Fellow bloggers, it’s highly likely that at least one—or all—of the fashion-based social networking sites named in my title ring a bell with you. What comes to mind when you hear those names? Street style? Personal style? Increased blog traffic? A shot a blog fame?
It’s true that these sites can be an endless source of street style inspiration, and may be an avenue for increased blog traffic. If you get featured. And your potential for blog fame and partnerships is also largely contingent upon that. But you know what comes to my mind when I hear them? Exclusivity. Popularity contests. Wasted time. They’re all a grand facade for the perpetuation of essentially one standard of beauty, with virtually all the profit being made by the site, not bloggers.
I’ve dabbled with all of these sites at some point or another over the last year, and I’ve left them all. Why, you ask? Well, the reasons are myriad. That’s what this post is all about.
LBGTQ, LoveBrownSugar, and the lowdown.
I actually drafted this post in mid-August 2010, and I’ve been sitting on it ever since. I wondered, is it too much? Am I overreacting? I stumbled across a blog last week that gave me pause and made me realize—especially with the recent spate of LBGTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Questioning) suicides as a result of bullying—that it was time to finish this post up. Because you don’t have to be LBGTQ to feel ostracized; really, if you are anything but thin and pretty, you’re on the fringe, especially in the fashion world. And I’m a little sick of it.
In her post, Why Don’t You Love Me? A Curvy Girl’s Ode to Outfit Posts, Cece who is a Honeymag.com editorial assistant and the principal of her blog, LoveBrownSugar, wrote:
On my weekly blog-hunting trip this week, I stumbled on a post by curvy British blogger Jettica of Feeling Stylish entitled “Why Do I Need To Be Thin?” After reading her words and sentiments—a mix of curiosity and disappointment—I came to the realization that I too have the same insecurities and harsh feelings. Here’s what she had to say…
“It seems that on sites like LookBook or Chictopia you only get ‘HYPE’ and fans if you are thin…I sort of feel that I don’t get a great deal of comments or love on my blog because I’m a fat girl writing about fashion.”—Jettica of Feeling Stylish
…Now don’t get me wrong, the fashion industry has definitely come a long way. It warms my heart to see curvy models like Crystal Renn stomping the runways in Paris, and shows like One Stop Plus actually getting shine during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in NYC, and fashion icons like Diane Von Furstenberg cracking down on eating disorders in the modeling industry with CFDA regulations…But while the industry can try and correct itself over time, the real power is truly with the people. If users on sites like Chictopia, Lookbook.Nu or Weardrobe are in any way indicative of the fashion-forward masses, then these sentiments still resonate loud and clear. Plus size isn’t posh. Curves aren’t chic. Hips don’t get “HYPE.” And thus the unsuspecting outfit-poster who boasts a size of double digits is left to wonder if there’s room for her, or if she should just stand by and look.
In Jettica’s post, she also asks:
…I want to know—Do you have to be thin to be popular (in life, blogging or Lookbook)?
Jettica, Cece—the unfortunate truth on Lookbook.nu and similar sites, is you don’t just have to be thin to be popular. You have to be thin. You have to be pretty. And really, if you want to hit the top, you have to be white.
UPDATE: Cece and Jettica follow-up. Read Proud to Have Caused a Stir and Sick Sites Spotlight: Responses to “Curvy Girl’s Ode…”
Why I’m not on Weardrobe, Chictopia, Lookbook, or Hypeed.
As I mentioned above, at one point, I joined these sites out of curiosity. Eventually I bailed on all of them for the following reasons:
- I really don’t care if people vote me up or approve of my outfits. I was never a sorority girl or a beauty pageant contestant—approval of my appearance and formal inclusion/membership is not something I need. And at the end of the day, what are hypes and hearts really doing for me? Um, zilch.
- I don’t want to support sites that promote a single beauty ideal. That’s essentially participating in the exclusion of others.
- It costs me money to run my blog. Space on it is not free. I’m not going to “pimp my blog” with an ad for another site that doesn’t truly foster a spirit of inclusiveness. And doesn’t pay me.
- I want complete control over my personal information and my intellectual property.
- I have better things to do with my time than think of obscure post/photo titles and post photos on my blog and three other sites, all with different specs.
- Since when did a street style site determine my karma?
- I’m not 13. Or 23. Or 33. In the fashion blogging world, I’m old.
Loss of creative control.
As a professional writer, my words are my money. My blog posts and images are my intellectual property. Why would I want to give someone else control over the dissemination and use of my property, with no compensation? Or without proper notice? If I am my brand, it behooves me to ensure I have control of my intellectual property, and that if/when I relinquish control or allow use of it, I’m fully aware and I agree to the terms.
