Tag Archives: blogging

Not too tired to pontificate, thank god

Today I am walking into walls. Apparently I have lost the ability to manage a straight line. But why should this stop me from soliloquising about internet matters? No reason at all.

To that end:

I coincidentally came across two articles about when and how much to care about what other people think.

Dani Shapiro wrote “What do you do when the internet hates you?” for the May edition of Elle magazine (I read it originally in print where it had a different title, but I’m tired and I forget; forgive me). And then Emma Gray wrote “In praise of women who give all the fucks” for the Huffington Post. (She asterisked her title, but I can swear on my own blog if I want to.)

Says Dani: Care less. Says Emma: Care more. This would of course not be the first time that women receive contradictory advice on how to be properly feminine from the Professional Womanification Guild. Actually, if we got consistent advice, they’d probably go out of business. But anyway:

“I’d hear from my agent that they were going in a different direction. Someone taller. Or they wanted a redhead. Or whatever. All I ever heard, thrumming beneath the ostensible reasons, was that I wasn’t good enough, or talented enough—not even to smile fetchingly and hold up a can of soda. Look,they just didn’t find you appealing, my agent once told me. I lived in a debilitating state of chronic insecurity, which I dealt with by exercising more, starving myself further, and making myself blonder. I was operating under the dangerous delusion that if only I could burnish myself into some sort of perfection, I’d be chosen. Truth be told, I was a lousy actress. I was self-conscious, tongue-tied, prone to blushing and stammering in front of the camera. It would have been merciful for someone to take me by the hand and tell it to me straight, put me out of my misery. I was careening down the wrong path, trying with all my might to squeeze myself into somebody else’s life.

“…It may sound quaint now, but in those days you’d actually have to go to a newsstand to pick up a magazine or newspaper. I was living in New York City, and I would haunt the newsstand on the corner of 82nd Street and Broadway, because that vendor got his shipment first. There were lovely surprises, like opening up the new Vogue to see a glowing review of my book written by a heroine of mine. But the negative attention was swift and vicious. The word bimbo was used as a caption beneath my photo in the New York Observer. A male writer I admired wrote a highly personal character assassination of me in New York magazine—I’d quote it for you, but I didn’t keep a copy (and I can’t find it online, I swear). I cried for three days in my apartment. Once again I felt I was being judged not for what I wrote, but for who I was. My life, reviewed.

“Of course, you might say I asked for it. To be a writer—to do anything that involves putting oneself out there—is to invite criticism. And if you write about personal stuff, well, what do you expect?

“…It seems to me that when we inhabit ourselves— when we say, This is who I am in all my flawed humanity—we are taking a step toward being most real. And when we buy into the opinions of perfect strangers whose feelings about us may be based on random data ranging from something they read to what we’re wearing and even to their own projections, we are being assaulted and governed by the unreal. As I’ve written this essay, I haven’t once thought about how it will be received in the world. If I had, I wouldn’t have been able to write it—I’m revealing quite a lot about myself, some of it is quite painful and unflattering. But as I come to the end, now I can imagine some possible reactions: Humblebrag…Who the hell does she think she is?…How dare she dismiss all those online reviews just because she doesn’t like them? The ugly comments from the past may even be flung back at me. You are a spoiled, pretentious crybaby. But that’s okay. I’m no longer dancing for the shadows. I’m just a shot of whiskey—not for everybody.

“And so I close the door. I write these words. I don’t click over to Google to see what people think. In the silence—in the absence of all those voices—here is where I discover who I am.”

I’ve quoted a fair bit of Dani here, and my apologies for that. But she makes an interesting point and she makes it well, in my opinion. The public criticism is of course painful and she’d rather have praise. But ultimately she recognizes that these people are allowed to dislike her and allowed to say so. That said, she’s decided to carry on being herself and doing what she does anyway.

People don’t like you? Dani says, don’t give a fuck! Fuck them fuckers. They don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. Or even if they do, so the fuck what? You don’t have to be something they like.

(And flip side: they don’t have to like you. It’s allowed.)

Whereas Emma argues that we have reached, in a memorable phrase, “peak lack of fucks given,” perhaps to our detriment.

