On blogging, identity and idealization

by DaniGirl on November 4, 2011 · 10 comments

in Meta-blogging

Here’s an interesting theme that has come up more than once in recent conversations and I thought it would make a good question for the bloggy peeps. I was taking pictures of a family recently, and the client mentioned a particular photo of the boys that she’d admired. She then said something about how the boys always seem so well-behaved and willing to pose for my camera, and how did I get them to do that?

I laughed. I might have snorted. It was hard not to guffaw. I was thinking about that particular photo, and the day we took it, and how just a few minutes before I snapped it, I’d been harranguing them, nearly growling with frustration. “Honest to goodness, I ask so little of you, could you not for JUST ONE MINUTE behave yourselves and STOP TORTURING EACH OTHER?” By the end, I was definitely using my shrieky voice, the one you try not to use on the front lawn. Yeah.

Would you have guessed it?

187:365 Fun in the grass

And then there’s this one. See that expression on Tristan’s face? I think I threatened him with a time out until he was forty if he didn’t smarten up and get that look off his face. (The great irony is that even though I was ready to blow a gasket with frustration at the time, I’ve come to love this picture and it’s now one of my favourites. But I was on the dark road between exasperated and furious at the time.)

551:1000 Christmas card outtake

So the snapshot is a carefully constructed illusion, really. It shows what I want you to see, not the reality of the situation. Which ties really nicely into a conversation I had via e-mail with someone who has been lurking on my blog (and a few others, from the sounds of it) for quite some time. She was wondering about the way bloggers filter our lives for online consumption, and whether by not addressing or glossing over the ugly bits (I love how she called it “the yelling and tantrums and defiance and moments of sheer bad parenting”) we bloggers might be painting an idealized version of family life — one that is not only unattainable but also unrealistic. She was careful to say that she liked how I do address those frustrations and bad times, and other bloggers do, too, but that many do not. In fact, she said, she’d almost stopped reading some blogs because of this. She said that of course bloggers have no responsibility for the mental health of our readers, but wondered if I’d ever had the sense that some people might idealize our lives.

Again with the snorts of laughter. Idealizing THIS? Ha! It’s especially snort-worthy since I feel like I’ve been in a bit of a bad place as far as my own patience levels are concerned lately. But it’s such an interesting question, don’t you think? I have noticed that some bloggers do only blog about the good stuff, and there’s a whole lot of blogs I avoided especially a couple of years ago when blogging about what an awful parent you are was chic.

This ties in really well with a theme I’ve been considering recently, which is the idea of the identity we portray online and how accurately that matches the person we are. I think that over the years I’ve actually become more like the character version of me I created online: more confident, more outgoing, and generally a better version of me. Is that weird? I wonder how much of that is just maturity, and a direction I would have gone anyway, and how much of that is a kind of “fake it ’til you make it” sort of development, where I’ve actually convinced myself that I am less of a geeky dork than I really am.

I also find this an interesting topic because I’m still struggling to find a comfortable place in my blogging between disclosure and protection. As the boys get older, I’m finding their stories are less mine to tell, and while I’d absolutely LOVE to tell you the story of the conversation I had about reproduction recently (it ended with one boy exclaiming “AWKWARD!” in a singsong voice when he got an inkling of what the actual mechanics were, and gosh I’d love to tell you more!) but– I’m not sure I can tell those stories with same blissfully ignorant abandon I used to, back in the day.

Anyway, there are half a dozen themes in here I would have liked to explore a bit more, but I want to know what you guys think. Do you think there is balance in the parenting blogosphere? Do bloggers paint a realistic portrait of family life, or do they idealize it? Should we be cognizant of how the stories we tell might be perceived and internalized? Have you ever been self-conscious about how you portray your family — or yourself? How closely does your online persona reflect who you are offline?


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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Karen November 4, 2011 at 9:20 am

Though he’s only 3, I find myself hesitant to share some of the challenges we experience with Brandon – not that I don’t want my readers to see those things, because I do feel I have a comfy corner of the Web with people I trust. But, like you, I worry about Brandon’s feelings when he’s older. I think a little healthy embarrassment is okay, but some things where the outcome is unsure I don’t want to share because I don’t want him to feel that he’s had parts of his life exposed to the world wihout any say in the matter.

Despite this concern, I did recently write about the issues we’re having, but I did it in vague terms. I didn’t share the intimate details of the situation since – as I mentioned – we just don’t know how it’s going to turn out. I needed the release of putting it out there. By talking about it the way I did, I’ve sparked “offline” conversations about it that have made me feel supported and not alone. All of this without sharing anything that might later make Brandon uncomfortable – I hope.

I don’t want people to think our life is picture perfect. It isn’t. But I get uncomfortable reading intimate details of others’ lives, so I doubt I’d ever be a let-it-all-hang-out kinda blogger.

