I Went to a Female Blogger Conference to Learn More About the Career I Accidentally Fell Into
I've never felt a passionate desire to express my "truth" to a wide audience, or to monetize said truth. I just met a guy at an awful open mic years ago, he became an editor at this website, and the rest was herstory.
I guess I could technically be considered a blogger, though I do hate the term—to me, it suggests essays about the struggles and joys of motherhood, and the love of whatever sponsored foodstuffs and moisturizers have allegedly made said blogger's life easier. I say I could technically be considered a blogger because I'm writing this right now; but writing this right now, or anything for the internet, frankly, was never a life goal of mine. I've never felt a passionate desire to express my "truth" to a wide audience, or to monetize said truth. I just met a guy at an awful open mic years ago, he became an editor at this website, and the rest was herstory.
But since this is, for better or worse, my life now, I decided to go to the 12th annual BlogHer Conference to spend some time among my accidental peers and learn what, exactly, makes an intentional blogger. I had never heard of the BlogHer Conference, but, according to the website, it's "the world's largest celebration of women content creators across social media, video, photos, and the web." This year, it was held in a hotel ballroom in downtown LA, where the attendees hoped to learn from the best.
The keynote speakers at the 2016 conference included Sheryl Crow, Mayim Bialik, and Kim Kardashian; previous speakers have included Martha Stewart, Katie Couric, and a president by the name of Barack Obama. The BlogHer Conference, and the company that bears its name, is a hot commodity in the world of online content—its 2014 acquisition by SheKnows Media, the largest women's digital lifestyle company in the world, furthered its reach, including it in an umbrella of brands that reportedly generate more than 75 million page visitors per month.
The subtitle of this year's conference was "Experts Among Us," and at 9 AM on a Friday, I found myself watching one expert in action—a woman blogging during breakfast, penning an entry entitled "Lessons of a Solopreneur." I later learned, to my surprise, that "solopreneur" is a word that people actually use. I clearly had a lot to learn about the world of female content creators
"If you feel like blowing your own fucking mind over blogging this weekend, we encourage you to do so, and to hashtag it," SheKnows Media president Samantha Skey told the crowd during her speech.
The mind blowing, for me anyhow, began with the "What it Means to Be an Ally in 2016" panel. I had missed the panel preceding it, titled "Keeping Friends During a Heated Political Season," choosing instead to wander the conference's expo hall being marketed to... shout out to BlogHer sponsor Vagisil for the free internal vaginal moisturizing gel!
"What It Means to Be an Ally" was one in a series of panels centered on the concept of becoming woke online, though the whitest member of the panel spoke the most and had the least to say. Her specialization was animal rights—a movement dependent solely on allies, because, in her words, "animals can't talk." When the other panelists lamented the inherent racism that exists in the English language, the animal rights activist pointed out the lexicon was "species-ist" as well, in that it discriminates against animals. As she said this, the people around her sat in perturbed silence.
At noon, we gathered in the main ballroom to await the afternoon appearances of Crow and Kardashian. The ballroom was filled to capacity, no doubt due more to the forthcoming presence of Kardashian than Crow—those not lucky enough to find a seat at a table simply sat on the ground. These grounded women didn't seem particularly disturbed by the fact that they were sitting on the floor; rather, they seemed filled with the excitement of children on Christmas morning.
Crow, in conversation with the founder of the pregnancy site Mama Glow, told the crowd that they needed to fight to keep chemicals and hormones out of food, in order to protect our children from breast cancer, of which Crow was a survivor. She applauded Kraft for removing such toxins from their mac 'n' cheese, which was later handed out to attendees by the boxful. Crow also spoke profusely about a 3D breast cancer screening machine, whose expo booth she also conveniently made an appearance at following the speech. "She's body goals!" the girl sitting next to me said to no one in particular afterward. "Fifty four and in that shape? What the fuck?"
Upon Kardashian's entrance, a sea of women held cellphones aloft, capturing her flawless form in pic after pic. Kardashian estimated that she shares about 85 percent of her life with the world—15 percent of her existence, however, is hers and hers alone. In an effort to explain this ratio, she declared, "In this world, if you don't share something, it's like it doesn't exist." By way of example, she brought up the fact that people thought her infant son was a fabrication when she didn't post a stream images of him immediately post-birth.
While the conference, with its woke programming, had an unmistakably feminist vibe, Kardashian said she chose not to identify as such, as she "doesn't like labels." While she "loves to support other women," she doesn't like to push her views on people. "I'm a very nonjudgemental person," she told the audience. "My whole thing is nonjudgementalism."
When her spiel was over and the lights went up, women swarmed the stage in droves, calling her name and struggling to take selfies with her in the background. One began jumping, near tears, when she successfully achieved this goal.
The next afternoon, Philippe Guelton, CEO of SheKnows Media, presented a video about the "great value" of Herbalife, the multilevel marketing company that just reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission wherein the firm was told to "pay $200 million back to people who were taken in by what the FTC alleges were misleading moneymaking claims," and which had sponsored the BlogHer lunch.
Guelton then introduced Dr. John Agwunobi, Herbalife's chief health and nutrition officer, who informed an apathetic crowd that the thing he loved the most about his employer was the fact that it wasn't just focused on the products they sold, but "the entire life behind its customers," which he hoped the audience would become. I filled my complimentary Herbalife-branded water bottle after exiting the ballroom; it immediately began leaking.
Wandering the halls on the last day of the conference, I ran into a woman I knew, who was a speaker on one of the panels. When I asked what she was getting paid for her appearance, she told me that she was not getting compensated—in much the same fashion that most people who blog get paid very little for their efforts. According to a study conducted by iBlog—which is an actual publication, a copy of which I received in my conference gift bag—75 percent of all bloggers make less than $10,000 a year, and 51.5 percent make less than $2,500.
She did, however, get an all-access pass to the conference, and its accompanying opportunities to network, gain exposure, and build her personal brand. Because, in the end, isn't that more valuable than money? (To answer my own rhetorical question, no.)
I left feeling sorry for her, and for the rest conference's attendees; the entire event had felt a bit like a cash grab—full conference passes cost $399, and early bird passes were $250—designed to capitalize on the women's lack of knowledge about the "blogging business" and their dreams of somehow, someday, making money by sharing personal stories about Vagisil. And I left feeling grateful that I had simply fallen into the field they so desperately wanted to crack, especially an iteration of it wherein I earn more than $2,500 a year writing stories about them and not internal vaginal moisturizing gel.
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