“But it also can be deeply exhausting pretending not to give a fuck about everything — and at times, it may prevent us from fully embracing the fucks we do need to give. The simple fact remains: to affect real change, and feel anything deeply, you probably need to give quite a few fucks.

“…We might be closer to embracing “strong women,” but we also want those “strong women” to have an uncanny ability to “let it go.” Express messy emotion? Probably don’t. Show just how hard you try? Ditto.

“…Since when did caring the least about everything — or at least convincingly pretending to — become the most attractive quality a woman could possess? The only way you’re going to be able to rise above and give fewer fucks about the bullshit is if you actually give a fuck about something else.”

I think the two of them managed to say the same thing after all:

Decide what you do give a fuck about, and then don’t give a fuck about anything else. Dani gives a fuck about finding out who she is, being real, being herself, and writing. As a result she doesn’t modify her writing to appease her critics, because that would interfere with the more important goals of self-discovery and authenticity. Emma valorizes Amy Schumer, who has similarly decided to be bravely and authentically herself in public, and not allow the voices of others to detract from her self-confidence.

I can attest to this method. It works.

It’s also relevant that both Dani and Emma and the women they discuss have editors. Their work is not immune to professional criticism. They have gatekeepers who criticize their work, who have standards, and who can at least somewhat impose those standards on the work. In that sense, they haven’t decided not to care about what anyone else thinks; they’ve just decided to care about what a limited number of people in certain contexts think. If they didn’t, it’s unlikely that they would have achieved the professional success that they have.

These articles highlight something else that’s interesting and, to me, overlooked:

“Not giving a fuck” doesn’t mean “not disliking.” It’s an active, mental decision not to engage with something rather than a passive lack of emotion about whatever has gone on.

Dani is quite honest about disliking those negative reviews. Amy, in Emma’s piece, was very open about the dark place that criticism used to take her. Both of them are actively choosing not to engage rather than just not feeling any discomfort or unhappiness about the criticism. This also rings true for me: it’s not that I enjoy being disliked or criticized (or when a few hundred people at a public event start shouting that I should be fired, for instance). It’s not that I’m emotionally neutral on it, either. It’s that I’ve made an active choice about what I’m going to prioritize, and if something isn’t on that list, then whether or not I like it is irrelevant and I’m going to keep going.

Seen that way, “I don’t give a fuck” isn’t a statement about feelings but about values. And it is–I think this is overlooked too–a statement that contains with in it an implicit valuation of what other people want us to feel and care about. One doesn’t say, out of nowhere, “I don’t give a fuck about air mattresses,” for example, and if one ever did, it would immediately invite speculation about who exactly does give a fuck about air mattresses, and why. Whereas if I were to say “I don’t give a fuck about public transit” (a statement which I hasten to add is not true), it immediately brings to mind an entire debate about whether or not public transit is important, to whom, why, and possible positions.

Not Giving a Fuck is what happens when you’ve decided what you DO Give a Fuck about, when someone disapproves of your choices, makes you aware of that disapproval, and when you–regardless of how you feel about that disapproval–decided to carry on in the face of that disapproval. 

So to sum up, here’s How Not to Give a Fuck about Things That Are Not Worth Giving a Fuck About:

  1. Decide what it is you are going to give a fuck about. You can’t get around this step. What do you love, what do you care about, what are you willing to go to the mat for?
  2. When disapproval surfaces of something you have said, done, or made (or conversely, not said, not done, not made), re-evaluate: is there something going on here that should have been part of your Give A Fuck List? If yes, add it, care, and behave that way. If no:
  3. Keeping saying/not saying, doing/not doing, making/not making, what you were before. Go ahead and feel all the messy and uncomfortable feelings that come along with disapproval. One day they may lessen or go away, and maybe not. This is called “courage.” One does not get to the pinnacle of No Fucks to Give without quite a lot of it.

In the meantime, you have your work to do. You know what it is. Do it.

Group Think: When Two Heads are Worse than One (Science and Sewing, in one post at last!)

It’s my untested belief that expertise in any technical field will result in a near-total loss of respect for journalism.

