Sunday, April 24, 2016

Going Viral: Lessons Learned

I feel scummy saying I went viral: to me, "viral" is a term best used to describe funny videos of kittens or Buzzfeed articles that everyone is sharing on their timeline. But I guess when Ashton Kutcher shares an opinion post you wrote with his 17 million Facebook followers, viral is the most appropriate word to use.

While my latest post, "I Dressed Like a 'Style Icon' to Prove a Point About Fashion," generated so much more buzz than I could've ever perceived, I definitely knew I was onto something when I got the idea. I had a feeling the post would be marginally more popular than those I had written previously, but there's no way I could've imagined the scope of the response. Because I mean, who can predict that type of thing? Who has a feeling something like that is about to happen? I thought the fact that my post got 1,000 views in its first 24 hours post-publication was my blog's peak, so you can imagine my surprise when I was contacted by A Plus to syndicate the post, only to have it's co-founder (that's Ashton Kutcher, if you're keeping up) share it to his Facebook feed. Needless to say, in the course of the last week I've learned quite a lot and I want to share it with you.

Lesson One: There's Room for My Voice
As a journalism student, 98% of the classroom dialogue surrounds the morning news or the front page of the New York Times. My professors are quick to assume that every student wants to be a broadcaster or a hard news reporter--I don't, and for a while I was feeling really stupid and lesser because of it. While my classmates were practically salivating over the idea of getting a byline on the front page above the fold or reading today's top stories live on the air, I was thinking up ideas for blog posts or opinion pieces in which I could share my feminist thoughts. I can write a good lede or a kitschy hed (that's reporter talk for "lead" or "headline"), but that's not really what I want to do. And turns out, that's okay. People have time for opinions and are ready to engage with my lifestyle pieces, even though it's not necessarily breaking news.

Lesson Two: Ideas are Currency
As a writer, the most important lesson I learned in regards to my craft is to pay attention to my ideas, because they truly are my best asset going forward in my career. I could've easily thought to myself "is 'fashionable' just another word for 'thin'?" and continued on with my day without pausing to flesh out the article in question, but choosing to dig deeper is what truly changed the game. Much like an athlete needs to weight train or a chemist needs to conduct experiments, I need to pay attention to my thoughts and observations as they relate to the pieces I'm writing. Some of my friends who are also writers have asked me for advice in the wake of this piece garnering so much attention, and I guess that's my one piece of advice: treat your ideas like currency. Your ideas have value and they will pay off if you cash them in.

Lesson Three: We love BUZZWORDS!
I'm not going to delve in deep and address every hate comment I've received in the past week: one, because I think that's reductive,  and two, because there's a lot of them and I don't have the time to wade through them all. But just know I have read a few, and they seem to boil down to a few key points: people are mad that I can't afford to dress like a Kardashian, people think my legs look JUST FINE (thanks, I guess), and people think I'm skinny shaming. Look, as a feminist I love that we're thinking critically about the things we read, but we gotta stop assuming every critique that's ever raised in rooted in internalized misogyny. I have thick skin, so it doesn't really faze me when people say I need to "lay off the bagels, fatty" or that I don't understand the intricacies of fashion, but to claim I don't respect my fellow woman is where I draw the line. Before we throw around buzzwords like feminism or skinny shaming, let's understand what they mean. And I promise, I really don't mean that to be patronizing, and I apologize if that's how it comes across. But really: feminism is much more than "women supporting other women." That is a huge facet, yes, but my brand of socially aware, intersectional feminism looks more like this: championing equality for people of all genders, sexes, races, socioeconomic status, and SIZE. Me stating the obvious--that thin, pretty women are granted privileges that other women aren't--isn't me shaming thin, pretty women. If anything, it's me shaming the society that champions them over everyone else.  Because the truth is: all women are great! The thin and pretty ones, too! I'm just raising the point that women who aren't modelesque don't get the privilege of being called fashionable when wearing simple outfits. Not thin shaming the Kendalls, Gigis, and Alexas of the world: seriously, check out my Tumblr or Instagram feed, I fangirl over those three women on the reg. I thought that point was pretty clearly articulated, but never underestimate the Internet's ability to throw around the latest buzzwords, even when they don't really apply. (But seriously, the silver lining here is I do love this new trend of being critical of media; as a media student, I think that's really important and a sign that media is enduring and effective.)

Lesson Four: Fakers Gonna Fake, Fake, Fake, Fake, Fake
I know how this is going to sound; there's no way to say this without coming across like an asshole, so I just have to say it and accept the douchy tone: everyone who knows me knows about the article. AHH, I KNOW, RIGHT?! Such a douche. But really: whether people found the article via social media or word of mouth, my network of friends, family and acquaintances were all at least aware of the article's success. I had people from high school messaging me about it, kids in class I rarely talked to were bringing it up, my boss at work shared the article on Facebook. So that said, it became very apparent to me that some people in my life were actively choosing not to acknowledge the post or were choosing only to focus on the negative aspects. There are people in my life who I interact with regularly who have only chosen to mention the article in order to mention how many hate comments its attracted, without even alluding to the article's impact or scope. That bums me out a little. It's a very telling learning lesson to see which people in my life have actively chosen not to be supportive during this celebratory time in my young adult career and has also modeled for me how not to behave next time one of my loved ones experiences professional success. Again, there's no way for that to not sound patronizing, which I guess is just a drawback of the written word.

