We were lucky enough to interview Natasha Lipman about her experience as a chronic illness blogger. Read her wonderfully insightful answers here.
How does the responsibility that comes hand in hand with health blogging and speaking about your chronic illness affect the way you write your blog?
It plays such a huge role! I think when most people start blogging we don’t really think about the level of impact our words and actions can have on the people that choose to follow us. Even from quite early on I noticed that people would start doing things that I was doing because I was doing them. I think people are always so desperate to be well, get healthy, lose weight, get fit, whatever, that they follow people that they admire and try to emulate them.
A lot of times when people see improvements in their own health because of a diet or something specific, they’re so keen to share it with other people. I mean, last year when my super restrictive diet was working for me in quite a miraculous way, I did that. I shouted from the rooftops and would tell anyone who would listen. And then it wasn’t working for me and it made me start questioning myself and the whole scene a lot more. Was I getting my information from science or from bloggers with no qualifications? Who was I to give advice and make recommendations? We have to be aware that our audience could be full of very young impressionable people and people who may be desperate for change. They’re looking for something.
I think there’s a way of presenting how certain things have worked for us with the recognition that everybody and every body is different. What works for one person won’t work for someone else. And even if it comes from a genuine place of wanting to help, we’re not in the position to offer unsolicited advice and to try and “fix” people (trust me, the amount of emails I’ve had with people telling me what I’m doing is wrong is just absurd). We always need to be mindful of our role and that we have a responsibility to share what worked for us, but never assume that something is going to work for someone else.
Instagram seems to be dominating the health scene. How do you think social media has changed the health industry? Do you think the rise in social media use has benefitted it?
Yes and no. Again, I think it comes down to responsibility. I first joined Instagram as a way of documenting my change in diet, to help keep me on track, get inspired for a food journey I had no idea about and connect with other people.
On that last point, it has been incredible. Being able to not feel so alone when you’re gong through particularly difficult times is great. I also learned about smoothie bowls, zoodles and all kinds of other things. But on the flip side of that we need to look at who we’re following. I started following lots of glowing, happy, healthy people who had cured a whole host of health issues. At the beginning it was really great and something to aspire towards, but then when I had flare up after flare up I got depressed. I was doing everything I was supposed to do, why wasn’t this working for me?
Of course, I had different conditions and different problems. And it’s the same thing as I see all of these people working out all the time, and my body just can’t physically handle it. And even though I knew better I would try and end up hurting myself.
I think we always have to remember that most people only choose to share a certain part of their lives on social media. We don’t often see the bad days or the struggles. So we can’t buy entirely into everything that they’re showing because we don’t get the whole picture.
And while social media can be great to encourage healthier lifestyles, it’s often done in a way that I think can be dangerous. For example, one of the latest obsessions is #strongnotskinny and #eatclean. In fact, if you take these to the obsessive levels that it is often taken to on platforms like Instagram, you’re just taking the same obsessive ideas and repackaging them in a way that seems less offensive. I’ve written more about this on my blog.
I think it has also been a really exciting and great way for new companies to connect with an audience that is perfect for them, and it gives people (like me!) such amazing opportunities that they wouldn’t have had without it.
As health blogging is becoming increasingly popular, have you found it hard to grasp the individual voice and stance you have?
That’s not something that I’ve ever really struggled with. Anyone that knows me in real life will know that I write exactly the same way that I speak. It’s actually quite funny receiving texts from my friends after a particularly ranty post and them saying that they read the whole thing in my voice.
One thing I’ve noticed is that people try so hard to fit in that they try to copy people that they admire or start doing things because it’s popular. This makes you question their reasons for blogging. For me, it was at first a for of catharsis, and that quickly grew into sharing my story in a way that was honest and helping other people not feel so alone. If you’re blogging and sharing on social media just because you want to be known, have followers and you use that to validate yourself, in my opinion you’re doing it wrong.
Not everyone has a particularly dramatic story to tell, and not everyone wants to share a large amount about their health, but I feel like there needs to be a reason why you’re choosing to share, and that you should do it in a way that’s genuine to you. I personally find it boring reading copy-paste people on Instagram. I’d rather either follow someone because their pictures are phenomenal or because they have a really unique take on things.
Your post On Body Image & Chronic Illness I’m sure rings true to many. Comparing yourself to others is a dangerous trait heightened by social media. Do you think we need to change the way we think about ourselves and each other? How harmful do you think it is that we often only show particular sides of our lives, for example the glamorous, on social media?
I answered that a little bit earlier, but yes. Totally. By only showing one side of our lives, we’re portraying a false picture. Of course, we all have the right to share what we want (I don’t share everything by any means) but we also have to think about the responsibility that we have when we’re advocating for something.
We need to all start being a little bit kinder to ourselves and other people. We also have accept that we’re all different and the only person that we know whats best for is ourselves. Nobody else.
To be honest, the whole learning to ignore social media is still hard for me. I’m 4 foot 9, can’t really exercise and my body goes through so much that my relationship to my body image is incredibly complex. I then spent a year surrounded by people entirely in the wellness industry, a vast number who were orthorexic (me included at the time), recovering from eating disorders or professionals whose job was to eat well and exercise hard. I think we need to remember that this is not necessarily the most normal scene to surround yourself in. All we ever talked about was food, cutting out certain food groups and all that stuff. It was obsessive. And it made me more obsessive. I think this growing trend towards orthorexic thinking is becoming normalised, and that really worries me. Saying publicly that I went back to eating meat lead to me receiving some really unpleasant comments, for example. I still feel like a rebel when I go and eat a burger. But screw it. I love burgers. Whatever.
I think it just comes down to the fact we all need to get over ourselves a little bit and figure out what’s best for us, become scientifically literate and start questioning what we read on social media accounts. When I started posting eggs, I got so many ridiculous comments that were based on websites that have been entirely smacked down by science. It comes back to responsibility to educate ourselves properly, especially if we feel it’s our duty to educate others. Always be wary about how we write and share our experiences and be mindful of the way we treat other people.
Ultimately, we’re all health bloggers because we want to share our version of a healthy lifestyle. And that’s a really wonderful thing. But at the same time we do need to be mindful that we do have an audience and with that comes responsibility.