I know it did for me. The more I learned about climate change, the biodiversity crisis, environmental regulations, and renewable energy, the more I realized that newspaper articles reflected reality only by chance, in passing. More often, an ill-equipped person with good writing skills and no critical thinking ability would write a piece far outside of their education and background by interviewing a bunch of people who claimed to be experts, without evaluating their credentials. We get climate change pieces giving equal weight to well-respected international climate experts and oil-funded PR hacks, pieces on renewable energy with well-reasoned arguments by scientists quoting the best available information and fruit-loop arguments by naturopaths who wouldn’t recognize a herz if it came up and hit them on the head.

And you end up with a voting public almost completely muddled on key issues because they’ve come to the completely totally 100% incontrovertibly WRONG conclusion that there are two sides.

Of course people are entitled to their opinions. I am legally well within my rights to believe that Mars is peopled by winged skeletons who worship Lily Allen. But the legal right to hold an opinion is not the same, and can’t be the same, as the attitude that reality is then required to bend to accommodate that opinion. No matter what I believe, Mars is in fact NOT peopled by winged skeletons who worship Lily Allen, or by anything at all. The experts are right and I am just plain wrong. (Or I would be, if I held that opinion.)

This set of science experiments sheds some light on the psychology of our inherent tendency to give equal weight to two contrary opinions, even when one comes from an expert and the other does not. Fortunately, for those of you who have no intention of purchasing the article for the low-low price of $10, you can also read this fun summation in the Washington Post.

This went on for 256 intervals, so the two individuals got to know each other quite well — and to know one another’s accuracy and skill quite well. Thus, if one member of the group was better than the other, both would pretty clearly notice. And a rational decision, you might think, would be for the less accurate group member to begin to favor the views of the more accurate one — and for the accurate one to favor his or her own assessments.

But that’s not what happened. Instead, report the study authors, “the worse members of each dyad underweighted their partner’s opinion (i.e., assigned less weight to their partner’s opinion than recommended by the optimal model), whereas the better members of each dyad overweighted their partner’s opinion.” Or to put it more bluntly, individuals tended to act “as if they were as good or as bad as their partner” — even when they quite obviously weren’t.

The researchers tried several variations on the experiment, and this “equality bias” didn’t go away. In one case, a “running score” reminded both members of the pair who was faring better (and who worse) at identifying the target — just in case it wasn’t obvious enough already. In another case, the task became much more difficult for one group member than the other, leading to a bigger gap in scores — accentuating differences in performance. And finally, in a third variant, actual money was offered for getting it right.

None of this did away with the “equality bias.”

The research psychologists attribute this to our need to belong to groups and get along with people. It seems that need outweighs any practical consideration, a good deal of the time, including when money is on the line. Fascinating, right? People who are right and know they’re right defer to people they know are wrong in order to get along and maintain group dynamics, even when it costs them to do so.

When it comes to climate change, this is a serious problem.

Aside: Climate change is a real thing that is really happening and is a complete and total catastrophe. There is no debate on this point in any credible scientific circle. If you think that there is, I’m so sorry, but you’ve been had.

/aside

We end up not moving forward with policy solutions because we keep acting like the actual experts and the paid non-expert hacks share some kind of equivalence when they patently don’t.

But–and I’m sure I’m not the only person thinking this–it’s present in every community, including the SBC.

Ah! See? I told you I’d come around to it.

People act as if the opinions and contributions of experts and amateurs are equivalent when they are not.

Thankfully, the fates of human civilization and a minimum of 30% of animal and plant species do not rest on this fact. The worst that happens in most cases is that a person walks around for a good long time in a garment that looks like utter shit and feels really fabulous about it. On a scale of worldwide catastrophe, it doesn’t even rank.

On the other hand, as this science makes pretty clear, an entire generation of sewers are being educated largely by internet celebrities who are too incompetent even to understand how incompetent they are. It’s not a catastrophe, no, but it is a crying shame. And as predicted by the social psychologists, if anyone ever speaks up to point out that some of them are experts and other are, well … not …, they are pilloried as Mean Girls, jelluz haterz, and bullies.