Lesson Five: There's so many reasons to smile.
Ending on a positive note that strays far away from negative comments, this experience has shown me how many amazing supportive people I have in my life. I've been feeling warm and fuzzy all week not because an article I wrote got a lot of views, but because my loved ones are just so stinkin' wonderful. More people told me they were proud of me and excited for me than I can count, and that's not something I take for granted. I hope every single one of you has a network of people who will be genuinely excited for you when something goes your way, because it's the best feeling. Trust me, I've had friends in the past who will only celebrate one of my achievements so they can top it with two of theirs, and to be rid of that negative energy is a god damn blessing. This week of my life has proven to me that your loved ones will poke their heads out from all over the place to give you a thumbs-up. Thank you specifically to my marketing fam, my cousins, my grandparents, my teachers, my mentors, and my friends. You're all so special to me and have more love for you than Ashton Kutcher has followers on Facebook.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

I Dressed Like a "Style Icon" to Prove a Point About Fashion

Line up all of today's top style icons and you might notice a trend: these models, actresses, socialites and tastemakers more or less fit the same mold. Come to think of it, I can't think of a single female celebrity revered for her style who isn't teeny-tiny with the face of an angel. But y'know what's weird? In looking at photos of these women, I can't help but notice their styles are pretty average: lots of T-shirts, leggings, white sneakers, and loose fabrics. This got me thinking, in our society, is "fashionable" just another word for "thin"?

To test this theory, I pulled photos from three renowned style icons and dressed myself in pretty much identical outfits. 

The rules
1) The photos I chose had to come from articles specifically praising each woman's style. 

2) The outfits had to be reminiscent of clothing pieces I already owned; no items were purchased for the purpose of this blog post.

3) Each photo I took had to be posed pretty identically to the woman in the original image.

But before we begin...
Let's acknowledge a few key points. For starters, I'm not at all bashing the women whose styles I'm emulating in these photos; if anything, I'm just shedding light on our society's reaction to these women. Furthermore, many style icons--including the three below--aren't strangers to couture or trendsetting fashion, but let's admit they also get praised for ensembles that are nothing special. And finally, I'd like to point out that the ability to dress how you please is a huge privilege, especially as a woman. There are many women around the world living in oppressed environments in which fashion is not an option, regardless of one's size.

1) Gigi Hadid

What struck me about this outfit is when putting together the pieces, I found myself reaching for clothes I would wear to my retail job, where there is an all-black dress code. This outfit was certainly comfortable, (minus the exposed midriff, which is something I pretty much never do, ESPECIALLY after enjoying a Dunkin Donuts iced coffee and bagel-combo, yikes) but also felt like something I'd throw together if I was in a rush and didn't have time to worry about matching. However, when Gigi wears it, PopSugar calls it "her signature cool." 

2) Alexa Chung

Man oh man, do I hate wearing shorts. As any pear-shaped girl knows, exposing your thighs can be the actual struggle, especially compared to Alexa's toned legs. Once I got over that initially insecurity though, I--yet again--felt pretty average. I was just wearing denim shorts and my old Goodwill striped shirt; I would probably toss this on if I was making a quick Target trip or was going to hang out with my friends. I found this funny when I found out that Alexa's photo came from an article all about styling shorts for summer, as though putting shorts and a shirt on your body is a new concept.

3) Kendall Jenner

I'll admit, I would wear Gigi's and Alexa's outfits on a casual day. I wouldn't call the looks trendy or stylish--though as we've found out, many fashion blogs would--but I'd at least throw them on to run some errands. However, Kendall's outfit is an all-around NO. I knew at soon as I pulled on the denim-on-demin travesty it wouldn't end well, and when adding in the baseball cap, I loudly exclaimed, "I LOOK LIKE A PAINTER." Turns out models aren't only praised for wearing boring outfits, they're praised for wearing ugly outfits, too.

In conclusion...
Taking photos in identical poses, I noticed that when placed side-by-side, I didn't find my ensembles to be spectacular by any means, certainly not what a normal person might call fashion-forward. Why? Maybe because I'm not 5'10''and 120 pounds. Furthermore, had I enlisted the help of a plus-sized woman to model these looks, the difference would be even more stark. Turns out in order to be considered breezy and effortless, you also have to belong to the thinnest 5% of the population. It's quite a shame, really; I wish I was considered a style icon when I went to class in leggings and a tank top.

Thank you so, so much to my friend and co-worker, Laura King! She's a marketing, design and photography genius, but I can only hype her up so much: check out her personal website to see her in action!