commenter, which would help so much here. Because when I read Grace’s comments directed at a specific person’s comment, I had to scroll up and look and look for that original comment. If she had been able to reply directly to that comment, it would have been right underneath that comment and would have been so much easier to follow along. I know you all don’t often have posts that receive such a large amount of comments, but please consider adding this little feature! Thank you, I really appreciate your hard work on this site; it’s the blog I’ve been reading the longest and it’s wonderful!

  • It’s so interesting that you posted about this… I just popped over this evening from the Nester. This morning I posted about very similar things. I even showed “The other side of the room” when shooting some of my spaces haha. It is very interesting to me how judgemental we as a society become, especially when it comes to home decor/fashion in relation to how good/bad of a parent someone must be!
    “Sometimes we can pass judgements without understanding the whole picture. Over the years I have learned that criticism is rooted in insecurity… we may criticize the ones who seem to succeed in the areas we aren’t…
    It’s okay to be different, and to have varied priorities and strengths… thats what creates a unique collective.

    I have experienced insecurity at different times in my life {don’t we all?} In fact it threatens to meet me every time I hit publish, or share a post on social media. I do not think my life is the centre of the universe, I am not a designer, and I am not an authority on how to work through the problems and the pains of life. {phew!} All I can do is share my story.

    I think confidence is something that comes with practice. By challenging our insecurities, we move closer to the person we were created to be. So, somehow, sharing the pretty and the messy is a simple act of me being confident in who I am, and who we are as a family. It definitely doesn’t mean I feel certainty in every step I take as a mom, a home maker or a wife… I am learning as I go.”

    That kind of sums up where I am at with the whole online world of blogs and sharing too much or too little…

    I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts here. They are spot on. I look forward to familiarizing myself more with Design Sponge and checking out more of your future content. Keep on keepin on. It’s refreshing to see positive voices on the interweb ;-)

    Ashlea

  • Long time reader, first time commenter here. In light of your essay, I thought I’d take a moment to comment thank you for all that you do. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for years now and it has really helped inspire and inform. Moreover, it’s such a privilege to get a peek inside peoples’ homes and to learn from them. Thank you for being our guide, Grace!

  • Amazing to talk about this up front! Reading the DS posts for the week is a favorite weekend morning ritual for me. Seeing those spaces inspires me to put time and attention into my apartment. But it’s also only recently that I’ve started to understand that this [tidying, cleaning, decorating, making my home] is a lifelong ritual I’ll perform, and not something that I will “achieve” and then move on from.

    I love the direction you’ve taken DS in over the last year or two, in which you’ve created content that emphasizes that process more. What if you had a recurring sneak peak, where a person was willing to show a small portion of their home, and how it changes and does not change over a period of time, like several months or a year? Not a “before and after,” because it wouldn’t be about accomplishing a project, but just, “here is my kitchen table, and here it is still.” I get that you’d have to package that in a way that it was interesting as a post, but something that shows continuity rather than (perceived) milestone achievement would be a nice addition.

    I’m in my late 20s, and I started reading home design blogs when I graduated from college and faced apartment renting for the first time. I’d personally enjoy seeing more sneak peaks from people first starting the journey. What does a happy and contented space look like if you’re just starting out, especially if you’re not someone who is employed in a creative field?

  • I think you were so right when you said that readers want transparency. I suspect, because I have discovered this in myself, that us “normal” readers have become bombarded over the past ten years with perfection. I have realized that I bought into this idea that everyone else but me has their dream, their perfect home and their perfect life. This idea came from seeing so many blogs where this seemed so. I am longing for more transparency, authenticity, less editing, more real!! Instead of being negative, I choose to unsubscribe. I must edit the input that is shaping my thoughts about how life is, especially when it’s not reality.

  • Grace I just wanted to follow up on something. I read your post on Friday and haven’t left a snarky comment on any blog since then. It’s harder not to snark on fashion blogs because it’s almost expected but I really want to stick to this

    • Shannyn

      Thank you so much for your comment- I’m so glad to hear that this larger conversation we’re all having here would inspire anyone to think a little more before “snarking” online. I think that little brief moment of hesitation is always good- it means a lot to the person on the other end of that comment, too. Major high five to you :)

      G

  • As someone who has worked in (non-design) PR for almost 20 years your post resonates on a number of levels. Most obvious: I always tell my clients not to read the comments. Professionally and personally, I am disheartened by the detachment and anonymity that has overtaken online culture. To your point, there are real people attached to stories, house tours, before/afters that become the targets of horribly hateful comments for no real reason … other than haters gotta hate. Just tonight I read a before/after on AT where commenters were critical of a bathroom remodel. Really? Since when did people start getting so worked up over how someone *they don’t know* decided to remodel a bathroom in a style that suits the person who has to actually live with the bathroom? Since the Internet, that’s when.

    Ironically, one of the comments above made the astute observation that online blogger sites (and Instagram and Pinterest and Facebook, etc) are now clogged with commercial cross-over, which, admittedly, is largely due to the planning and support of PR operations. I see it from both sides and I get it. It’s not always subtle. But when done right – truly authentic, truly transparent – then really, it just is what it is. I see the same exact Moroccan rug and lettered print and mid-century modern chair popping up in online and magazine spreads as everyone else. Some of that is great placement, some of it is luck, some of it is current trend. And some of it is just what someone chose for their home – based on whatever they based the decision on – plain and simple. In design as in life, we are all presented with no shortage of information and influences, and ultimately we’re left to our own devices to process and apply the information to our lives.

    The final thing that I take away from your essay is that there is a really wonderful person at the helm of this blog. I have always found DS to be diverse and thoughtful and to me this post is a lovely summation of what you truly represent. So, thank you.