Aside 2: Yep, I count myself in the group of people sometimes wandering happily about in a garment that on later reflection was not up to snuff. It happens. We’re all human. I won’t melt if someone points it out, though tact is always preferred. It doesn’t count as “bravery” to “put yourself out there” if you feel entitled to nothing but praise; and if you’re going to present your work in public you need to be prepared for public criticism.

/aside

So it’s not the end of the world, no, but it’s a detriment to all of us. The people getting the money, in many cases, haven’t earned it; the people with valuable skills to share don’t have the platform to do so; we keep acting as if everyone’s equal when they’re not to be Nice and keep everyone happy, even though not everyone is happy; there are entire boiling lava rivers of resentment and bitterness flowing right under all the green meadows we’re so happily skipping over (in our badly-pressed culottes and boxy tops with peter pan collars, no less). It’s weird. Can’t we, as an online culture, agree that it’s not a violation of the Geneva Convention if someone points out that a hem is crooked or a print isn’t matched? Does it matter if it’s not “nice”? Don’t we all benefit from increased honesty and openness? Do any of us actually expect to be perfect, or need to be treated as if we are perfect in order to function day to day? If you really don’t want people to point out how you fucked up, is it so much to ask that you acknowledge it yourself, then? Hey look at this horrible side seam–I really fucked up!

That went off on a bit of a tangent. Pardon me. Let’s drag it back on track:

The Equality Bias! It makes everything worse while we smile and pretend nothing’s wrong. Fight it!

Hibernation 2014: Wherein I Angst

Say, did you know that this isn’t technically speaking a sewing blog?

It isn’t even, technically speaking, a crafting or making blog.

Technically speaking, it’s a green blog. If you’ve read back through the old entries, you know this. If you haven’t, why would you? I just spoiled the ending.

Technically speaking, the whole sewing/making thing was a one-year blog experiment to see if it helped me cope with last year.

And now 2014 is ending and I need to decide what to do with it. (The blog, not the year. The year has its own ideas and is carrying them out without my input. Inconsiderate, really.)

I like blogging about sewing, even if I could pack all of my readers into a moderately-sized bathroom. I plan to keep doing it. At the very least, though, I need to change my category handle.

I suppose angsting is a strong word for what this post actually contains so far. Let me add some extra hand-wringing:

2014 is almost over and my sewing blog category has been all about 2014 and I don’t know what to dooooooooooooo!

