A few days ago, the releasing of the Blogger’s Blog Awards shortlist and this post by my favourite blogger ‘Grace F Victory‘ opened up a twitter-wide discussion about the lack of diversity in the blogging industry. It’s a discussion that’s long overdue to say the least (though some have been blogging about this for years, unfortunately expressing a lack of change in that time) and it’s great to see people getting their thoughts out there, and to see brands’ content standards being challenged. However, I don’t want diversity to just be a hot topic that we’re discussing this week. I want it to be a discussion with everlasting contribution from as many voices as possible, so that we can continue to cover all areas of the matter, ensuring no one is left behind and that this time, changes are actually put in place. After all, we can’t encourage diversity if only a few voices are murmuring. Following the talk of diversity on Twitter, I got a bit upset about my own lack of representation in blogging (which is just the crufts of it. If I’m a white girl feeling out of place in the blogging world, imagine how so many countless others are feeling) and after reading so many other people’s thoughts, became so much more annoyed that so many people experience a damaging lack of representation in the blogosphere. It’s disappointing when you think the media industry has progressed a lot representation-wise, only to realise that plus size people, black people, disabled people, and others from diverse backgrounds and communities, are still suffering because they don’t see people who look like them in the content they consume. So, of course, I took to Twitter (where else?)
This discussion is well overdue. I can only think of one WOC blogger who receives regular, deserved recognition from brands.
— Beth Ashley 📚🎙️ (@bethmayashley) August 3, 2017
I want to see more working class girls killing it in the blogging industry, one's who don't have perfect equipment the second they start
— Beth Ashley 📚🎙️ (@bethmayashley) August 3, 2017
I ended up tweeting a big old, long thread about how I felt about the representation of working class people in blogging and about how it feels like you need to be middle class to thrive in the blogging industry a lot of the time. Then, I went onto express my annoyance (and I’m definitely not the only one) at the lack of WOCs, those with disabilities. those from the LGBT community and other diverse backgrounds in blogging campaigns. I can’t post the whole thread on this post, but SO many people replied and offered me different perspectives, which I was incredibly grateful for and it opened my eyes to a lot of issues I’d previously been unaware of. I’ve now taken my annoyance (it hasn’t even slightly faded, I’ve had a headache for days) to my blog, as I’m not 100% happy with my articulation on Twitter, and I feel like there’s so much more to this discussion that needs to be considered. And there’s only so much you can do with 140 characters, so here we are. Let’s dive in to the issue, and see what we can do together to help.
Everyone Looks the God Damn Same
The reason The Bloggger’s Blog Awards had triggered this discussion is because pretty much 90% of the nominated bloggers were white (ref: Grace Victory). If you’re someone from a somewhat privelaged standpoint like myself, I suppose it might be difficult for you to notice something like that when checking through an award nomination list. But the point of privelaged people being allies to minorities and diversifying the content we produce and consume is being able to see it from their point of view. Imagine how it feels to be a woman of colour reading through that list. Imagine how it feels for someone less abled to never see people like themselves represented in the media. I want to point out that Hayley, who organises the awards, is not at fault here. She simply organises and curates information that the public create by voting. It’s internalised racism embedded in the public that causes them to overlook women of colour when they nominate their favourite bloggers. Unfortunately, when most people are asked what a blogger looks like, our minds will generally go to middle class, white, slim-built women like Zoe Sugg of ‘Zoella’ or Victoria from ‘inthefrow’. Both are fantastic bloggers, and you definitely shouldn’t stop supporting them if you enjoy there content, but Victoria and Zoe are not the only image of the blogger. That’s the problem at hand.
And what’s the main reason we have this stereotype of how ‘the blogger’ should look unwantingly embedded in our brains?
It’s the brands that bloggers work with.
Now, blogging has changed the way producing and consuming works, simply by blurring the lines between the two. We’re both shoppers and sellers, writers and readers, consumers and producers. And bloggers want to be both represented by the shops they buy from, but now even more so because bloggers want to work with those brands too. This blurring of producer and consumer makes diversity within brands’ content even more important. Because people are now not just lacking representation in what they consume. Minority bloggers work fucking hard, and a lot of them are earning money from their blogs (or hoping to) and this means people of minority backgrounds are basically being under-represented in their work place, too.
Brands, though their media platforms, editorial work and blogger campaigns, have crafted a formula of what the blogger should look like, and set a criteria for bloggers to adhere to. It’s the image of the white middle class woman. Whether brands have done this on purpose or not is unclear, but it doesn’t even matter. It’s happened. They’ve created the image of the perfect blogger, and that leaves anyone who doesn’t have the same background feeling like there’s something wrong, and missing out on opportunties when they’re equally as hardworking.
This blogger ideal that they have shaped leaves anyone outside of that box having to work twice as hard for half the rewards.
But it’s not enough to just tell you that brands are doing this. Let me show you.
Below are the Instagram feeds of two high street fashion stores that I know work with bloggers all the time. Their themes are pretty much made up of repost’s from blogger’s who are featuring their products, or they are models. Have a look through the below screenshots from River Island and Topshop’s Instagram feeds, two brands I know work with fashion bloggers pretty much every time they have a new collection. (Fair warning, it’s a little disheartening)
Topshop’s Instagram Feed
River Island’s Instagram Feed
I know this is only a couple of sections from two high street shop’s Instagram’s, but you can trust me that the same kind of content is mirrored throughout almost all high street fashion stores’ social media campaigns. I scrolled through Topshop’s feed for about ten minutes, and clicked onto the profiles of bloggers mentioned in captions, but couldn’t see any plus size women, WOCs, any disabled bloggers or bloggers of the LGBT+ community. I pretty much only saw white, slim built cis/het men and women.
