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Don’t Believe Everything You Pin

messy craft room

The real workspace of an anonymous crafter doesn't look quite as good in real life as it does in staged blog photos

Craft blogs are enjoying a lot of attention from readers these days. Between appearances on the Martha Stewart show, book deals, and tons upon tons of DIY projects being “pinned” on the idea-sharing social media site Pinterest, craft blogs are becoming a reliable replacement for the moribund magazine industry (RIP Readymade, Domino, and Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion!)

Last weekend, we posted an article with true confessions from craft bloggers. Some of the more shocking confessions struck a nerve with some readers. Several commenters were disappointed in the information they read as bloggers candidly (and anonymously) shared some of their past blogging faux pas.

What do you think about this statement: “I’ve lied when doing a review for a paid post. I’ve said I liked the product when I really hated it, and I didn’t know how to back out or tell the sponsor I didn’t like it.” How about this one: “I do a lot of Photoshopping to make [my crafts] look nice. I’m pretty skilled, so I can do a good fake job without anyone noticing. I also fake a lot of my crafts; I don’t glue stuff down . . . I’ll just place it on top for a photo.”

Some commenters on the post expressed shock and disappointment that craft bloggers would do such things. Reader cBer said: “Photoshopping for better results? Lying about a sponsor’s product? Misrepresenting your actual cost? ‘Accidentally’ hitting the random button again defeats the purpose of a random button… Your personal integrity is worth much more than this.”

craft spaceBlogging With Integrity

I always get a little irritated when people wantonly criticize others, whether it is regarding parenting choices, craft blogging, or being a moral and upright citizen. Especially when it comes to integrity issues. For some bloggers, integrity means never selling ads, never promoting any product they haven’t purchased with their own money, or never sharing a photo that has been Photoshopped. Wait a minute.

Is a photo edited picture a lie?

Most of us would answer no. (If you are a user of Instagram, then you better have answered no!)

Integrity is not a black and white item. There’s a sliding scale of integrity, and each person has his or her own line in the sand. A line that makes them feel icky if they cross it. We can all agree on a few blogging integrity points: you should disclose sponsorship in posts it pertains to; you should give credit if you use another blogger’s intellectual property (photos, words, or ideas). There are a few more to think about at Blog With Integrity.

britney spears retouched

Britney Spears released photos of herself to demonstrate the changes photos go through in the media - the left side is the original photo, and the right side is the retouched photo.

But where does photo editing, project cost estimating, and failed craft swapping fall in the integrity continuum? Where does getting paid to complete a project using a certain brand of yarn fall on the spectrum? How about holding a giveaway for a product you would not use? Using fake food props? Airbrushing a model so she looks thirty pounds lighter? Getting paid to play certain songs on the radio?

Oops, those last few weren’t things that bloggers do. They are things our regular media outlets do every day.

Craft Blogging is Aspirational

Like a home and garden or fashion magazine, craft blogs are often inspirational and aspirational. Aspirational media presents images to readers “which they can aspire but, perhaps, never actually achieve.” Think about your favorite craft magazine (Martha Stewart Living, anyone?) or home decor TV show. Anyone who has tried a Martha Stewart project knows that they look perfect in the magazine but often fall short when an everyday crafter attempts to recreate them. Home decor shows look great on TV, but behind the scenes the projects are sometimes slipshod, or have been constructed by someone other than the designer who appears on screen.

Salon.com on TV show Trading Spaces:

You will never see the crew, the cables, the stacked furniture, the crowds of people that only increase in size. You’ll never see the sewing coordinator who has done all the sewing. You will not hear him tell a homeowner working in front of the camera that she won’t hurt anything because the machine isn’t threaded. You also will not know that some of the scenes that take place on Day 1 actually were shot near the end of Day 2. And you will never know how many retakes it took to get the scene right.

Just like most other media, including news programs, novels, celebrity gossip sites, blockbuster movies, and reality TV, blogging is about heightened reality. NOT cold hard facts.

