Body Image

Confessions of a former snarker

9 June, 2010

To know me is to watch me change. I’ve had about five different hair colours in the last year, but that’s not what I mean. I want to talk about changing my mind, my outlook, and my behaviour.

It’s highly unrealistic to have a picture of someone in your mind that never changes, yet it’s the simplest thing to do. I’m not a psychologist or nothing but I bet it’s because there’s so much information in the world. It’s easier to take a mental snapshot of a person, a friend, a family member, even an adversary and file it away, referring to it only when that person pops up. You might only need to pull up a snapshot when that person’s name is mentioned, if you run into them on the street, or come across them on the internet. That snapshot doesn’t really need to change, because for the most part, we cling to the things we know and the things that define us. Change is hard work! So when someone you know tweaks something small, and you come across them again, most people don’t stop and take another mental picture. You keep trying to compare them to the mental picture you have in your mind, and it can get confusing!

You might know me through my words and pictures, or you might know me as someone you hang out with in real life. You might even be my Mum. Hi Mum! You may have known me for a little while, or you may have known me for a few years. There are things about me that you know, that are part of your mental picture of Natalie Perkins. I like drawing and making stuff, I’m pretty opinionated, and I like to wear clothes. If you’ve known me for a while you might know more stuff, stuff that doesn’t really mesh with the things I love to talk about now. Like how I think criticising other people’s fashion choices is a hurtful thing, but… wasn’t I the girl who set up a community on the internet where people could say mean things about what other people are wearing? I was. If you remember it, you’re not remembering incorrectly!

A few people are asking me, now that my words are being read by a larger audience, how I can be the same person. It’s a fair question and it’s why I’m writing this post. I’m Natalie Perkins, ex-fashion snarker, current feminist and size acceptance activist and I went through a process of questioning the ways in which I took part in putting other women down, being called on my crappy behaviour, and making a resolution to change my mind. Lots of people think that changing your mind is a power struggle, that “giving in” and admitting that you’re wrong is a Bad Thing. I’ve got to tell you that is A Grade Crapola. That’s the power systems that favour you and afford you privilege trying to get you to resist change and that is one of the reasons why things are so crappy in this world. Another reason is because Arrested Development is not being made anymore, but it’s just a small sliver in the pie chart of Reasons Why The World Is Crappy.

I did not change my mind overnight. No, I am pretty stubborn. I take after my Dad. The fight I put up was drawn out and dirty and took place over months. I denied that my snarky behaviour was anti-feminist, I denied my racism, and I denied my privilege. Smart people, who really did not owe me anything and were not obligated to educate me, offered me links and discussed things with me but I stood my ground. No sir, I was not going to back down. But after a while, months even, things started ringing true. Making fun of people, who were mostly female identified, began to feel like I was part of the system of oppression that keeps women down. That didn’t feel good at all, but I COULD NOT GIVE IN!

Despite my stubbornness, I found myself snarking less. I could abide that, so long as I didn’t have to lose face by giving in! So I was coasting along, not having to admit my follies and engaging more and more in feminist discourse, when people started asking me questions. “Why aren’t you commenting in the snark community anymore?” Oh, I’m busy. Um… yeah. And then, “How can you justify being so loudmouthed and opinionated on women’s issues when you’re still a mod?” The penny dropped. It was time to own my behaviour. The question wasn’t offensive anymore, and I didn’t feel so weird about answering. I understood that I wasn’t losing anything by owning it and admitting I was wrong – I was gaining some excellent life experience and more to the point, I understood what it meant to be an actual feminist. Someone who isn’t afraid of admitting when she is wrong.

At the end of the day? A backflip isn’t a bad thing when you’re backflipping on hurtful behaviour. Protecting my ego was a selfish thing, and all the fat activism I engaged in was for naught if I couldn’t understand and front up to the realisation that I was a tool for putting people down. I’m still a mod of that community and if I’m honest, I’m at a place of confusion. Do I remain a member and a moderator, and call people on their hurtful words? Or do I leave, and never think about it again except to denounce it?

I don’t need a pat on the back. If you go through a similar process and expect a cookie, you’re not quite there yet. Change is a tool for growth and it helps you to be a more awesome human being, part of a more awesome human community. I think it’s our job to be re-evaluating, questioning, being questioned… all the time.

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  • mskweenie

    I'm having the same feelings as of late. All the snarking I was once a part of now feels foreign and hateful for no reason.

  • mel

    oooooh… i feel all special and famous now for being the annoying question-asker who inspired the snap decision to write a huge post. hee hee.

  • You get a Girth Guides badge! (IDK if you're on twitter and have followed that convo today, but it's been hilarious.)

    I think your question really tipped the scales. I'd been asked it a few times and the time was right!

  • One of the greatest things about life is that we are able to evolve and grow :)

  • Stephania

    I have been through a similar journey, and you are completely right on everything. You learn more deeply about human behaviour (especially how you said the “protecting your ego” thing, and finally seeing things that much more clearly is a breath of fresh air and is truly liberating.
    Very brave and good of you to write this one. Often it can be the hardest thing to admit when one is wrong, but change can be a good thing, and is such a tool for growth if you take it and run with it :) Good work Natalie :)

  • mel

    i'm working on earning my “arse applause” badge as we speak!

  • lol, tipped the scales

  • Again, I agree completely. We can learn from our previous mistakes, we can admit when we're wrong and we're constantly changing, evolving and questioning. I don't see at all how this can be seen as a bad thing, unless it's to keep people in their place and, I guess, their box.

