Quitting Toxic Blogging Positivity Culture

It sounds strange, doesn’t it? That positivity can be toxic.

However, over the last year, it’s really become increasingly clear to me that our culture has an unhealthy obsession with being happy, perfect and productive 24/7. We see it play out time and time again in media and advertising, on social media, and blogging in particular. But it’s more than that — it plays out in the real world, too, and has serious effects on our lives and mental health. This mentality wreaked havoc on my life in 2020 — and frankly, I’m done with it.

Now I don’t mean this in any sort of a bad way — especially since doing so would make me a hypocrite — but overall, the vast majority of blog posts that lifestyle bloggers produce have to do with productivity, goal-setting, or somehow creating the perfect life. Which I guess is sort of the point — if you’re a lifestyle blogger, you’re selling your lifestyle. It makes sense that you want it to look as good as it can possibly be. After all, everyone shares only the absolute best parts of their lives on social media and many (if not all of us) have exaggerated here and there every once in a while. The issue I want to talk about isn’t sharing the best moments and images of your life on social media, though. What I’m talking about — and hoping to fix in my own life — pertains pretty specifically to blogging.

Think about it. How many times have you seen a lifestyle blogger (myself included) share a post listing the numerous different ways you can change your life to be productive, or organized, or successful? Posts that create an image of a lifestyle that the blogger is living where they wake up early, work out, eat healthy, take perfect care of their skin, hair, and makeup, are successful and their job, with full social lives to top it all off? Maybe it isn’t spelled out directly, but it’s often implied. “Do this, and your life will be perfect.” While some people post practical guides, many of these guides are impossible to follow to a T. Simply put — the lifestyle depicted in these blog posts is not a realistic one.

I know I’m not the only one guilty of making posts like this. But do you really know anyone in real life who lives like that? I know some crazy successful people — but I don’t actually know anyone who can “do it all”. There’s only 24 hours in a day, and everyone has to pick and choose. I promise you, regardless of how it may seem online, absolutely no one’s life is flawless 24/7. I know some of you out there won’t believe me, and I know some of you know this in theory but often forget it in reality. But I promise you no one’s life is as perfect as it looks on social media. Not that influencer you love who seems to always look perfect, or Kylie Jenner, or the girl who seems like she owns everything you could ever want — not even the small blogger who seems to have their life 100% put together. None of them.

So why are we pretending that our lives ARE perfect? There’s a good chance that even if you think you’re not, you still may be. I want you to ask yourself if holding yourself to this standard is helping you, or if it’s actually hurting you. Of course we all want to put out a good image on social media — it’s not like I’m going to start posting pictures of myself without my hair washed and in my grossest old PJs on my Instagram — but what is up with going above and beyond lately? Why do we have to pretend like we’re productive and positive 24/7? Like our lives are busy all the time? Even a pandemic didn’t seem to stop the tirade of pretending to be productive all the time. So what will?

It wasn’t until last year that it really became abundantly clear to me just how damaging toxic positivity and hustle culture can be. While it’s certainly been a problem far before 2020 ever began, watching the world lock down due to a global pandemic really shone a light on how deeply ingrained and problematic this issue is within our society. I didn’t see it at first — in fact, for the first half of the pandemic, during the most emotionally challenging time I’ve ever gone through, I fell victim to it. No matter what life threw at me, I felt the need to “bounce back” as quickly as possible. In reality, though, it was impossible to keep up.

Tw: Death. I get into some pretty personal stuff the next few paragraphs, so if you don’t want to read it for whatever reason, feel free to skip past the italicized text — I promise I return to the main point afterwards!

Back in March of 2020, I was dealing with the grief of losing two very important people to me over the span of 5 weeks right as stay-at-home orders were put in place. I studying for my Biopsych final, which would decide whether or not I graduated from UBC, and on top of that, I was coming off what had been one of the most stressful and uncertain years of my life. In early 2019, I received the news that despite all the times I checked my graduation requirements, and my friends checked my requirements, and I had university advisors check over my requirements, I was somehow missing a class that I needed in order to graduate. I’d heard stories from friends of the same thing happening to them, but I’d been so careful — I figured there was no way it would happen to me.

