Breaking through the fourth wall in blogging

“How do you do it?”

That’s a question I’ve been hearing a lot lately. Recent posts and photos highlighting my weight loss led people to ask me what I did and how they can do it too.

I craft my responses carefully, taking the time to word my advice in a way that’s helpful and not trite or preaching. I write, delete, and rewrite each response several times because it matters to me, more than I think maybe the person asking the question realizes.

Where I draw the lines and how I offer my recommendations are all part of the responsibility I’ve taken on as a writer putting their life on the public stage. And I take that responsibility seriously. It’s not enough for me to bullet point a workout or share a recipe; there are strings attached to each of my stories because my health, my relationship with food, my overall well-being is personal.

There are times where I hesitate to cross boundaries that I’d thought I’d set when I started this blog less than a year ago. That pause usually comes out of fear of revealing too much of myself while I’m still in the middle of processing whatever issue it is I’m writing about. But the reality is I take pride in that honesty. Sharing my stories of disordered eating, job dissatisfaction, and an endless quest to find happiness allows me to connect, not only to you the reader, but to myself.

Writing about healthy living offers an opportunity to pull back that curtain and to break through that fourth wall to reach out and share that bond. They may not know it, but some of the readers I’ve had the pleasure of talking to outside of this blog, have done more to help me heal some of my wounds this past year than I would have thought was possible. This page has become an extension; an avenue where I can say what I need to say and work out my issues in a way that will hopefully gather readers around the topic and encourage them to chime in with their thoughts and keep the conversation going.

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I’ve been lucky. My audience has been receptive and generous with their supportive words and overall positivity. Every time I post something that I think might cause some eye-rolls, the response has been overwhelmingly good which reinforces my opinion that it’s better to bare the truth because that’s what people relate to more often than not.

But the reality is that not everyone out there is going to be your biggest fan or your greatest supporter. There are always opposing viewpoints to yours that will challenge you and make you question your priorities. This is true in the real world, especially when confronted with issues like body image and food. So too is it true in the online world where people often unleash their views harshly and without reproach.

Two posts published last week managed to remind me that when you take that brave step forward and share your personal thoughts on diet and exercise, not everyone will agree. In fact, some people go out of their way to make you feel bad for taking that step and tear you down instead.

The first was written by Cassey Ho, a mega-popular fitness blogger of Blogilates.com, who has won a slew of awards and has thousands of followers she dubs her “popsters” with an infectious enthusiasm in each of her fun (and challenging!) pilates videos. Despite her massive success, Ho still faces self-doubt and fears about her body and how it’s perceived by the public. She spoke about this fear after receiving hurtful comments from readers who asked where her “thigh gap” went and how she ate herself “fat” after her bikini-figure competition last year.

cassey ho bikini npc
Cassey Ho after months of physically demanding training for her figure competition last year.
Photo courtesy: blogilates.com

Ho could have ignored the comments and continued posting her daily workouts without pause. Instead she chose to address those readers in her post, Ashamed of Gaining Weight, by speaking openly about how they made her feel. She didn’t point fingers or lash out, but she did reflect on the impact weight gain has on her role as a leader for her followers that turn to her for motivation and guidance on their own fitness journeys.

While reading her article, I could feel her internal conflict and the complexity of her position. Her choice to focus on what made her happy emotionally, even at the cost of another fitness competition and the risk of further criticism, earned an enormous amount of respect from me as both a writer and as someone who shares a similar burden when talking about weight and fitness. You can break through that fourth wall and reach out to the audience by putting yourself out there, but ultimately you have to be true to yourself and what works for you. The same goes for every person seeking good health and optimal living.

The second article was written by Winnie Abramson. In a piece titled,  An Open Letter to Everyone Who Eats, Abramson followed up with critics of her original article detailing why she gave up the Paleo diet. This struck home for me given my own troubles with Paleo last fall that led to a post featured on my page.  I was nervous telling that story, but soon felt reassured by others who told me that it was more important to stick to what worked for me.

Abramson, however, received the bad with the good. Some chose to poke holes at her story and accuse her of being a quitter. It prompted her to write this follow up and vent the frustration of having to defend a point of view that was meant to express a personal choice and not a castigation of those in support of a Paleo lifestyle. It brought me back to where I was when I worked on my post and where my thoughts about dieting led me as a writer trying to figure out what kind of story I wanted to tell.

I thought about how I felt as I sat down to write how maybe I was setting a bad precedent of sharing what I considered to be “failures.” I didn’t give paleo that strict effort that so many do and I felt that it didn’t give me the authority to write about my own experience. I worked through that reluctance, published anyway, and remembered something I said months before.

You don’t need to be an expert to sit down and write.

You don’t need to hide your story because that’s what gravitates people towards you.

People connect with the person behind the words; the words are merely a vehicle.

I carry those lessons with me each day. That even though I run the risk of offending someone one day with my writing, I won’t allow that to stop me from sharing the story. Part of what makes blogging so special is that ability to connect and circle back; a link between blogger and reader that allows for both sides to connect in what can be a profound moment. The “I TOTALLY know what you mean!” effect that lasts beyond the initial reading and digs its way into your heart and mind.

Both Abramson and Ho made me realize how personal that connection can be and how much it can hurt too. But with that pain comes the realization that those of us who choose to write about our healthy lifestyles and the steps we take to get here are doing so for a reason. Criticism offers us a space to reflect on where we are on our paths and to see beyond the hurtful words to get to the heart of what’s causing that critic to lash out in the first place. With the fourth wall down, we can ask you “why?” and then we can offer healing.