There.

~~~~~

What I made this year:

  • Four pairs of pants
  • Seven dresses
  • Three pairs of pajamas
  • Seven t-shirts
  • One sweater
  • One leather purse
  • One cross-stitch project
  • Two pairs of shorts
  • Two jackets
  • Two button-down shirts
  • Three skirts
  • One pair of blue jeans

What actually gets used:

  • The pants, especially the Jasmine pants, one of which I am wearing as I type this.
  • The pajamas, which Frances wears all the time, including all non-scheduled downtime at home.
  • Most of the t-shirts. Frances wasn’t too keen on the first t-shirt I made her but later iterations fit better, and she wears them all the time. And my first Renfrew wasn’t a raging success, but I wear my pleated Butterick tees and the Emily top all the time.
  • The purse. Every day, until it got cold and I switched to the winter bag.
  • The fancy shorts.
  • The button down tops.
  • The second Moneta dress, when it’s hot.
  • The jeans are new, but I suspect I’ll be getting a lot of wear out of them.

What I have learned:

  • More pants/shorts, fewer dresses/skirts.
  • Always add 1.5″ to the rise on a new pants/skirt pattern
  • Always take at least 1.5″ out of the sleeve length on a new shirt pattern
  • Always raise the waist on a bodice at least 1.5″ on a new pattern.
  • Conclusion: In terms of pattern sizing I am essentially I am a short woman with long legs.
  • Don’t cut out the collar pieces until after you’ve adjusted the shoulders and neckline on a new pattern, because it’ll probably be wrong.
  • Pullover tops made of woven fabric do not work for me, bias-cut or not.
  • Significant shirt alterations are easier with princess seams than with darts.

What I want to learn next:

  • A really good blazer pattern, and proper tailoring with sew-in hair-canvas and pad stitching and the whole shebang.
  • Can I make Frances a blouse that she will wear on purpose?
  • Sewing very curved seams on leather, without puckering or stretching
  • A really good non-stretchy work pants pattern that goes up to my waist and down to my feet that is warm, comfortable, and would work well in a suit combo
  • Some basic pattern drafting. I have it on good authority that Santa is bringing me Pattern Magic for Christmas (mostly because in my house, I am Santa. Ha!). (And here we are celebrating Christmas tomorrow, since Frances was at her dad’s for the holiday this year.)

 

Photo Experiment Updates

One thing I thought would be fun with my experiment on blog photos would be a riff of the “working woman” stock photo. You know, she with the briefcase and heels, climbing ladders with a smile on her face.

(Such nice tall ladders.) And I still will probably do that. But first, a brief moment of WTFery for the ridiculous creature that is the Working Woman stock photo.

Yep. I totally go to work like this all the time.

Oh for sure. Babies are so cooperative.

Every day man. Dark suit. Hair up. Smile.

“Hi. I want this job so badly, I wore my nicest suit and exposed my breasts. Nice to meet you.”

To be fair, the fourth–dark suit girl–is the most typical shot: a young, slim, very attractive woman with a dark suit and a big smile. Because yes, in point of fact, we all do grin like idiots while we’re working. And our desks are as lovely as our faces, with no inconvenient traces of actual work to be seen.

I wondered, though. What would I get if I looked for Working Man stock photos?

For one thing, they’re older and they don’t smile so much.

 

For another, sometimes they’re women.

Very masculine.

ETA: How could I have forgotten the most important difference! The stock photos of Working Men don’t have babies in them. (Carry on.)

Blog Psychology Pt 5: Susceptibility to Normative Influence

And at last the marketers enter the picture; or more specifically, what the marketers make out of this social psychology research, and their own research into social marketing.

Here’s what we have so far:

1. People don’t know why they do what they do nor why they believe what they believe. Oh, sure, we all think we do.  And sometimes we may even be right. But there is no relationship between certainty and the actual likelihood that your beliefs are true (I LOVE that research finding)–certainty is just a feeling, like anxiety or adoration, and it can be completely irrational and unfounded.

2. People’s memories of what they used to believe are basically crap. Just because someone remembers thinking that Product X was terrific before they were given one, or that Service Y was dreamworthy before they experienced it, doesn’t mean that they actually thought that way. We are all unreliable narrators.

3. The mere act of owning or having been given a product or item will cause most people’s opinions of that product or item to improve. And before you say, “Yes, MOST people; but I/my favourite sponsored blogger is/am an exception,” keep in mind that 75% of adult drivers think that they drive better than the average person, a clear mathematical impossibility. Most of us over-evaluate ourselves and think that we are exceptions to this kind of thing. But probably, almost certainly, you’re not.

4. And peer pressure is a real thing with deep roots that makes it very difficult for people to disagree with a group. A solid majority of us will change what we say to go along with a group at least some of the time.