Craft Blogging = Fantasy

Blogging is still a developing field. Most people have been blogging for less than five years, and the term “blogging” is only just about 10 years old. Most craft blogs are written by one person. One person who writes every post, takes every photo, designs every project, and does all the other work of producing the blog’s posts. That one person might not be paid for her effort, or she might be making a bit of money. The lucky bloggers make equivalent to a part-time income, and the very lucky make a modest living with income associated with their blog.

There are many ways one can be an excellent blogger, but one of the quickest ways is to do a very good job of creating a fantasy for the reader. A fantasy that their home can be as whimsical and colorful as yours, or that their children will always have a beautiful bento lunchbox, or that your crafts are easy, fun, and cheap to make.

Most bloggers don’t have it all figured out yet. They have to learn everything through trial and error. BUT, there is nothing wrong with creating a fantasy on your blog.

Nobody Has a Degree in Blogging

Blogging is the wild west. There are still few rules, and nobody has blogged long enough to be the sheriff of blogging town. As far as I know, no university provides a degree in blogging. In other words, everyone is a self-taught blogger. Some of us have journalism backgrounds, or are more familiar with the MLA Handbook than others, but blogging has a very low barrier of entry. To start a blog, one needs internet access, and to be able to navigate to blogger.com. Aaaand, you’re in business.

Because most bloggers are self-taught, they have to experience the normal learning curve that goes along with discovering the mechanics of doing something. The most natural way to learn is to fail. When you succeed, you rarely learn from the scenario. It’s only through doing something humiliating like giving a product a positive review because you didn’t know what else to do, that we learn certain important lessons (like, what to do when we don’t like a product but we are obligated to write about it).

Blogging Confessions are Just That… Confessions

retouched craft photo

Retouched craft photo by Carolina Moore, Always Expect Moore

In our previous article that contained anonymous confessions, we allowed people to lift the ruffled ombre curtain of blogging and tell the truth for a minute. Like a Craftaholics Anonymous, we encouraged bloggers to share that one time they made a move they weren’t proud of. It’s an amazing jump to conclude that people who make one mistake have no integrity.

Sure, you want to believe your parents never had sex in order to conceive you, but the fact is, they did. Ewww, no they didn’t.

Every human being is just as vile as the next guy. As much as we hate to admit it, we have all told lies, mistreated people, or done some other unsavory thing in our lives. We have all done a laundry list of things we aren’t proud of. And if you haven’t, then you’re lying to yourself. And if you think your neighbor, husband, or mom is better than that, then you’re deluding yourself as well.

Don’t Put ANYONE on a Pedestal

For some reason, people just love to put others on a pedestal. We all know that we, personally, suck, but that our best friend has it all. How does she do it anyway?

Bloggers are micro-mini-celebrities, which means that some readers hold them to a higher standard than they hold themselves to. Readers love to wish they lived in Centsational Girl‘s home, or had Tatertots & Jello‘s taste, or were as fun and funny as House of Smiths.

But guess what, bloggers can’t share even 1% of their lives on the pages of their blogs. It’s just not possible. Blogging is a snapshot, taken from a specific angle, in a specific moment in time. Sure, the house might be clean and the lighting might be good for that moment, but readers don’t get to see the following minutes when the toddler unloads a box of tissue in the room, and the dog tracks muddy footprints across the kitchen, and the blogger yells at said toddler and dog because she is just a normal (frustrated) mom like everyone else. Only she has self-imposed blogging deadlines.

Bloggers are real people. They have the same real problems and challenges as everyone else. Don’t put them on a pedestal, because you will be disappointed when they fall off of it. And they all fall down — celebrities, pastors, parents, children, spouses, police officers, bloggers, and you.

Remember that line from the Bible? “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Your Personal Integrity IS Worth More Than This

Still, cBer had a point. Bloggers do need to think about that line in their own personal sandbox marked “my integrity.” What will you do for a buck? What will you NOT do for a buck? Can you bring yourself to write an unflattering review of a sponsor’s product? Do you clean up your house before you photograph it? What lines are better off not being crossed, and which ones don’t apply to you?

Will you check the “color correct” button next time you are importing photos to your computer?

p.s. If you didn’t like those blogging confessions, then for the love of all things crafty, don’t go check out these real craft spaces of anonymous bloggers!

don't believe everything you pin

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23 Responses to “Don’t Believe Everything You Pin”

  1. Michelle L. says:

    Bang! You hit this perfectly, Heather! What a fabulous follow-up post to the confessions.