Why am I advertising for another site on my blog for free?
These fashion-based, social networking sites tempt users with points and features and potential exposure. They want you, bloggers, to leave the confines of the blog you pour your heart and soul into, and come post your photos on their site—so others can rate you for the infinitesimal chance that you might score a big feature, traffic, and ultimately, money. Not only do you lose creative control of your images once you post them elsewhere, these sites make money on advertising based on YOUR traffic, YOUR photos, YOUR presence. Oh, and you’re sending everyone there with that badge on YOUR blog. Huh? But wasn’t the point to get more people to come to your blog? Right.
On this subject, you should all read the IFB Fair Compensation Manifesto.
I’m sure bloggers do get new followers through their participation on these sites. But there are other ways to connect with bloggers and grow your readership—Independent Fashion Bloggers (IFB), BlogHer, Blog Catalog, and using Twitter and Stumble Upon can help boost traffic, without the need for a gimmicky sidebar widget that pulls readers away from your blog. Plus, IFB provides free tips that help protect bloggers and show them how to improve blogs and increase readership. If you want to meet more bloggers, simply join in the discussions there.
Why should I support a site that perpetuates one standard of beauty?
I believe in celebrating individuality. After I got a taste of Weardrobe, Chictopia, etc., it occurred to me that my participation in these sites perpetuates the already unsavory air of exclusivity in the fashion world. Hypes, likes, karma, hearts—whatever the rating system—they’re all votes and judgments doled out by other members based on appearance alone. I don’t want to be a part of that. I am more than my face, my race, my clothes, my hair. I’m not 23 and I’m not a size zero. I’d rather spend time cultivating relationships with people on a one-to-one basis, and I believe beauty comes in many, many different forms. We don’t all fit into that tiny little white box.
Finally, the numbers…
Before delving into this, there are a couple other things to consider. First, on all the sites, featured bloggers are chosen through some combination of public scoring and editorial selection. Second, my study of Lookbook.nu, Chictopia, Weardrobe, and Hypeed is by no means scientific, but still incredibly revealing. You should know that I made assumptions about ethnicity based on names, appearance, and geographic location. Most participants listed their ages, and could be classified as young (age 15 to age 30). The race and ethnicity of participants was obvious except in a handful of cases where there was some racial ambiguity, which forced me to draw an unverified conclusion. But this variable is of little significance, because my overwhelming finding on all the sites was as follows:
- If you’re young, thin, female, attractive, and white, your chances of being selected are greatest. This is the majority demographic on ALL the sites.
- If you’re young, thin, female, attractive, and Asian, you have the next best chance of being selected.
- If you are young, thin, male and white or Asian, you’re next on the list, but way down the list.
- If you are black and female, bigger than I’d guess about a U.S. size 8, or older than say, 35-ish, you have very, very slim odds of being selected. So good luck.
Lookbook.nu, which bills itself as the “collective fashion consciousness,” is the largest of the fashion/street style networking sites, with more than 200,000 members. The site provides the following audience statistics:
- Female: 80% female
- Young: 66% between 18 and 34, 33% between 12 and 17, average age 20 years old
- Connected: 50% of members run their own blog or personal website
- Engaged: Avg. 8 pages per visit and 7:57 avg. time on site
- Creative: Top occupations include students (college, fashion, architecture, art, design, photography, etc.), photographers, fashion designers, graphic designers, bloggers, models, musicians, and stylists.
“Pimp your blog” widgets/badges are encouraged, and no wonder why: corporate partnerships/sponsorships include H&M, Levi’s, Gap, DKNY Jeans, Forever21, Sebastian, J. Crew, American Apparel, Nike, JC Penney, Nixon, Skull Candy, Diesel, Armani Exchange, AllSaints, American Express, and more. The more bloggers who are “pimping” their blogs with Lookbook.nu’s badge and link, the more traffic they can boast (currently more than 3.4 million unique visitors per month), and the more advertisers come running, checkbooks in-hand. Let’s say half of the site’s registered members have a badge that links back to Lookbook.nu—that’s 100,000 free ads. Clever, huh?
Lookbook.nu has ratings/voting tied to “karma” and “hypes,” as follows:
What is “karma”?
When a look is “hyped” the person who posted it is rewarded with a karma point. In the same way that popular outfits are voted to the top, the users who post them get increases in karma. Every LOOKBOOK.nu user affects one another’s karma equally, and this is how members reward each other for posting looks that are stylish, unique, and interesting.
What is average karma?
Average karma is simply a user’s total karma divided by the number of looks he or she has posted. The higher a user’s average karma, the greater the user’s reputation. On the NEW page, the Karma Filter uses average karma in part to determine how much each look is shown.