  • Admitting you are wrong is hard because being right feels fabulous. No prizes for the former either-but greater rewards. Good on you Natalie- I have made a similar backflip in recent times in response to what you and others have written specifically against the snarky fashion blogs. However the bitchy snarky posts really made me sit up and take notice particularly when I found a pearl of wisdom and a voice of assent nestled amongst the nastiness. I think you have hit the nail on the head here. It only requires a bit of thought about our behaviour and how that matches up with our values to end the snark, but getting to that point is difficult.

  • kellyhogaboom

    This is kind of a stunning post and I'm sure many women can relate. I also look back on my own (public) persona and writings. Sometimes I cringe. But maybe it's a good thing, having this record so we can know who we were and maybe relate a bit more to those who are still in that place.

    I have always disliked the snark community but felt like a supreme dork in speaking up against it (besides the problems you mention, classism also plays a big part). Your writings are inspirational because you are so direct, humane, funny, human, and your message is a wonderful one to spread. Thanks.

  • cAt

    Have a cookie anyway. :)

  • Timely post Natalie, thank you!

    I have been making significant changes / improvements (via Therapy) to my thoughts and behaviours for the past 3 years … I am definitely still a work in progress and I hope to stay that way.

    Some people just won't let go of 'slip ups' though – like the person/people who magically appear wherever I am, to remind me that I said nasty things about Michelle McGee! (yes, in the last 2 years I have said nasty things about one woman – I am human!!!)

    It's funny to try and navigate peoples reactions to changes you make to your thoughts and opinions aswell – there are so many who say things like “but you said X 3 months ago” or “what's wrong … why aren't you snarking people? you're no fun anymore”.

    One of the hardest ones for me to swallow, was a family member that I haven't really had much contact with for a couple of years write to me to tell me that my blog “Get Real” – was totally fake – that I was TheFakeRealSydney.

    Seems she liked me better when I was nasty & judgemental !

  • SNAP.

  • Snark really is a way that women connect, and it's all kinds of messed up, but I guess that's why many women are hesitant to give it up! It's almost like by your choosing not to engage, you are insulting these women who previously had a connection. It's hard stuff :(

    I wish you all the best with your stuff.

  • OM NOM NOM.

  • I get the looking back and cringing thing, but maybe that's a benefit of learning and growing? If people can't understand that we're older and wiser than the day before yesterday, well there's no hope for the world learning from it's errors.

    Your note about classism being a huge factor in snark is so true. So, so true. It's one of the things I try to be conscious of, having a fair wack of class privilege myself, but often I am admittedly blind to it.

  • Well said! It's amazing how our culture inadvertently encourages the idea that admitting fault is a weakness (what I call Apprentice Ideology). I think you'll inspire a lot of people with the post! xx

  • andreamac

    Everybody has the right to change their mind, and I definitely agree with you.

    Although there is entertainment value in the snark communities, it's not worth the energy to craft such cruel comments and ultimately try to make someone feel worthless. Especially when most people are able to make themselves feel that way without the help of the internet!

  • Seriously well said.

  • I admire this post a lot. Over the years I've moved away from reading or contributing to snarking in public. It seemed fun but doing too much of it put me in an unpleasant mood. I'd rather enjoy praising people and reading praise. (Constructive criticism is useful to read, too.)

  • Kaviare

    I think it's especially hard to give up snark. Because you know EXACTLY what those other people will be saying about you. Because you've said it about so many other people, in your time. And you've believed it. So it feels like they are winning and you are weak. But it's the opposite!

  • Hello
    I found your blog when I came across a tweet by a twitter contact Kissability. I enjoy your writing and your advocacy for body acceptance.
    I too am an advocate for body acceptance, but from the perspective of chronic illness and disability.
    You write really well. I look forward to getting to know you better through your blog.
    Carly
    http://carlyfindlay.blogspot.com

  • From one former snarker to another, right on.

    xo
    gabi

  • metrosarah

    Growth is awesome…just like you.

  • Horah! It's good to meet other Aussie activists. Glad to meet (emeet?!) you :D

  • I relate to this entry a great deal.

    Forcing myself to stop consuming and participating in discussions of celebrity gossip (in all its negative glory) was a watershed moment. The formula of celeb gossip coverage is so snark-saturated that it began to trickle into my daily life. I became more judgmental. More negative. I also internalized a lot of that negativity and judgmentality which sucked.

    Giving it up was a great decision that had ripple effects for the positive. But it wasn't that easy. I tried to tell myself it was no big deal to be snarky about famous people, since celebs aren't “real” people. But judgmental lines of thinking never occur within vacuums. And giving up snark and negativity are ongoing processes. They don't happen overnight and once you make an effort to refuse to participate you have to actually remember to stop participating.

    Your post is honest and serves a great reminder that making the conscious decisions to be both positive and a strong feminist are just that: conscious decisions. Being snarky is so easy. It is so “acceptable” and so common. Opting out of toxic discourses that circulate so prevalently is difficult. It removes from social interaction what many regard to be a go-to friendship bonder because in making fun together, people are able to align.

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  • Thank you :) glad to e-meet you too.

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  • Thanks for this.

  • Saccharinity

    You may not need a pat on the back but it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve one. Admitting fault is humbling, especially when the public is involved. I just started reading this site (hence the super late reply) I saw links to it previously but your association with unfats made you seem, well, vicious. But telling people their wrong if they expect a cookie? Well, you’re not quite there yet yourself.