Friday, February 01, 2008

No, mascara didn't make me do it: My response to the NY Times article

In a display of brave and brilliant journalism, the NY Time has uncovered the truth about beauty bloggers: We get free samples!

Take a second to absorb the fact. I'll wait.

This comes after an interesting week for bloggers in the media. First there was that WWD article in which a rep for Sephora told us we must have the right credentials in order to to express our opinions. Then came Target, announcing they do not respond to inquiries from bloggers and only willing to deal with the traditional media.

But it was Thursday's article by Kayleen Schaefer that has managed to get to us. Being portrayed as a group of opportunistic gold diggers was especially insulting in the wake of all the coverage from Sundance Festival. You know what I'm talking about: the gossip blogs kept running pictures of the most loathsome D-listers posing with loot from various "gifting suits", while the previous prestige of the Utah event flew out of the window. So, let's face it: having parallels drawn between Kim Kardashian and me was not exactly the highlight of my week.

I started this blog nearly two years ago because I felt I had something to say. There were already about two dozen successful beauty blogs around in early 2006, but after reading them for months, it seemed to me that I had a somewhat unique point of view and was eager to express it, even though I wasn't exactly sure who might be interested in reading it.

Somehow I found an audience, and as it grew and as my name got out there, I was found by various companies and PR reps who offered me samples.

Now, let's make a couple of things clear:
*I have never ever made the first contact or reached out to a company.
*I have never asked, nor have I begged, for a freebie.

I still buy the majority of the items you read about here. I do accept products to test and in most cases write about them. I also review things I get as a gift-with-purchase during beauty events at my favorite stores, samples that a nice sales assistant tosses into my shopping bag and beauty items that I get as gifts from friends and relatives.

I never hide the fact that some products were sent to me for review or given to me at various industry events. I try to make my writing interesting and not formulaic, while offering as much information about the pros and cons of each cream and makeup item. Getting something for free doesn't make me blind, and I've written when a face cream I was sent made me break out, when an eye shadow creased and flaked or when a body butter left skid marks on my sheets.

I also make it a point to say again and again that while I have some holy grail products, they come from different companies, and even my favorites have their stinkers here and there. I wasn't shy telling the world what I thought about Lancome's dead-people-lips Proenza Pink, an opinion that actually made its way to the NY times. Same goes for that ridiculous Smashbox mood blush, O-Glow.

In case anyone wondered, there's no "hand that feeds me perfume", and when it comes down to fragrance, I buy most of the high-end samples I write about. In some cases I even used my middle name in those purchases, so that a perfumer wouldn't know who I was and wouldn't feel pressured to give me anything for free.

The idea that my opinion on a company can be bought with a free mascara or shampoo is insulting. Not just to me but also to my readers. I like what works for me, and if I don't you'll hear all the reasons why. Laurice Rahme can show up on my doorstep in person with a basket full of kittens (that's the real way to my heart, not lip gloss), but I still think of her company, Bond no. 9, as shady.

I never sell posts and all requests to "help promote" whatever product or service (I kid you not. I get these kind of emails every day) are politely but firmly declined and I also tell them why. As for big swag, I was never offered any, and the one time someone wanted to send me a purse I had to tell them their stuff was really not to my taste (it was ugly as hell).

The point of all this is that I write for fun, and only about what interests me. If "notoriety" means receiving feedback and communicating with readers, then yes, I love it. If you mean coloring my hair blue and playing Perez Hilton on TV, then not so much.

Images of Gary Coleman and his loot at Sundance: Quick's Catch Up


  1. Three Cheers, Gaia! Written so well!

  2. Great points! And I love the picture...

  3. From one non-blonde to another, I appreciate your nonbiased opinions (i.e. the ridiculous Smashbox mood blusher). Keep up the good work!

  4. ...nice response. I feel that mainstream journalism still snubs us bloggers. Not to say that our work is as "ethical" as theirs, but we DO deserve our respect, considering that millions of people are interested in what we have to say!

  5. Good for you--we have faith in you!

  6. Great post!
    On behalf of ALL bloggers, thanks for writing that...

    Beauty Banter

  7. Fabulous post! The dingbat who wrote that article (I read the blatantly biased piece of garbage) could learn a thing or two about writing from you and all the other fabulous beauty bloggers who have responded to her assertions.

    It's obvious that the mainstream beauty media is (are?) feeling the pressure, now that companies are realizing the power and influence of the blogosphere. So rather than adapt, they're trying to discredit and undermine it. How do they not realize that doing so just charges you and your readers up more?

