Negativity Online: An Essay Inspired By 200,000 Comments

by Grace Bonney

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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  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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…”


  • 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”.

  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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?”

    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.


  • 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.


  • 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.”


  • 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.

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