    I agree that there are integrity boundaries, but I like the idea that if someone has done something iffy, and now regrets it, she can forgive herself and move on.

    For readers who might be upset about photo manipulation – at various times, you have probably visited blogs who don’t indulge in that sinful practice – and I am pretty sure you said, “Wow, this blog looks terrible,” and never went back! I massage every photo. Mostly because I am a challenged photographer with no light in my house and a weird yard where the sun rarely shines. If I didn’t brighten and color correct (and remove dust specks, dust bunnies and random bird poops that fell on my background while I was shooting outdoors), no one would want to read my blog, ever.

    Loved the quote from Trading Spaces! Reality TV is a seething inferno of unreality, assisted by money, huge production staffs and sponsors. Blogs are homemade, impoverished, and striving to present a little bit of crafty beauty on teensy budgets. If ‘shortcuts’ happen, and they don’t compromise the reader’s ability to understand and copy the project – all hail shortcuts!

    thanks, Heather! and thanks, Amy, for the original post – even though there were some controversial bits, this is the forum to air them. Love this site!

  2. heather says:

    Thanks for your nice comment, Michelle! I probably could have written another 1500 words, but the basic fact is that most of media has been manipulated to make it more attractive!

    I don’t think people should compromise their integrity (lie about reviews, etc), but really, that’s how you learn. It seems obvious from the outside (don’t lie! lying’s bad!) but when the situation faces you (eek! this product is crap! what do I do?), it isn’t quite as black and white. The only thing you have is your gut telling you that what you just did was icky. And you do better next time.

  3. J. Hill says:

    Excellent post again, Heather! The “ruffled, ombre curtain of blogging” line should be trademarked.

  4. heidi says:

    well said Heather!

  5. Amy says:

    I think perhaps these points are exactly why the government created laws that required disclosure of paid or compensated blogging. Everyone makes mistakes, and certainly one time experiences that you grow and learn from are clearly part of every persons life. But perpetuating a false reality is really a lie. I am not so naive as to believe everything I read, but there is a certain expectation of honesty- if someone said they did something, or like something, or use something- well, I would really like to believe them. So should I, or should I not?

    • heather says:

      @Amy, I don’t think writers should lie, deceive, or otherwise cheat readers (esp. when it comes to advertorial content or in holding sweepstakes/contests), BUT, where does that line belong? Is styling a photo, cropping an image to exclude the dirty socks on the floor, or photo editing a lie? Most media is heavily edited for maximum reader fantasy.

  6. Love the post with the confessions because like you said, it lifts the curtain on people we have put on a pedestal. I think some people love to raise others up only to tear them down when we find out *gasp* they’re normal like us! It made me really think about what I do as a craft blogger and about how I look at other blogs. Really, no one can have a house that looks that perfect if they are forever working on projects. And this post brings it all home about personal integrity, lessons learned, and the fact that blogging is relatively new with no rules. Great post Heather!

  7. amy says:

    Thanks for the great article Heather! It’s all true. 100%.

    I mentioned on Facebook that the original post was a book from a Christian pastor:
    http://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Pastor-Adventures-Dropping-Getting/dp/1590527208

    I read it years ago and was fascinated. This kind of “behind the scenes” exists in every industry, ever job, every life – including craft blogging. I was honestly surprised to see some of the comments on the original post I compiled. People are disappointed. They can’t believe it. It’s deplorable.

    Really?

    I mean, we all do these things in daily life, no? Not these specific things, but, we’ve all lied. We’ve all consciously made a bad decision. Is it that hard to believe that a craft blogger (or anyone else who writes online) could make a mistake?

    I think the biggest thing that bothered me was the assumption that bloggers regularly display these behaviors . . . comments insinuating that the bloggers are almost “proud” of these things. Nothing could be further from the truth. The bloggers CONFESSED. Look up the definition of confession – “a written or oral statement acknowledging guilt.”

    It’s a good reminder to me to be less judgmental of people. I’ve been guilty of it at times. But being harsh or overly judgmental is no less wrong that any of the mistakes that those bloggers made and admitted to.