(although two brands I’d like to give a little shout out to who’ve been stepping up their game with diversity recently are ASOS & H&M. Still a long way to go but they’re obviously trying and it’s important to appreciate that.)
It’s so unbelievably disappointing to see brands in this day and age with feeds that are so white, slim and middle class. When you’re looking for the evidence to show lack of diversity, it’s unbelievably easy to find. Brands who work with bloggers like the brands shown above appear to have 90% white social media/blogging campaigns, completely looking over the thousands of diverse, talented influencers across the blogosphere. And PR companies don’t even make a secret of obviously favouring white bloggers, and feeding opportunity after opportunity to white, middle class, and mainly slim-built girls. For example, take a look at Gleam Futures’ (the biggest PR company for bloggers connecting with brands) client list.
And if that’s not enough, here’s Zoella’s vlog of the Gleam Futures Summer party for all the clients to attend.
Does this not look like one giant white party?
If the PR companies themselves won’t even take on non-white clients, how can we get more brands to work with minorities on blogging campaigns? It’s a vicious, excluding game that is contributed to by many different factors. We need all parties involved in shaping the white-washed representation of the blogger to acknowledge the problem and make a concious effort to try harder. That’s the brands, the PR companies, and the bloggers. Whether you want to admit it or not, and whether it’s on purpose or not, if you’re part of the blosophere you’re part of the problem. But you can also be part of the solution. I know which one I’d rather be.
Diversity & Elitism
Following the twitter thread I’d vented out, Inemesit Etokudo, a fellow blogger who regularly writes content about inclusion and calls out exclusive pointed out some important things to discuss that I’d missed. She had this to add: “The issue isn’t the number of POC/diverse bloggers, it’s the roadblocks currently hindering them. Once the blogging community stops externalizing the issue & look within for the solution, diverse bloggers will feel empowered to participate. There is also an elitism issue that is being seriously sidestepped in this discussion. Diversity attracts diversity, so to only have a handful of diverse people as the face of diversity in the blogging community alienates anyone from joining/speaking up.”
In the midst of my frantic tweeting, I’d looked over this element of the diversity issue. It’s completely true and massively problematic that there’s an inappropriate eletism when it comes to introducing diversity in the blogging industry, and we’ve seen it happen in other industries too. This ideal is extremely unhealthy because everyone’s experience, particularly with misrepresentation and oppression, is different. People experience injustice differently and every single person’s story is worth hearing if we’re going to work on this lack of diversity. To have one person speaking for all disabled people, one person speaking for all women of colour is negative generalisation and it’s just another way of pushing people into a box that’ll be difficult to climb out of.
The blogosphere is supposed to be a space for sharing, and for flexing our creative muscles. You shouldn’t feel like you need to look a certain way, just to be creative. And you definitely shouldn’t feel like you can’t speak up about your rights as a minority blogger, because (as an example) you’re a black woman who wants to talk about WOC rights, and there’s already someone in the blogging industry speaking about it and gaining a lot of publicity around their thoughts. That’s not how diversity works. Everyone’s voice is important, including yours.
This might seem like a blog post full of moaning, but I think this post is genuinely full of important things that everyone in the blogging industry ought to have a think about. But there’s no use in me trying to raise awareness without offering some solutions… Let’s get onto those.
How can we fix this?
I have a few ideas on how we can fix the lack of diversity in the blogging industry and help craft a better, more diverse representation of who bloggers are.
- Call out brands/PR companies who portray this ‘blogger ideal’ of the middle class, slim white woman
- Call out bloggers who don’t support other minority bloggers
- Support bloggers from diverse backgrounds (and don’t you dare go and follow one black girl and call your content diverse. That’s tokenism. INVEST in what ALL bloggers have to offer you. Just open up your horizons and stop overlooking the minority bloggers.
- Starting checking your privelage, and acknowledge it.
- Use your privelage to uplift others, but don’t speak over them.
To round of this post, here are some goals I’d personally like to set for all of us in the blogging industry.
I want to see more working class girls getting recognisition for killing it in the blogging industry, one’s who don’t have perfect equipment the second they start.
I want to see more POCs getting recognition for the amazing work that they’ve been doing for years, but wrongfully go un-noticed.
I want to see disabled people getting the proper representation they deserve within fashion brands, blogging campaigns and the media industry in general.
I want to see more hardworking LGBTQA+ bloggers being granted the same blogging opportunities as cis/het bloggers.
I want newbie bloggers to arrive into the blogosphere and see a diverse, safe space to create no matter their background.
I want minorities in general to not have to work twice as hard for a fraction of the rewards privelaged bloggers receive.
I want to see bloggers with privelage uplifting minority bloggers, but not speaking over them.
You can also take a look at Nicole Woodward’s (from A Beautiful Chaos) platforms to learn about a project for diversity she is planning.
As I said earlier, I’d like this to be an everlasting conversation that’s constantly being contributed to with as many voices as possible. Yours matters too, so please leave your thoughts on diversity in the blogging industry in the comments below.