What is hype?
LOOKBOOK.nu members show appreciation by voting up, or adding “hype” points to the looks they like. Community hype helps to determine which looks are showcased on the “HOT” page—the more a look is hyped, the higher up it appears.
Lookbook.nu has so many photos going up daily, it is too time-consuming to count. But click through the archives for any given week and the photos speak for themselves. The overwhelming majority of members in the Top and Leader sections are young, thin, white (Caucasian) women. Lots of hypes for lots of PYWTs—pretty, young, white, things. I hate to write that, but it’s true. I’m not saying we need equality, but there is really no diversity to speak of on these sites, not for the non-Caucasians, and not for the more voluptuous, at least.
Cece—who I would never consider overweight or unattractive, in fact, quite the opposite—included the following screen capture of her own outfit post, with zero Hypes on Lookbook.nu, on her blog, LoveBrownSugar:
I know Cece is not alone in her bewilderment and feelings of rejection. Unfortunately, she is in the minority demographic for these sites, and consequently, very few other members identify with her, hence no hypes. And no matter how we try to change it, it is human nature to identify with what we know. Students in a classroom or lunchroom naturally and unconsciously segregate themselves by gender and race. Until registration and participation on street style sites becomes more diverse, minorities—in any sense—will always be left out in the cold.
And as for karma, according to dictionary.reference.com, karma is:
action, seen as bringing upon oneself inevitable results, good or bad, either in this life or in a reincarnation.
On Lookbook.nu, the cuter you are, the better your karma. OK. How is making others feel bad about themselves because they aren’t skinny, pretty, white, straight, or tall good karma? Only “voting up” the genetically and financially blessed—is that good karma? Or leaving nasty comments on the photos of others?
On an upnote, the site has finally done away with its ridiculous “invitation-only” registration. Now anyone can join. Including minors as young as 12 years old. Yes. 12-year-olds can post photos of themselves online for others to vote on. The implications of this are potentially so great, I don’t even know where to begin. One of my readers, Ioana Liliana Gheorghe, of Fashezine, brought this to my attention—she and many of us are thoroughly appalled by this. All I can say is I thank my lucky stars I don’t have a tween or a teen to manage in this day and age.
Of course, Lookbook.nu has all the legalese required to protect itself and its members to a certain degree, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering why on earth 12-year-olds are being encouraged and permitted to: a) focus on their looks at that age, and b) post photos of themselves online. What does a 12-year-old know about privacy and predators? And talk about opening up the floodgates for cyber bullying and attacks on members with already fragile, pre-pubescent self-esteem.
UPDATE: Lookbook.nu responded on October 28, 2010. Read Lookbook.nu Responds to “Why I’m Not on Weardrobe, Chictopia, Lookbook, or Hypeed”.
With more than 100,000 registered users, Chictopia is also a big player amongst fashion/style-based social networking sites. As mentioned above, Chictopia has tried to play more fairly with bloggers after users discovered their images were used without notification or blog attribution, and Independent Fashion Bloggers raised an eyebrow and a hand to shed light on the issue. Don’t worry, my lovelies, the site is now abundantly clear about what it can do with your contributions:
…(c) Chictopia shall be entitled to use or disclose (or choose not to use or disclose) such Contributions for any purpose, in any way, in any media worldwide; (d) Chictopia may have something similar to the Contributions already under consideration or in development; (e) your Contributions automatically become the property of Chictopia without any obligation of Chictopia to you; and (f) you are not entitled to any compensation or reimbursement of any kind from Chictopia under any circumstances.
The site permits minors as young as 13 to participate, and is very emphatic that those under 13 may not participate:
…You hereby represent that you are of legal age to form a binding contract and are not a person barred from receiving services under the laws of the United States or other applicable jurisdiction. THE SERVICE IS NOT AVAILABLE TO PERSONS UNDER THE AGE OF THIRTEEN (13) OR TO ANY USERS SUSPENDED OR REMOVED FROM THE SERVICE BY Chictopia. BY USING THE SERVICE, YOU REPRESENT THAT YOU ARE AT LEAST THIRTEEN (13) YEARS OF AGE AND HAVE NOT BEEN PREVIOUSLY SUSPENDED OR REMOVED FROM THE SERVICE.
Curiously, when you register for the site there is no field for entering your birth date; you only agree to the Terms of Service. I know any user can fake a birth date, but I’m shocked that the registration form doesn’t include a field for collecting this info, if for no other reason than for Chictopia to cover itself legally.
