Throughout the course of my career, I haven’t given my personal boundaries much thought, and it’s only been within the last few weeks that I’ve begun to question why they haven’t been more of a priority.
In January, an issue of Haley Nahman’s newsletter, “Maybe Baby,” circulated among our team. She wrote about her relationship with her comment section and said, “Reading through them felt like sitting down to a feedback session with a manager, only on a constant basis and with anyone who cared to weigh in.” Haley then went on to explain how she “grew paralyzed by strangers’ criticism, sometimes devoting entire days to processing their comments.” I remember rereading that sentence probably ten times, empathizing with Nahman about how easy it is to turn inwards and lose any semblance of rationality when you’ve opened yourself up to judgment online. Her issue inspired a conversation about boundaries between Kelly, Leslie, Jess, and me that ultimately resulted in the decision to also remove the comment section from this blog.
When I started cupcakes and cashmere in 2008, I shared a curated, sugar-coated snippet of my life that was condensed into five blog posts each week. There was an anonymity inherent in the content I created, both in the topics I covered and the way it was consumed. The internet felt like a safe space and the blogging world, still so new, fostered genuine, enjoyable discourse in the comments. I remember when that seemed to shatter, in the form of my first mean comment. I was sitting in my cubicle (my blog was merely a hobby at the time) when an anonymous note informed me that I had “slutty eyebrows.” Deeply rooted misogyny aside, in all fairness, they were far too thin and arched, but in that moment I recognized a shift in how we treated one another online, and how my public-facing role meant I was open to a different level of scrutiny.
As the media landscape evolved, so did people’s expectations. Gone was the desire for planned, picture-perfect photographs in lieu of unlimited access to someone’s life. And as someone who is inherently fearful of change, this terrified me. It’s only looking back now that I realize how exposed and intimidated I felt with each new social media iteration and their individual demands. With the introduction of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Stories, Lives, TikTok, and Reels, there was a simultaneous expectation that I share more, with a self-imposed expectation that I master it all immediately in front of a very vocal audience of hundreds of thousands of people. At times, I felt so overwhelmed by it all that I doubted my own ability to be uplifting or inspiring, especially in a time when we all needed it most. I should have shared that, but worried I would come across as ungrateful. I love my job so much that I’ve been more than willing to pivot and adapt each time, even though I became increasingly affected by the influx of feedback. I was so concerned with maintaining my business that I never even considered setting boundaries, fearful that doing so could jeopardize everything I’d worked for.
In my personal life, I’ve always been good at setting boundaries and pride myself on being able to communicate effectively. I’ve ended toxic friendships with people I still miss, sought out a therapist when my anxiety became crippling, and silence my phone each night so I’m not woken by texts or calls. To set boundaries requires a certain amount of confidence, not only in myself, but in the strength of those relationships. I’ve never possessed that same level of certainty within my career, which is one of the reasons I’ve always been so sensitive (and subsequently defensive) when it comes to feedback.
For years, I moderated comments. I would read every single one, but only publish those that didn’t give me that gut punch, and occasionally blocked those starting conversations that made me uncomfortable—and that’s one of the things I regret most. Some of the comments were cruel, but a lot of them came from a constructive place and I was just too insecure to see it. It’s not always easy to hear criticism, but I also recognize it’s been integral to my growth. This past summer we opened up our comments entirely, and I became acutely aware of how my white fragility had played a part in perpetuating a system of oppression. I’m forever grateful to those who took the time to share their stories, point out my problematic behavior, and allow me the space to learn and grow. I provided an update on where we stand on the antiracist commitments I made back in June and will continue to do so. But as of late there’s been a shift, a level of hostility in our comment section (and the internet as a whole, really) that doesn’t provide productive and thoughtful criticism. And for a while I allowed it, fueled by a level of guilt from having moderated comments for so long. In the same way I’ve set boundaries for myself personally, I’m finally learning how to do that here, with you, which is why we’re turning off our comment section. Instead, and inspired by Haley’s newsletter, we’ve created a Google Form for your feedback that Leslie, who has been managing our content calendar for the past several years (...yet *another* thing I should have mentioned), will be checking regularly (we will no longer be checking Disqus).
As one of the original lifestyle bloggers, I’ve felt an enormous amount of loyalty, appreciation, and gratitude for the readers who have stuck with me here over the past nearly thirteen years. I’m not one to easily embrace change (something you all likely know by now), and when I did, I heard as you voiced your disappointment—whether it was after Five Things came to an end, when DIY tutorials were few and far between, or as you felt my presence less and less on the blog. With each shift, I should have been confident in my decisions and shared them with you, but instead, led by my instinct to people-please, I was paralyzed by the thought of letting you down, so I said nothing. I should have embraced that those who still felt aligned with my content and evolution of the business would stay and continue to grow with me, and be at peace with those who feel my content no longer serves them. It’s only expected that as a hobby developed into a business (and after so much time), some followers would come and go, but I have faith in the brand I’ve built and how it will continue to evolve.
This blog will always be my home. A place to share longer, important pieces, host an array of fresh (and talented) voices, and hopefully, find inspiration for anyone needing it. But social media is both where our business is and where I spend the majority of my time, creating ephemeral, of-the-moment content and hearing directly from you.
I will continue to work on setting clear boundaries, communicating them effectively, and focusing on my own mental health and happiness—as I think we all should.
Thank you, as always, to the vibrant and incredible women who have championed this corner of the internet, thoughtfully called us in, inspired us to be better, and lifted us all up.