It’s a valuable lesson that reminds me why I chose to do this. I’m willing to face the bad with the good because I feel that there are things I need to say. I need to say them for myself. I need to say them for the person looking for the “how.” I need to say them for every person who doubts the power of their voice.

The curtain will always be pulled back for better or for worse.

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13 thoughts on “Breaking through the fourth wall in blogging

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  1. There is so much rigid mindedness in the world of diet and exercise – people thinking their way is the “only way,” that I can see this happening easily on fitness blogs. Whenever a train of thought clashes with another, you are bound to get the judgmental commenters.

    Ironically, I was heading down the “fitness” route – over the summer last year, I even hosted green smoothie and plank a day challenges on my blog! My direction evolved pretty naturally in another path – which is a good thing because I would have failed miserably in that space! My comfort food eating this year has cost me 10 pounds and a dress size. I’d be the one getting the hate mail this year.from my followers!

    We are all evolving at our own pace in our own space in our own way. And you have found this honest and vulnerable way to share your journey and message with readers without judgement. You have broken that wall, which is one of the reasons why this is such a great place to visit.

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    1. Agreed. Part of the reason I wrote this is because I felt like there’s a lack of personalization in the fitness blog world. There are SO many pages out there sharing workouts, gear recommendations, diet tips and runs, but not a whole lot of connection beyond that. But I realized that I had to take a step back too and accept that we all approach health, food, and fitness differently. Not everyone is going to be spilling their guts about the good, bad and the ugly, and that’s alright too. That and the sudden influx of questions about the “how?” just gave me pause to think about what could potentially be down the line for me. It’s an exhilarating thought, but a scary one as well. I can only hope to have the ability to handle that negativity with the same panache as these bloggers I featured.

      It’s hard to imagine FDGTL being anything but what it is right now!!! I’m going to have to check out your archives. There is this beautiful evolution that takes place when you blog since the page goes with you as you transform. I’m still figuring out the right niche and it feels scattered to me even now. But it feels great to hear your thoughts about where my page is as it stands. I kind of go out there blind hoping something will stick. So grateful to have you visit when you do Ilene. It’s always a welcome sight. 🙂

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  2. You are a inspiration! I haven’t gotten any negative comments yet, but I’m not sure what I’ll do when they come, because I take everything personal. Has been a flaw of mine ever since I can remember. I’ll have to bookmark this post and come back to it, since negative comments are not something I can avoid. Thank you for talking about this topic!

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    1. Thank you SO much Crystal!! I’m not quite sure how I’ll react when the negative comments come (and they will because it’s inevitable), and I’m like you- I take it all personally too. It’s hard not to! The good thing is that we have much more positive to focus on then the negative and we can choose to focus on that instead. Thanks again for reading and for your kind words!! 🙂

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  3. I love this post and if I haven’t told you this before, I really like your writing style. I absolutely agree with your thoughts on being real and putting yourself out there. I also did a Paleo challenge and stopped after only 9 days. I wrote a blog post about why I abandoned the challenge and worried that I would get some negative feedback from the die-hard Paleo’s, (but I really didn’t). It is scary. I get 100’s of positive comments, but one negative one will have me rethinking everything I do on my blog. Thanks for the honesty and the perspective, nice to remember that we are all in this together

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    1. Thank you Lea! I read your blog post about quitting paleo (and I have it pinned too! it was awesome!) and I get what you mean about the negative feedback. I feel lucky but I”m also waiting for the other shoe to drop, you know? We are all in this together, and I think that if we focus on how great our community is and how supportive we can be, then it’ll be alright. Fingers crossed! Thanks again Lea! 🙂

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  4. This is beautifully written Maribel. I’ve been a follower of Cassey’s workouts since last year and discovered what a “chill” person she’s. The problem with this world is that they will always judge you no matter which path you choose for yourself. When I’m encountered by criticism, I tell myself, “It’s not about me but rather more about the person. In their attempt to hide their insecurities they throw it on us.” That helps me in looking beyond whatever I’m faced with.

    I agree with you when you say, criticism is inevitable : ) Constructive criticism is always welcomed but when someone’s only intention is to prove they are smarter than you, you let them go.

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    1. Great advice there Uzma. The online world can be so rewarding and positive, even more than what I get in person, but I know that the more success you have, the more you open yourself up to those who don’t celebrate in your message. Thank you so much for your thoughts and for the continued support! 🙂

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  5. I just discovered your blog thanks to the trashback on Blogilates. I just started my blog and I cannot agree more with what you said. I think the same happens in life. The more you reveal yourself, the more critism you may get. Critism is also part of every human behaviour so just like in School or working environment we always have to be aware that someone may criticize you. You always have someone who doesn’t agree with you because there is never only one possible answer for an issue (unlike sciences which are made to simplify). There is also good and bad critics. We just have to make the diffirence between both and not take personnaly the one that are meant to take us down. So I guess we just have to know how to live with it.

    my blog: http://www.missmamasaw.com/?lang=en

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    1. You make a great point about the parallel to life. As the year wraps up, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the words I’ve put out there with ny blog and the response I’ve gotten throughout the year. What I’ve realized, is that people more often than not, are supportive of each other especially when good intentions shine through. We can’t let the negative outshine the positive. Thanks so much for stopping by. I’ll definitely take a look at your site. Happy New Year!

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