2 Jody November 4, 2011 at 10:46 am

I’m not comfortable talking about bloggers, especially parenting bloggers, in any kind of aggregate at all. The biggest-name bloggers (insert your big name of choice) have, from my vantage point, inhabited one part of the reality-show entertainment world for a good solid couple of years now, way before some of them actually started getting their own reality shows. So to talk about the blogger identity that that subset creates, and inhabits, takes me in totally different directions from the mid-level bloggers, and then I think about the bloggers writing for family, whose blogs gain wider audiences through the serendipities of links or comments or those random winds that blow people our way … and it becomes impossible for me to articulate my thoughts.

When I first started blogging, I understood my blog (and my self) within a particular frame, a particular community, and there was a base level of honesty but also a base level of performance. I was myself, but in the same way that I’m myself at a PTA meeting. Or (at that time) a La Leche meeting. Or on an infertility forum. Of course there’s a level of self-framing. I mean, I think that’s true even in private diaries: what do I want to re-live through the act of writing? What am I prepared to admit to myself, let alone others?

All of which is a rambling way of introducing my thoughts, which boil down to, of course we present idealized pictures of ourselves. Even our ugly stories are stories. The act of framing events and feelings as stories, the act of telling even ourselves what happens, alters the “truth.” To assign meaning is to idealize. And once a blog writer realizes that her audience has gone beyond what she can easily envision, I think the pressure to assign meaning in particular directions (whether that be the frame of sacrastic/irony-laden delight or fury-tinged impatience or whatever direction your self-identified niche travels) gets even bigger. It’s an inescapable part of the process.

Then add kids getting older and wanting privacy, such that even “innocuous” stories get harder to tell, and the distance between “what really happens” and “how I present what really happens” grows that much more.

The photo issue fascinates me, too. I’ve spent a lot of time this fall revisiting all of our Scotland photos, and I’m realizing that the photos will be some of the most powerful frames we have for telling the story of that experience. And a lot of those smiling photos? TOTAL LIES. So what’s “the truth”? The vivid memory I have of snarling at people in Pompeii to face the camera and give me one measly smile, or the photo that came out of that moment? The photo has more power. It’s sort of wild.

3 DaniGirl November 4, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Karen, I sometimes wish I’d shown that kind of thoughtful restraint when the big boys were 3. It wasn’t until recently that I started really think of the implications for them. Then again, oversharing is a natural tendency for me. 😉

Jody, I hate it when I serve up a mess of ideas and you riff on it and say what it was that I was trying to get out in the first place. Or maybe I love it when you do that! :) The reality TV is a good parallel, too. I was actually thinking of the way sitcoms portray family life when I was writing this, but that and a few other tangents got edited out.

I also find it fascinating how powerfully photographs shape our memories. I think that one needs a whole ‘nother post!

4 Tamara November 4, 2011 at 4:02 pm

I look for authenticity. I don’t read a huge number of blogs but I tend to enjoy the ones that put their hearts out there but are also conscience of the other players in their lives. I am starting to open my blog and heart up myself, but you bet that I am very aware of what I might reveal about others by revealing myself. So, it might not seem so open in the end. C’est la vie. I enjoy writing, I enjoy sharing and the community intrgiues me. It’s not an option not to join in, even if it’s not as no-holds-bar as a private journal. My aim is not to remember every painful moment in excruitating detail, but I do want to wade into the murkier waters in my blog posts.

I had a Social Science prof in university that struck me as downright inappropriate as she told tales of her son who went to the same university. From my experiences, no one in the online world has crossed this line yet.

ps. I’m having a rambly day, I hope some of those thoughts made sense :)

5 Gus&Otto November 4, 2011 at 6:58 pm

I remember reading this one blogger who seemed to share every aspect of her life so intimately. She really focused on capturing the mundane day-to-day and so you felt like you really knew her.

One day she posted a picture from her new house. She had moved…across the country…with seven kids…and didn’t share this with her readers until it was complete. This move took a lot of planning and coordination and had obviously taken time to happen. But no one was ever the wiser. And a lot of her readers were really angry that she kept something so big from them.

You only share a portion of yourself, or smidges of yourself, on your blog. Gifted writers who talk about everyday living make you feel like you really know them and perhaps, gulp, you are a “friend.”

I know you’re struggling with the boundary between protection and disclosure. Already I think you have some topics that are off limit on your blog.

I think parenting blogs as a collective community create a somewhat accurate picture of family life. However, there’s only so many words, pictures, time and willingness to share so you never ever really know someone. And that’s if they’re being honest about the life they inhabit.

6 Lara November 5, 2011 at 9:17 am

What an interesting question. I’m going ramble out some point form answers :)

– there are choices that come with being a blogger who doesn’t choose anonymity. Bloggers like you and I eh have our phoTos and names, as well as those of our kids as part of our public personas mean, in my opinion, extra caution with regards to the personal stories we tell is needed. There have been issues that I haven’t felt blogging about was appropriate with regards to my five year old, or even tweeting abut, but I will talk a out them in closed online communities, so that’s one place someone looking for real community support can go.

– I mostly want pictures of the happy moments in my photo album and I mostly want to capture the funny and happy moments on my blog. That’s not to say I won’t occasionally talk about the real and hard moments but my blog isn’t about that and ultimately my blog is for me and I am happy when others enjoy it.