So if you were a marketer in this brave new internet era, maybe you’d like to take some of your products and services and give them to bloggers for review. The act of having received the item or service will cause the blogger to have a higher opinion of it than they would otherwise–an honest higher opinion; they might even revise their memories of their previous opinions–and they will then share that opinion with their readers. Get enough influential bloggers to do this at the same time, and you create the impression of an online majority who all like your product or service, bringing conformity imperatives into play. However, this internet marketer might want some proof that this advertising will work.

And as it turns out, marketers have been researching this very question for a long time now: who pays attention to testimonials (which is what sponsored posts are, after all)?

The answer is found in something called Susceptibility to Normative Influence (aka, one’s “readiness to conform to others’ expectations regarding purchases, and the need to identify with others, or enhance one’s image by acquiring products or brands (Bearden, Netemeyer, and Teel 1989)” (Martin et al, 2008 )).

You can get your own SNI score here. My  SNI, if you are interested, is very very low: I got 1.1 on valuing others’ opinions, which means I don’t give a flying fuck what other people think about my purchases. The average for happy people is 1.8, and the average for unhappy people is 2.2. Which means, in other words, that caring about what other people think about what you buy is going to make you less happy. Or that it’s mostly unhappy people who do this. In either case, it’s something to avoid.

Honestly, until I came across this, it would not have occurred to me in a thousand lifetimes that someone might go around buying things because they think it will make other people like them more. What insanity is this? Anyone who’s going to like you more because of your jacket/magazine/sewing machine/dining room table isn’t someone you want in your life anyway.

Regardless, it all comes together like this:

1. Companies buy a lot of sponsored posts with a number of influential bloggers, for the cost of a bunch of books or free patterns and a few metres of fabric, plus postage.

2. The influential bloggers, thanks to the Endowment Effect etc., shift their opinions of the products and services in a positive direction, and then write about it.

3. This creates the impression of an in-group who all like the same thing.

4. The impression of an in-group who all like the same thing influences the purchasing behaviour of their followers or fans, particularly the ones who are highly susceptible to normative influence.

I mean, think about it for a minute: companies hire Social Media directors for, on average, $45,000 CDN. Over the course of a year they will spend even more on freebies and postage. Why are they doing this? To be nice? Of course not. They do this in the expectation that they will make back at least the salary + benefits + training costs + marketing and material costs in additional sales. Companies exist to make money, period.

But, you might say, isn’t it possible that all this social media marketing is just to increase awareness of the product or service?  But if that’s all you want, you’d just buy an ad. You wouldn’t risk a negative review by sending out the free stuff and giving the blogger free reign to write something damning–unless there were, in fact, not much risk of that happening at all.

Is it really realistic that of all the sponsorship arrangements currently in place, all of the compensated posts out there, that so few would be negative just by chance?

This isn’t the first time I’ve made these arguments, so I anticipate that some people will think (and not say) that I must be against free enterprise, capitalism, and women being paid for their labour. Not so. One of the things that most irritates me about these arrangements is how cheap they are. In sewing blogs, for instance, women will quite frequently spend $60+ of their own money on fabric and notions and hours of their own time to sew up a “free” pattern they received in exchange for the blog post, which constitutes marketing for the company in question.

What would make me happier is two things:

1) Bloggers being paid fairly for the actual work that goes into their end of the sponsorship agreement, and,

2) Being honest about its likely influence on the content of their posts, whether conscious or not, and allowing for the critical questioning of their readers.

Egos need to rise far enough on the one side that we (you–it’s unlikely I’ll ever get sponsorship, given my perspectives on it) demand fair pay for the work, and on the other side, need to bend enough to allow that it’s not a personal attack for someone to believe and state that the sponsorship deal might actually have shifted our opinions.

It’s ok to be questioned. It won’t kill you.

Blog Psychology Pt 4: Peer Pressure

So social psychologists have conducted a number of interesting experiments on the influence of groups on individuals. In one of my favourites, they had a group of people at a table and asked them a very simple question: which line on the right matches the line on the left?

A number of groups were assembled, and asked the same set of 18 questions, similar to the above. In each group, one person was a research subject, unaware of the experiment, and all of the others were plants or research participants. The research participants were instructed to give the same wrong answer most of the time, so that the research subject would have to choose between giving the right answer against the group, or going with the group and giving the same wrong answer everyone else did.

In the control condition, there were no groups: a single research subject was asked the same set of questions. These subjects got less than 1% of the questions wrong.

