Find your niche! Own your niche! Embrace your niche community!
We trumpet the importance of niches within fashion, style and beauty blogging pretty frequently on IFB. It's an key part of finding interested, loyal readers and building a following. It's also how you separate yourself from the masses to showcase your unique personality and point of view.
The Internet is a place where niche communities have been able to grow and flourish, as well as foster meaningful discussions about their experiences, issues and goals. Somewhere along the way, it feels like our niche communities have narrowed the discussion, rather than encourage more discussion. Opinions are bound to be strong when people are deeply passionate about something, especially when it's about themselves, personally. Heated debates are par for the course and good for open communication – but what happens when the arguing gets ugly within your own community – among people who first came together because of what they share in common?
In the sphere of fashion and beauty blogging, we've recently read some really interesting op-ed pieces that have shone some light on this. In a post on XO Jane in July, Veronica Miller wrote, “Why I Stopped Blogging About Natural Hair,” in which she talks about her experience as well as that of other bloggers, who wrote about natural hair and found some readers to be incredibly critical of just what exactly constituted natural hair, and the treatments applied to it.
“And so it goes in parts of the natural hair community — arbitrary rules decreed by readers, commenters and message board members. Don’t call it a “big chop” if you’re “mixed,” i.e., multi-racial. Don’t call it a big chop if you have “long” hair. Don’t call your hair natural if it has color in it. Or if you’ve used a flat iron. Or if you’ve blow-dried at any point in the last six months. And the list goes on.”
Miller felt that the niche she once so enjoyed being a part because of what it celebrated, had become too inwardly critical. “It was hard to watch. I didn't want to be a part of a community that policed other people’s choices,” she says in the article. “In the process of developing pride in their own hair, some naturals developed a contempt, if not outright hostility, to women with other textures. And talking about being pretty suddenly became ugly.”
Much more is revealed in the comments that follow the article, with many women commenting (thoughtfully, and without hostility) that there are certain agreed-upon qualifications for natural hair that are the foundation for much of the dissension, but agreeing that the catty and unfriendly directions the conversations could go wasn't helpful for anyone.
In August, Marie Denee of The Curvy Fashionista expressed similar frustrations about the plus size community in her post, “Stepping on my Soapbox: Plus Size Models Are Women Too…”
“As plus size women, we have fought over the years for an equal playing field in fashion. We have fought for access to fashion. We have fought for inclusion in mainstream fashion and challenged stereotypes. We have reshaped the perception of beauty! But. What I do not get, is why NOW we are turning inwards and challenging, lamenting, bullying those who are on the smaller side of plus? Yes, this is happening. How dare we subject others to the torment, shame, ridicule, ostracism, and dismissive behavior because of their size? Haven’t you, haven’t we endured this enough?”
In parts of these communities, it seems like the forward progress of celebrating the human race's diversity can be dimmed from within by aggressively fundamentalist or purist community members. As one commenter on the XO Jane article, TreniaP (who writes about dating for curvy women) shares, “I don't support the natural hair purists, but I understand where it comes from. I think women with coarse hair want to be in a place where they don't feel like they are in competition with other hair textures, the way they've been made to feel their entire lives.”
It's not just women who are speaking critically and sometimes maliciously to one another within their blogging niches. The online menswear community has exploded in growth and popularity since the heydays of StyleForum and men.style.com (and GQ has a fairly comprehensive reflection on it from the perspective of some of the community's heavy-hitters). Leading bloggers in this niche, such as Put This On, A Continuous Lean and Street Etiquette, have made it more than okay, they've made it cool to care about your clothes as a man. Still, whether it's tearing down a blogger's personal taste (just look at some of the comment threads on — the now retired blog — Sartorially Inclined), or splitting hairs over raw denim, the same issues arise.
Marie Denee concludes her post with a question, “How can we demand that society accept us and treat our industry with respect if we cannot accept ourselves first?”
Acceptance seems to be at the root of all of this, whether your niche is about your hair, your body, your height, your style, your budget or your lifestyle. Isn't the hope that embracing this part of your identity and sharing with others (like-minded or not) will create broader acceptance and awareness?
If you think about it, every type of blogger belongs to some kind of niche. Some are large and some are small, but each one comes with it's own idiosyncrasies, quirks, and characteristics that make it special.