  • As a designer and an artist I put my work out there all the time in the real world and it gets rudely and unfairly criticized, often to my face. It also gets praise and compliments. If I couldn’t handle the feedback, I wouldn’t put myself out there at all. I have to have a tough skin.

    I think when someone is posting a project or design, they are recommending the design to others, so pointing out some of the possible negative aspects is actually helpful. Of course it’s always nice to do it in a constructive, thoughtful and kind way. It is unfortunate when people get worked up with hate about another person’s work, however, I tend to read those comments as a reflection on the commenter. I think when bloggers put themselves out there they get feedback and some of it is negative or unfair, but there you go. It’s the internet.

  • What a great post! You have certainly hit the nail on the head, on so many counts. In the end, it all comes down to respect and tolerance, and yes, to reining in that tendency that lots of people have to knock somebody down just to make themselves feel better. It comes down to being able to take it all in without feeling the right or the compulsion to judge. We are all different, have different lives, make different decisions, and thank goodness for that! So we can continue to exchange ideas and inspire each other!

    I recently found a graphic on Pinterest that said “More kindness, less judgment” – that seems kind of apt right now :-)

  • In all my years of following blogs, this post is the first one that has compelled me to actually leave a comment. Maybe because I just started a blog of my own it really speaks to me. This thought-provoking post and the comments that ensued are forcing me to articulate for myself my motivations and to be more self-reflexive about the process – so thank you for that, Grace & DS Team! I can’t speak for everyone, but I do personally agree with your comment to Longtime Sponge, “I do not think most design bloggers are helping people decorate their homes because they want people to feel bad about themselves. What is the actual point of that? Why would I, or anyone else, set up a business where we purposefully made people feel awful?”

    I’m not writing as a design blogger, but I am writing a parenting/lifestyle blog (speaking of incendiary topics! I know – I’m just asking for it!!! Ugh.), but what motivates me personally is to create an online community that is unified by issues of parenting, life/work balance, and the love of great design + art, but one where we can swap tips, advice, and different perspectives. I’m hoping that in this day where, as you pointed out, “[c]omments are being replaced by shares, likes and pins” – oh, you know, maybe every once in a while in a blue moon – there’ll be a commenter who feels like I’ve provided a safe and constructive space where they can offer their story or different take on a particular issue so that I can learn from their experiences too. Because I know I’m providing just ONE way of going about things based on my own personal struggles and lessons learned.

    Another commenter here quoted the following from Pamela Druckerman’s NY Times piece: “More about you is universal than not universal. My unscientific assessment is that we are 95 percent cohort, 5 percent unique. Knowing this is a bit of a disappointment, and a bit of a relief.” But I don’t know, I kind of think of this not as a source of disappointment but of untapped creative potential…maybe what makes us unique is precisely how we cohere as a cohort and construct something “authentic” out of things that are shared. Just using the realm of design as an example (since this is what we’re all here about!): whether you decide to recycle furniture styles from the past (like midcentury, Victorian, Gustavian) or buy things that are (dare I say it?) “trendy” and “commercialized” in the present, by the very fact that you’ve appropriated it for the context of your own home and the particularities of how you’ve decided to arrange it, use it – isn’t there the potential for something truly creative, unique, and individual about that? There’s a way in which the commonplace and the categorical can be the source of something truly inventive and personal precisely because it can engage us in a larger conversation or dialogue with people from the past or with each other in the present. You can’t be original in a void. You’re original because you resonate.

  • Grace,

    Your name really suits you. This essay is so eloquent and thoughtful and much needed.

    Thank you.

  • Thank you so much! I feel like you hit the nail on the head. I actually feel a little less weight on my shoulders from how you wrote this. It gives me peace to peer behind the comments and want to give myself more grace and give angry commentators more grace as well.

  • I loved reading this, Grace. I’ve noticed the escalation of negativity online and it’s sadly become the new norm. I’ve had disjointed thoughts on this topic and your post eloquently framed some of those thoughts. I’ve enjoyed reading the thoughtful comments on this post, too, and I’m so happy you were able to meet that professor face-to-face. That must have been an awful experience. It’s hard to comprehend why some people don’t understand that there’s a human being behind this blog and all blogs.

  • Grace, This is so spot on. Thank you for writing such an eloquent piece on such a difficult subject. I have stopped reading other blogs that don’t have comment moderation because I can’t stand so much of the negativity. I love looking at the way other people live; that is what inspiration is, isn’t it? Of course people clean up before taking photos of their houses. I don’t want to look at my own empty pizza box let alone anyone else’s.
    Anyway. Thanks so much for this!

  • Thank you so much for writing such a thoughtful, honest and positive essay. My favorite part was:

    “Every blog, Pinterest page and Instagram feed is operated (for the most part) by a single person who is excited to have that one place to share ideas and projects they think are inspiring or that they created themselves and are proud of.”

    And you’re right!

    It’s so hard for me to imagine that there are people out there who really have the time and energy to create content for the purpose of making others feel bad. It just doesn’t make sense.

    This was such a great read and I hope we can all take a step back before making assumptions–both on the internet and in everyday life!

  • Yes, we all have to be nicer to everyone. What is the fun of insulting and criticizing someone overly, just shows people are jealous or well stupid. We must say good things, share good things, ideas etc that inspire and interest others which makes life more beautiful in a way not bombard and say something negative and stupid. Anyway…very well expressed and thought out write up, we definitely must think before we comment and in real life think before we say something too and we are all good people who want to be happy and keep each other happy, lets be at it, instead of offending others unnecessarily.

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