– I think I’m a pretty accurate depiction of me on my blog, but I totally get what you mean about being more confident. Probably what helps is that you have the support of the confident you online making you realize people would like the confident you irl? I’m still mostly too shy to talk in a big room full of people though ;). Also, I don’t regularly complain about the hard parts of my life to people I don’t know well often…

That’s all for now 😉

7 bea November 5, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Way back in 2006, mommy blogging functioned primarily for me as a place to express and share the “darker side” of parenting, as a kind of antidote to the saccharine picture painted in pretty much every other medium. I seem to recall a fair amount of hand-wringing about that: by venting our frustrations in parenting, were we denying our love for our children? creating the wrong kind of record? So in that sense, the idea that blogging presents an idealized view of parenting seems very counter-intuitive.

Photography, on the other hand, is another kind of animal altogether. Long before blogs were invented, people used their cameras to record their happiest family moments. I think I even wrote a blog post about how rewarding it is to flip through my own family photo albums and briefly start believing my own press. What a wonderful, involved parent I am! Look at the wonderful experiences I’ve created for my children! And of course the whole point of writing a post about it was to contribute to a completely different kind of narrative. My photo albums are a pretty, shiny record of family life at its best. My blog was the flip side of that: the anxiety, the rage, the day-to-day boredom.

I’m sure there are sunny, happy-go-lucky parenting blogs out there – I just don’t happen to read any. But if what I want to read about is the nitty-gritty honest truth of parenting, it doesn’t follow that this is what I want to SEE. In photography, I want to see the light and the joy.

8 Nat November 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm

I think it depends on the blog…. and it depends on the situation. Some parts of family life just aren’t mine to share. Or some situations can’t be written about without causing a lot of undue pain and grief to those involved…

Though I did have Amanda say to me in shock that she really had no idea how women who work full time do it after working longish week prior to an event… she hadn’t realized the extent of the challenge. So maybe we do tend to idealize the struggles, the balance, the juggling that goes on.

I also don’t feel a touch responsible for my readers well being… it’s like the hot warning on coffee cups, redundant but maybe necessary.

9 Sara November 7, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I’m going question by question.

Do you think there is balance in the parenting blogosphere?

I find there are fewer fathers blogging. With that said, I am addicted to howtobeadad.com I’m a nerd. Andy and Charlie are just too funny.

Do bloggers paint a realistic portrait of family life, or do they idealize it?

Some do, some don’t. It depends who you read to be honest. Sometimes I find that I can’t relate to blogs that don’t have the good and bad times. You for instance seem to have no problem talking about the house and talking about the boys once in a while. I’ve noticed there has been less talk of the boys lately but with them growing up it is understandable to want to protect their privacy and egos.

Should we be cognizant of how the stories we tell might be perceived and internalized?

Some people just read negativity into everything and you can’t change who you are and what you write to please the masses. You end up losing yourself. Where as someone like me, who is attempting to remain more anonymous than before I don’t really need to worry but I still try to make sure things aren’t too personal.

Have you ever been self-conscious about how you portray your family — or yourself?

Yes! My family is my life and for the people who I have met face-to-face I typically like them to think that I am not a negative, over sharing bimbo.

I asked Lil’ Man when he was diagnosed with diabetes if it is okay if I share stories online about him and how he handles it. I allow him final post approval for posts about him but then again he is only six years old. He wants other families to know that their kids aren’t alone with this. I really think my kid is going to be special to a lot more people than just his family and friends. Although he is a goof-ball he has a huge heart and only wants to help people.

How closely does your online persona reflect who you are offline?

I am pretty much the same person as I portray on the blog or I’d like to think so. I am still quite shy when meeting people and I can’t talk to more than three people at once. I have huge anxiety. However, online I feel like I am writing in a diary as I did when I was in grade school and I can say what I want in as much detail or as little as I like. I am typically an over sharer when I know you well enough. Sometimes I forget that complete strangers (and my mom) read my blog. Oops. It is therapeutic and a way for me to cope with my boring day-to-day life when I have time to write that is. Ha ha.

10 angela ( angfromthedock ) November 11, 2011 at 9:07 am

interesting…
for the record, you are a very close real life facsimile of who you appear to be in your blog. just in case anyone was wondering;). although the shrieking is quieter…

i only caught a little part of that whole *bad parent as badge of honour* trend in blogs…and i am not really up to date on celebrity blogger blogs and their parenting styles. i just do not have time. but i would guess different bloggers have different audiences and write to that, and big parenting bloggers would be no different.

what i have time for is throwing out snapshots of my experiences. so they tend not to be horribly well thought out…and once in awhile i wonder if that will ever bite me in the ass. my kids know i write about them, they are cool about it. two of them are old enough to care and i have yet to step over the line. they do not pre read the posts, but they do read them. it is not always fun and games in my life, or in my blog ( i think i write out of frustration often ). however, i tend to think that my real life is actually more fun that what i write about. maybe look to the photos for the real picture;). because while they may be somewhat manipulated…ultimately, i think the true affection of our family ( and yours ) shines through. even with the shrieking.

(can you tell i identified with the lawn theatrics? oh yeah. )

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