Identities—What Are They Good For?   /   Summer 2018   /    Notes And Comments

The Relatability Paradox

Phoebe Maltz Bovy

Woman with a trick reflection (1923). Via Wikimedia Commons.

“She’s just like me, if I were a thousand times more together.”

The post—“How to Save $500 (or More) in 2 Weeks”—like the others on Cupcakes and Cashmere, gets a chipper, first-name-only byline: Leslie. It opens with a photo of a smiling young woman (Leslie herself, in fact) as she shops for lettuce at a farmers’ market. She wears low-key athleisure—a long-sleeved gray top and navy yoga pants—and carries a nondescript canvas tote. From the absence of logos to the fluffiness of the lettuce, the picture suggests wholesomeness and good decisions. So does the title.

Leslie, however, isn’t saving money for a big purchase or simply trying to trim fat from her budget. The topic at hand is an impending operation. Of all the life events that could be mined for lifestyle content, few seem as unlikely a candidate as periodontal surgery. The post is not, to be clear, about the glamor of having a medically necessary procedure done on one’s mouth. Rather, it is editor Leslie Stephens’s account of how she budgeted to save up for a pricey dental copay.

Cupcakes and Cashmere, Emily Schuman’s blog-turned-book-and-brand, bears the motto “Elevate everyday life.” It’s a millennial-pink universe, centered on Emily and her (upscale, tasteful, enviably Southern Californian) personal style. Recent topics include statement flats and boosting one’s self-esteem. Its brand is one of affluent, unchallenging serenity.

I visit the site daily, but can’t entirely say why. Do I identify with Emily? I suppose so, as much as an American French instructor in Toronto can identify with a Southern California lifestyle blogger. We’re the same age, ethnicity, and build, all factors that can make personal-style posts more compelling than fashion magazines. She’s just like me, if I were a thousand times more together.

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