In the groups, the research subjects were far more likely to give the wrong answer. 75% of them changed their answer to the wrong answer at least once. Morevoer, some of them actually come to believe the incorrect answer was correct. It wasn’t just that they gave the wrong answer to go along with the group, but that their minds actually changed to accept the incorrect answer.

People don’t just go along with something they know is wrong, when a large group surrounding them claims it is true.

They may come to actually believe it.

You’re not an exception–something we’ll come back to in Part 5–and neither am I. By objective measures (and yes, there are objective measures–we’ll get to those in part 5 too) I’m less susceptible to peer pressure than most people. But it still happens. When it seems like everyone around us is singing from the same song sheet, it can be very hard to sing your own song. It’s easier to either stay quiet or sing along with the rest. But it’s precisely because peer pressure is so influential (and well beyond middle school) that it’s so important to try to speak the truth, or your own truth, especially when the majority says otherwise.

In order for the conversation to change, someone has to say it first.

For most of our evolutionary history, being accepted as part of the tribe was key to our survival. Despite many centuries of western Individualist tradition, no man is an island; and even the staunchest libertarian could not actually accomplish all of the tasks needed for survival without assistance. We’re super-social highly cooperative other-oriented tribal primates, basically, and feeling like we belong is a key psychological need. So of course it feels like shit to be the one person in a group to stand up and say, “Actually, I think women are men’s equals,” and “No, racism isn’t funny,” and “I do support gay marriage” and “I’ve had an abortion,” and yes even, “actually, I think that latest indie pattern/sewing book/fabric line kind of sucks.”

Unlike the first four examples (potentially), standing up in the SBC isn’t going to kill you. So you may as well practice it.

And bloggers, you may want to drop the claim that you aren’t being influenced by your sponsorship arrangements or that it’s a personal attack for anyone to question you or your sponsors. We’ve got to start embracing the idea that it’s ok to have public conflict and disagreement, because this is how things change–when people know that it’s safe to disagree with the group without exclusion or expulsion, then they will.

That was oddly hyperbolic for a series on sponsored blogging, I’ll admit, but I’m going to let it stand.

Blog Psychology Pt 3: The Mere Ownership Effect and the Endowment Effect

I love that name, don’t you? It makes it sound like it’s so insignificant–mere ownership, you know. I merely own this car, I merely own that book.

But no. What the psychologists are getting at here is that the mere act of owning something appears to change people’s opinions towards whatever it is that they own. By taking the simple step of buying something, you are pretty well guaranteed to like it more than if you hadn’t bought it. In experiments, for example, researchers compare the price that sellers are willing to part with a given object for, to price that non-owners are willing to spend to acquire it, and find consistently that the mere act of owning a given object gives that object more value to the owner than the marketplace is willing to recognize.

Buyer beware, indeed: once something is in your hot little hands, you will almost certainly find it worth more than it really is.

Through some tricky experimental conditions, psychologists believe that it is the association through ownership of the object with the Self that leads to the over-evaluation of the object. Basically: “Since I own this whatever-it-is (coffee mug, book, car), and I am a pretty fabulous person, therefore this object is pretty fabulous as well, and I’ll need a lot of money to willingly part with it.”

Neat, huh?

But wait, there’s more! There’s also the Endowment Effect.

Which finds that people also over-value what they are given The act of giving creates a relationship, which alters what people feel is acceptable and not acceptable in terms of ethical and fair behaviour, including beliefs.

What does this mean for you, hapless readers of sponsored blog posts?

It means you can’t trust a word of them.

It means that the mere act of having been given a product or service to review is likely to unconsciously and unavoidably alter the opinion of the blogger.

It means that there is no way not to sell out, for most of us, as soon as transactions enter the picture; and that the blogger is not going to be a reliable narrator so far as they will be able to honestly evaluate their own tendency to be affected by ownership.

Again, this doesn’t meant that they’re lying. It doesn’t mean that they are aware of the opinion changes that ownership brings.

But it also means that you, as a blog reader looking for solid and unbiased opinions on products and services, would almost certainly be better off asking someone who borrowed them.

And it means that for those of us who write reviews of products or services on our blogs–compensated or not–we need to keep in mind that the ownership and the endowment both may have affected our opinions in ways we’re not conscious of, and that it is ok for readers to question us. Critical reading and thinking are good things, and anyone who asks how reviews are affected by sponsorship is well within their rights to do so. It’s not an insult; it’s not an attack; and it’s not personal.

an experiment on the aesthetics of sewing blogs