  8. Kimmy Davis says:

    I like this–I think it’s very true and it may be hard for some to accept. I appreciate stories like this and would love to see more. Thanks!

  9. michelle says:

    Whoo hoo!! With all those clutter free spaces, my crafty wavelength would simply “flat line”. Ha!!

  10. breanna says:

    brilliantly written, Heather.

  11. Ever notice that the contestants on Trading Spaces wear the same thing both days? Hint: It isn’t because they didn’t have a chance to do laundry. It makes editing things from day 1 to day 2 much easier and fluid.

    My cousin was on a gameshow – after giving all the answers (essentially, winning) they realized that there was a problem with the filming. They did a “take 2,” his competitor hit the buzzer faster, rattled off HIS responses, and stole his win.

    Are these things okay? No. But in the bigger scheme of what is important in life (world peace, paying my taxes, getting my son to bed on time), they just don’t rate.

    Are some of these confessions minor? Yeah. Are some “major”? Sure. But we don’t need a Special Session of the Crafter’s Congress to hold an Inquiry. Instead, we need more of exactly what we have here at Crafterminds. A place to help educate our niche of bloggers on what we as a “society” of bloggers think (with plenty of room for healthy discussion).

  12. amy says:

    ladies of crafterminds,

    thank you, thank you! a hot topic like this one clearly needed to be discussed and the britney spears photo is a succinct summary of the manipulation of “reality” for all to see. to me, the benefit of “keeping it real” is that it relieves the pressure on all of us. no, we are not martha stewart…but is martha stewart really the martha stewart we grew up watching? nope. she puts her pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us…even when it’s pair of prison pants!!

    this discussion is a reminder that we all need to focus on our own strengths, our own little world and take the tidbits from the bloggers that work for our own life…and tweak them, as needed.

    kudos to amy and heather for bringing this to the table!!

  13. Hi!

    I completely agree, there’s no black and white in terms of “integrity”. I personally edit my pictures because my camera is really reaaaaaally lame and I hate how the pics turn out, they make everything look so boring.
    While I was pregnant, seeing some craft blogs, I would see that a mother of 2 toddlers and a baby managed to redecorate her whole kitchen, bake two pies and finish 3 diy projects every day, as well as take beautiful pictures of everything. You can imagine how bummed I felt when I moved in with my boyfriend, had my baby and could barely keep the house clean.
    I felt very dissapointed in me at first.
    I have realized now that, like every other media, blogs are a pretty illusion that we must view critically, taking what is useful and always “with a grain of salt” (?). Sorry for my english, is not my main language.

  14. Sharon says:

    Heather, I heart you for writing this. If I see one more perfect crafting space on Pinterest or anywhere else (gag with those “Where Very Wealthy Women With Full Time Staffs Create” magazines!) I am going to spit little styrofoam pellets on the screen and throw a bunch of glue sticks and random ribbons on the floor. Then I’m going to laugh maniacally as I alternately rip tissue paper and drink wine.

    It’ll be fun.

  15. Sher says:

    Again, awesome post that left me feeling pretty alright about what I’ve written my lack of photo skills. My itty bitty space I share with the washer and dryer (they make great cutting tables!) doesn’t seem so sad and small now 🙂 Great thoughts to keep in mind – thanks!

  16. carol says:

    I equate this type of behavior to Etsy sellers who pass off recipes as their own and sell them. before you purchase one, google it and see if you will find the original source
    and the same picture. One seller got around it by selling hand written copies of the recipes but her descriptions made them sound like her own. Like everything else use caution and for heavens sake show respect .

  17. You know what I never ever lie. I may not be in the “big blogger” clique, but I never lie, never stage photos, and never fake it. Everything you see on my blog is 100% real, and it SHOULD be. Faking is tacky, both in relationships and in creativity.

  18. Alex says:

    This is a great post. Thank you and Google for chance to read it.

  19. Melanie says:

    While I am “late” reading this post, and I am not currently a blogger, I still appreciate it! Thanks for your perspective, time, work, honesty, and insight! =o)

  20. Melanie says:

    Forgot to mention that The Frugal Girls sent me! =o)

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