But it did, and it was kind of devastating. Any plans I had went up in smoke, and ever since I’ve distinctly felt as though I’ve fallen behind in life, and that I wasted an entire year. For the first time in my life, I was kind of left alone without any sort of plan. Eventually, I picked up a job at a sports bar, often working 7 days a week, while I finished up my classes. My job often asked far too much of me, and took advantage of the fact that I was so capable of being the only host at such a large establishment during their busiest season. Could I handle it? Yeah, sort of. But just because I could push myself to my limits didn’t mean that I should. Yet, due to the very same culture that forces us to act productive and happy 24/7, I felt like I had to power through.

As the pandemic shut down the world, the pressure I put myself under while studying for my final was crushing. I spent almost every day for the first four weeks of lockdown studying from when I woke until bedtime. I struggled heavily with insomnia during those weeks. I was often so tired and overwhelmed with anxiety that I would physically shake for hours as I did my work — even though I knew that I was excelling in the class, and there was no need to be so hard on myself. I cried about losing my friend every single day up until the day that my Grandma passed away — but after that, I simply shut down. The following day after my grandma passed, I stopped crying. I barely remember what the two weeks between then and my final were like — all I remember is I stopped crying and I kept studying.

Through it all, however, I kept posting semi-regularly on my blog. I’d say I did everything I could to keep posting regularly, but I did more than everything I could — I was pushing myself beyond my limits. But so much of blogging revolves around showing others how to live their best life, based on how “perfect” your own life is. So I kept up the facade. One of my closest friends in the world passed away, and I only allowed myself only one week off from posting blogs. At the time, I thought I was taking it easy on myself — I missed a couple blog posts here and there, and while I felt guilty about it, I shared some posts mentioning I was taking a week or two off and did my best to not fall behind. However, every time I missed a post I felt as though I had failed. I felt guilty sharing my Spring FabFitFun unboxing three weeks late — as if it really mattered. Immediately after I finished up my final, I resumed posting twice a week — I didn’t even give myself the slightest break. However, it wasn’t good enough to pretend to have it all together online — I truly believed I had to have my life perfectly under control offline, too.

Back in early lockdowns (and even still now), we were constantly being bombarded with advertisements from companies about “being productive” now that we had the time, and “getting on top of things” while we could. And very quickly, we all bought into it as well. Once one person starts doing it, we all feel the need to keep up. Even though we were collectively going through an incredibly uncertain and stressful period in our lives, we felt the need to keep up with what we saw others doing online. Perfecting a new skill, daily workouts, cleaning your whole house, social media challenges, keeping up with all the biggest Netflix trends, finding a side hustle — I’m sure we all felt the pressure to do one, if not ALL of these at some point back in March/April of last year.

But why? Why did we all feel the need to be as busy as possible in a time when there was, objectively, nothing to do? Why did I feel the need to only take a week or two off before launching into creating a strict routine, sleep schedule, workout regimen and blogging itinerary when I was coping with so much loss and stress? At the time, I thought I was doing what was healthy, what was best for me. In retrospect, however, I can barely even remember what May was like. And while I kept it all up for about a month, it didn’t take long for it all to start unravelling.

After only a few short weeks of following my schedule and staying “perfectly” on top of my life, I had event after event come along and disrupt my newfound routine. Which is life, of course — things happen. It only took a couple little bumps to have my plan fall apart completely. By July, I began this perpetual game of catch-up that lasted months. I was late to post almost every single blog post I shared for two months straight, and every time a post was shared behind schedule, I felt as though I had failed. I had no motivation to keep writing, but I felt I had to — and forced myself to keep going. I couldn’t hold focus for more than a few minutes and I honestly didn’t feel I had anything to share at the time, but it didn’t matter. I had set goals for myself that I felt I had to achieve by year’s end, and I wanted to keep up the appearance everything was fine. I think I felt at the time everything WAS mostly fine — but now I realize it really, really wasn’t.

By September, it all fell apart. After months of holding myself together with nothing but guilt and the belief that I had to keep going, I was too burnt out to continue. I only had energy to coast through life until December came around. However, after a real, proper break — a month at home where I essentially expected nothing of myself, nor did my family — I’m finally starting to feel a little better. I’m trying to get my life back on track — but it’s for myself this time. I’m taking it slowly, and adding things back in with time instead of rushing myself back into a full schedule. Do I still struggle with having heightened or unrealistic expectations for myself? Yeah, of course. However, I’m trying to identify these expectations and why I feel the need to set them for myself nowadays to help myself determine what’s a healthy goal that pushes me forward, keeps me motivated and makes me happy; rather than something I’m aiming for that’s detrimental to my mental health and well-being.