Me, crocheting.
Me, crocheting. In a handmade shirt.

This is long, so here’s a summary: I’m going to stop trying for pretty blog pictures, and start trying for interesting blog pictures. What do you think?

I’m a forever-blogger. I’ve been blogging since the ancient days of Moveable Type. (You can form whatever opinion about me you’d like on the basis of that revelation.) But I’m a very new sewing blogger.

In my limited participation in sewing blogs, I’ve noticed that there’s a very definite template for the widely read ones:

  1. Choose a flattering, cute project. Better if it’s a recent indie release and you can tie your post into the blog tour. Cute trumps practicality.
  2. Sew it up in a cute fabric, maybe even a cute new designer fabric that was just released. (Or one from Mood, and be sure to mention that it’s since sold out.)
  3. Take 3,000 pictures. Not because you’re going to use all of them, but because you want a few that show both the project and you to good advantage. Practice standing at an awkward 3/4 view with your head tilted at an appealing angle, smiling authentically, and for the love of god do your makeup.
  4. Add as many of those pictures to your blog post as you can stand. Touch them up if you have to. While three is considered a minimum (back view, front view, side view), you can go up to about thirty before anyone will publicly give you the stink-eye. If you’re young and cute and you know it, load ’em up!

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s kind of … well …

I spend a good deal of my non-sewing time thinking and talking about the ways women are expected to behave and present themselves in this world, and the constant expectation that no matter what else a woman does or is, nothing is as important as whether or not she looks good doing it.

Is she young and pretty and curvy but not fat? Is she smiling and does she look pleasant? You could be curing cancer and simultaneously writing a future Nobel-prize-winning novel, but if you don’t have good hair and the right lipstick, forgettaboutit. You can be a champion athlete, but you’d better look hot in your athletic clothes.  Save the world from apartheid or starvation or malaria, be our guest; but botox those forehead wrinkles, would ya?

I don’t think anyone is consciously buying into this with their sewing decisions, blogging decisions, or blog-reading decisions, but we do grow up female constantly surrounded by messages about what we should look like, and how much more important that is than anything else about us. So it’s no surprise that when we go to present ourselves visually to the world, we fall back on this. Look cute and non-threatening! Be attractive in a conventional way! 1950s housewife dresses are sure not to intimidate the men in your life!

This is the jacket I’m going to use (or try to)…

You know what, now that I think about this, I am going to make a suit this fall. A very intimidating suit. A don’t-mess-with-me suit. But I digress.

Wow that’s going to cost a fortune…anyway.

The aesthetics of sewing blogs and what it says about our own relationships with our bodies seems to be a pretty standard “look at how closely I approach the physical ideal!” kind of relationship. And again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and I love lots of the blogs where the women carry this off with style (and I’m going to keep reading and loving them).

But let’s face it. I’m almost 40. Maybe I could have carried that off when I was in highschool or university. Hell, even at 30, I could have played the gamine with more conviction and put on some good doe-eyed smiles for the camera. But I am 39. I have a daughter, a full-time job, a house, a dog, type 1 diabetes, and many other lovely complications. And it is true that age brings with its wisdom grey hairs and crow’s feet. I’m ok with this, but I’m not comfortable with the standard sewing blog presentation, or about what it says about what I think about my body and its role in this world and in my life.

Whether it’s hot or not is … I won’t say meaningless. It’s not. It’s fun to be considered attractive and dating as a middle-aged mom is enough of a meat-grinder for the ego that whatever compliments come my way, I will take with a smile. (Almost whatever compliments. There are limits.) But it’s not who I am, it’s not what I value, and it’s not what I sew for.

I sew to have fun, functional, and yes attractive, clothing to wear in my regular life and do all of the things I like to do. Very rarely is that standing around in a girlish pose, smiling prettily into the middle distance. I read, I sew, I take care of my daughter, I laugh at our dog, I cook, I make ice cream (worth the effort if you’re wondering) without any concern for whether or not the results will be photogenic, I lift weights and actually kind of like the resulting bulk (I sew; I can deal with lats and glutes, you know?), I hike, I work in a cubicle and dazzle coworkers with my brilliance (ahahaha). Most of the time I do these things without any concern for whether my expression, pose and/or outfit are pleasing enough for observers.

So I’m going to run an experiment (and maybe you will join with me).

I’m going to ditch the sewing blog aesthetic, at least for a little while, and take pictures of myself in my self-made clothes doing the things that I do when I’m wearing my handmade clothes and not thinking about what someone’s going to think about the size of my ass or my hip-waist ratio.

Forget pretty. I’d rather be interesting. I’m 39. Haven’t I earned the privilege yet of being considered for something else? Even on a sewing blog?

Yes I have, because I say so.