I suppose age 13 is old enough to be exposed to banner ads like this on Chictopia:
But back to the main topic…the numbers. Chictopia’s favorites are called Style Icons, and are selected from top participants with the “most fans.” Of the last 160 “style icons” selected in mid-August 2010, ALL were thin, white females except for:
- 2 Asian males
- 2 white males
- 1 Asian male/female couple
- 1 black female (and she was just about the only one who was wasn’t reed thin, but still not overweight)
Partnerships with Cosmo Girl, Lucky, Seventeen, and Urban Outfitter—and the Terms of Service—suggest a mostly teenage demographic, and like Lookbook.nu and Chictopia, Weardrobe also allows minors as young as age 13 to participate, provided that they are in school (although the legal language is rather obscure):
As far as the site’s Weardrobe 100 of 2009—the top 100 favorite bloggers of last year, selections reflect the trend on all the other sites. The list included:
- 82 young, thin, white females
- 16 young, thin Asian females
- 2 young, thin black females
Paris-based Hypeed works like many of the other sites, and offers magazine-like editorials culled from user-submitted photos—”fashion by real people,” or so the site claims. I’m not sure how many registered users there are, but on October 25, 2010, it had 1,207 Facebook fans and 621 Twitter followers, so I suspect the amount of registered users is probably somewhere between the two.
8.1) Rights granted
a) Rights granted to Hypeed
The Contributor grants Hypeed the non-exclusive right to use his Works on the Internet and on mobile networks for marketing and promotional purposes of Hypeed’s Service, of Hypeed’s Platform and of Hypeed’s products.
The Contributor grants Hypeed the non-exclusive right to broadcast the Works in order to enable Hypeed to provide the Service.
b) Rights granted to Hypeed Partners
The Contributor grants the same non-exclusive rights to Hypeed Partners for a non-exclusive use of his Works on the Internet and on mobile networks.
Users have no control over the display of their age, posted comments, or account deletion. I had to email the team a couple times to have my account deleted, and that entailed the one-off addition of a link on my settings page which I then clicked. (Sidebar: I have major problems with sites that allow me to register, but then offer little or no control over privacy settings and account management.)
Hypeed may appear to be diverse on the surface, but after a quick scroll through the last five “magazine” features as of mid-August 2010 (approximately 123 images, often with multiple shots of the same person), I found:
- 95 young, thin, white females
- 24 young, thin Asian females
- 3 young, thin white males
- 1 young, black female
UPDATE: Hypeed responded on October 27, 2010. Read In response to Grit and Glamour.
Where do we go from here?
So what are we to make of this? Obviously, if sites are joined primarily by young, thin, attractive, white female users, it is no surprise that selections made by site management after popular votes will likely reflect the same demographic. And it’s true that on most of these sites, the users determine rankings and popularity. Kind of like high school—the other kids get to decide if you’re “cool” enough to be in the “in” crowd.
Users who participate in hopes of being featured—and who are not young, thin, attractive, female and white or Asian—sorry, guys and gals, but you really are wasting your time. You see the numbers above. The likelihood that you will be voted up and selected if you’re not a young, pretty, skinny, white or Asian girl is nil; based on the numbers above, roughly .6% to 2% of top members on Weardrobe, Chictopia, and Hypeed are non-whites and/or plus-sized. That means about 98% are light-skinned and lean.
So what’s a better solution? I believe that at the absolute minimum sites like Hypeed, Chictopia, et al., should:
- Give users full control over what personal details are revealed, as well as the ability to delete their accounts at any time, on their own. Your geographic location and age should not automatically be disclosed. You should not have to email the site to have your account deleted.
- Give users full control of comments posted on their photos. Users should have the right to delete unkind and injurious comments.
- Restrict membership to age 16 and up.
- Continue to allow users to vote on their favorite looks, but select featured bloggers randomly, through a lottery or drawing.
I do recognize that there is a level of photographic integrity these sites attempt to maintain, but even so, it still seems that the cards are stacked against certain ethnicities and body types. If those members make up only a fraction of the user base, then changing the numbers radically is statistically impossible.
If street style social networking sites can’t or won’t create a more diverse, inclusive experience, then bloggers and users, ultimately, this comes down to you. Will you continue to participate? Is it worth your time? Does your participation and support of these sites mirror your fundamental beliefs? Now that blogging is a well-established medium, it’s time for us to think more carefully about what we’re doing. We shouldn’t jump mindlessly onto every blog-centered, poppy-covered bandwagon that promises little more than a contest entry.
YOU, my readers, hold the key. Without your photos, your blog space, your time, these sites cannot survive. I am not on a mission to tear them down, I really am not—but there is room for improvement. I seriously doubt there will ever be the kind of sweeping improvement that would level the field a bit, so I simply choose not to participate.
What do you choose?