Of course, my example is a little different, and fairly extreme. Who knows why I reacted the way I did to everything last year — it was a difficult year for me, and perhaps it was just the only way I knew to react to such an unfamiliar situation. I’m not here to psychoanalyze myself — although I guess I may be trying to analyze society as a whole. What I’m really trying to say here is — you don’t need to do it all. Choose what you WANT for yourself, and focus on that. You don’t need to work out every morning to have your life together. You don’t need to work through the weekend to be successful. You don’t need to always be busy to be happy.

And not just that — not everything has to be for the sake of being productive, too! Perhaps it’s just some capitalistic belief that the things we do aren’t valuable if they aren’t somehow profitable. But that isn’t true! When was the last time you had a hobby just for the sake of having a hobby? Something that you, perhaps, aren’t even good at? Why do you have to be good at it, after all, if it brings you joy? Balance is key — and while I’ve definitely said it before, you need to balance giving yourself a break, too. But not just cute blogger self-care nights — sometimes you just need a night to do nothing and a nap. Not everything in life has to be picture-perfect — contrary to what I or other bloggers have made you believe.

As lifestyle bloggers, we get sucked into following a bit of a formula — a particular aesthetic, a particular lifestyle, and particular interests. Following April, almost every single post of mine had to do with productivity, routine, schedule, or lockdowns. I didn’t even know what else to write about, as I had pretty severe writers block from all the issues I was facing. So I just kept forcing myself to be productive, and wrote about being productive — as if I were someone who had it all together when really, I had no idea what was going on. But we don’t need to adhere to an aesthetic. Life is more than that! Of course, if your blog is your business, you want to build a specific brand. But just because you’re starting out, doesn’t mean you need to fall into the trap of narrowing yourself down into the very particular lifestyle blogger aesthetic. While the minimalistic, cute, and elegant themes are absolutely gorgeous, there’s no need to wedge yourself into them if it isn’t what fits you. If the typical blogger aesthetic is something you aspire to, or is one that comes to you naturally — go for it, obviously! It’s majorly cute and refined, and I personally adore it — even though it isn’t my personal vibe.

As for what my vibe IS exactly — I honestly don’t really know. I’m working on it. I want to be able to fit every part of me into it, without cutting parts away simply because they don’t match. I feel as though I’m a very different person that I’ve perhaps lead you all to believe — either directly or indirectly. It’s not intentional — after all, I do love makeup, skincare, online shopping, subscription boxes and staying organized — but I also love art, and anime (Attack on Titan fans HMU), and BLACKPINK, and Animal Crossing, and I don’t think these things have to be mutually exclusive. But who know — it’s not like I have to figure it out on a deadline, after all!

When I started writing this post out, I had no idea where it was really going to go, honestly. I had a vague idea in my head, and an issue I wanted to discuss, and past that I just let it take me wherever it needed to go. Writing all this out was kind of therapeutic, in a way — really just sitting back and letting your writing take you wherever it will is a great way to discover things about yourself and your story. So I hope you’ve all learned something here today — because honestly, so did I. It may be difficult to let go — I don’t think it’s a change I’ll be able to make 100% overnight — but I’m hoping to put in the work and identify these beliefs and behaviours when they come up in my life, in order to challenge them and make some positive differences in both my life and other’s.

I guess to sum up what I have to say — it’s not like I’m going to stop trying. I’m not going to stop trying to better myself, to be successful, to look my best, to surround myself with happiness. I’m still going to strive forward towards these things. And whatever advice I learn along the way I’ll absolutely share with you all. But I’m done with preaching advice I don’t take myself, or acting like some know-it-all with a perfect life. I’m not. You’re not. None of us are. Life is messy and while it can be beautiful, it isn’t perfect. So this is my little pledge — to stop forcing myself to fit a standard and chastising myself when I don’t reach it. To take real breaks, and not just push myself further after falling behind. And to always be honest with all of you, and share honest advice, and not just what I think sounds good on paper.

Love you all, always,

Meredith