Today I want to gossip a bit, if I may. Just a little rant with a question to it, which I hope you, dear reader, can answer.
So here is goes.... On my recent India trip and in general I have noticed an increase of travel bloggers pretending to be fashion models and a whole lot of nakedness. What is up with that?
If you are a lifestyle blogger and make (or want to make) a significant part of your income through fashion affiliates I get it. The clothes need to be presented and that's what your reader came for. You have created your own little online fashion magazine and clothes need to be shown in order to sell. Take Rosie from The Londoner - I love her. I think she is hilarious and pretty and i don't mind her bikini shots at all. However, she is not a travel blogger (nor does she pretend she is one though she travels a lot). If you are 'just' a travel blogger and have been alternating the same four outfits for the past week and a half, do you need to pretend to be ANTM?
Then there are others, standard travel blogger repertoire shots by now. Gazing pensively into the distance from a mountain top while wearing a little dress (how did you get up there??)? Check! Overlooking the infinity pool modeling the latest bikini and a lot of perky bum cheek? Check check! #Followmeto the temple wearing a ballgown? Check check check!
The other day my non-blogging friend asked me why bloggers often pose with their arms up in the air? “What are they doing?” he asked, genuinely puzzled. “They are supposed to have fun,” I said, “Like when you go woohoo!” I threw my arms in the air to demonstrate. He didn't get it and I don't blame him. Surely if your readers can't tell that you are having fun than your arms have no fucking business to be over your head in the first place.
But here is my question – while these pictures seem to bring engagement in terms of likes, do they bring real engagement? Do they create a human connection, inspire you to climb that goddamn mountain or at least to book that villa with the infinity pool as a reader?
The other day I saw an unofficial video for Sri Lanka Tourism. It was a video of female butts in bikinis in different settings and the tagline said something like “Get your bum to Sri Lanka”. Haha. While it was not only sexist (needless to say, there were no male bums in sight), I was more shocked by the fact that any country would endorse such a campaign at all. It had nothing to do with Sri Lanka, it didn't show one bit of Sri Lanka and the butts in the video could have been anywhere. I really didn't get it.
The point is that sex still seems to sell big time. The reality is that many platforms like Instagram have become so much more than simply sharing travel inspiration; they have become a business in themselves. The more followers, the more engagement, the more business and bum cheeks will get you there faster as does traipsing around the jungle in a slinky silk dress.
As Jackson, a travel blogger friend puts it: “Turtles and butts get so much more engagement.”
[clickToTweet tweet="Turtles and butts get so much more engagement." quote="Turtles and butts get so much more engagement."]
That comes from someone who isn't showing his butt but certainly knows how the system works and that it works better when he shows his sixpack. Not that I can fault him for it. As I said before, maybe I am just envious. Of the picture perfect bikini bodies and the collaboration possibilities that come with it.
But it also makes me sad. Jackson jumps off cliffs, seeks adventures, chats to locals and gets their stories, and takes the most beautiful portraits. He is a traveler in the best sense possible. However, it seems that a good eye, a great story, and authentic experiences are often foregone these days for the stuff that gets likes and business going.
Should we travel bloggers not strive to portray something that is more than skin-deep? Should we not try to go beyond a system that strives for beauty and youth rather than human connection and authentic travel experiences?
We all need to make ends meet and also as travel bloggers we cannot live off the endorphin rush that travel brings alone. I get that we need to make money too, I just mind the g-string part that is often involved. I mind that readers, consumers, and followers don't seem to mind it either. What are your thoughts when you see a butt video from Sri Lanka? Do you think your ass will magically shapen up once you set foot into Colombo airport? That you will find a Sri Lankan girlfriend who looks like this and live happily ever after on a tea plantation? While I understand that the butts might be appealing, I honestly don't see the appeal when it comes to travel.
What happened to people who care about the stories, the hardships, the beauty but also the reality of travel?
Look, I am not really pointing fingers here. Well, not very much at least, because I do it too to a certain degree. But I am genuinely curious what people want to see from a travel blogger these days.
Personally, I am tired of seeing picture perfect bikini bodies which may or may not even be real. I just don't feel very connected to you if your drone is taking a picture of you in a g-string on the edge of an infinity pool. I may be envious though. My bum is not my strong point so I prefer to not display it prominently in pictures.
Today I realized something though. While I would love to see more travel pictures that are actually travel related, it is the presumed perfection that bugs me most. Most of the accounts that I have in mind for this post show perfect people. People that look like models, people that are thin, very fit and usually white (as in race, they are also very tanned). Good for them but I want to see more variety, more people like me, someone who is a few kilos too heavy but still dare I say – happy, healthy and Instagram-worthy?
Because I dislike the practice of photoshopping bodies to make them look skinnier or perkier, I rarely take shots these days of myself, nevermind in a bikini. But does leaving me out of the equation, the pictures, makes the account of my travels any more honest? While I might be a bit too heavy at the moment my boyfriend still thinks I am gorgeous and most importantly – I still do all the cool shit I always talk about. I just wrote a book, I hike through jungles and up mountains, I scuba dive and can eat my weight in seafood curry.
Today I arrived at beautiful Zeavola on Koh Phi Phi. After inspecting my outside living room I decided it was the perfect spot for a little photoshoot to include in the feature. So I stripped down. It was an impulse decision and one that made sense, I was about to go to the beach in any case. And it was a bit of a dare because while the photo is photoshopped, I am not. Be the change...
I do get why so travel bloggers show pictures of themselves. It lets you create a human connection, allows you to see a placeholder until you can actual go yourself and take that selfie on the mountaintop.
So no, I realized, “those” people don't need to take fewer photos of themselves, the rest of us just needs to take more. To show that discovering the world comes in all shapes and sizes, that beauty isn't defined by the shade of blonde you are, how much of your butt you show or how sweaty you are after climbing that damn mountain. Just do it and remember – being pretty sweaty is pretty awesome and you may just want a picturesque memory of that moment.