    I'm shameless enough to admit that I'd shill for *anyone* who brings me a basket of kittens. But only if they're litter-mates!

  8. Amen to that, Gaia. The only "free" samples I get are in exchange with other fragrance enthusiasts, never from "real" companies, but I see nothing wrong with writing about what one has experience, regardless of where it came from, as long as that opinion is honest and forthright and above all, well-written. Thank you always for yours.

  9. Amen, sister. As a blogger AND a member of the "mainstream media," I have to laugh when critics assume that print is so objective and above it all. When it comes down to what's what, my vote's for the bloggers!

  10. As expected, a completely flawless and well thought out post! I don't think anyone who really follows these blogs on any kind of regular basis is falling for Ms. Schaefer's "stupidity in journalism" for a second. Move over, Kayleen, you're being booted out on your hiney by those who know the content and story better, sweetie!

    Great post, Gaia! xo

  11. The thing is Gaia, you keep your own unique perspective. Some bloggers tout anything a publicist sends them, it seems. When you click through five or six or more beauty blogs and they all have the same photos and copy about the latest MAC collection, it becomes advertising, not blogging. In that sense, I think the NYT writer has a point.

    The problem, as always, is the sweeping generalization. I don't think there's anything wrong with accepting swag, as long as the person writing is strong enough to maintain his or her own voice. But maybe that's the only difference--I think there are people who got into blogging for the writing, to express something, and their are people who got into it for the stuff. It's the way of the world.

  12. I'd like to thank everyone for reading and taking the time to comment. Many of us felt attacked and belittled by the article and we all responded in our own unique way. It was an interesting experienec, if nothing else, and I appreciate everyone's feedback.

  13. Quick- Thanks for stopping by and thanks for being the source of those Gary Coleman pictures. I think they helped me make my point.

    Trina- I'd take any kittens. They'd be better off with me than with Laurice ;)

  14. Heather- As always, your comment means a lot to me.
    More than anything else, it's about writing. I always hope it shows through, no matter if the topic is an exquisite perfume or a nail polish. The source of any product means nothing to me.
    You made me remember that I did get some free perfume sample recently: Andy's Incense. Of course, most of them went straight to the giveaway, and the bottle now standing on my dresser was bought full price from Luckyscent, as I did with all his other scents, so I doubt it counts.

  15. P. - I know exactly what you mean, and I agree with you. The thing about this specific article is that the journalist didn't go digging into the way specific companies *cough*MAC*cough* operate or tried to make a distinction (that exist within any blogging community) between good and ridiculous blogs. She seems to have had an agenda, and she went all out with it, regardless of several important facts (I don't know if you've read the Beauty Addict's post, but it's the most important one, as far as I'm concerned).

    I know that not all the beauty blogs are of the same quality, and I'm aware that mine is quite different. I don't like to be grouped with those PR spouting blogs even by association, and I hate it even more that the Times has officially put the same label on all of us.

    I always thought the blogs that are nothing but gushing ads for one or two brands are quite ridiculous. It's hard to believe they even have a regular readership. I wouldn't think the Times would give them center stage and make them to be the leaders of the beauty blogging phenomenon.

  16. well, it's all caveat emptor anyway. NYT does have a point- up to a point, that is. Pointing out that beauty mags have a limit as to the amount of freebies editors can take is all well and good, but why not point out the 300lb gorilla in the room: have you ever read an issue of Allure or Vogue or SlapnStink Monthly, do you ever read that Lancome's new Gooke de la Femme (to steal from Joe Keenan) isn't the be-all and end-all of silky smoothness? Do you ever read that that mascara in the pink and green bottle is impossible to apply and guaranteed to flake down your cheeks in about ten minutes after application? That would be no. Where you are going to read that is honest blogs, like yours.

  17. That article was so badly written - the writer should feel shame reading well written posts like this one! Thank you for providing us once more with a wonderful, well thought out response! Hugs to you!

  18. That was very well written, as usual. I love reading your blog despite the fact that we often have diametrically opposite tastes. (Maybe that IS by I enjoy reading it - you have a distinct personality and it comes across.)

    I'm really curious about your statements in regards to MAC (shilling?) and Bond. Would you be able to elaborate a bit or point me in the right direction?


  19. People in the world of fashion and beauty don't get criticized in magazines because they buy a lot of ads space in those mags AND present journalists and editors with gifts.
    So, we're at a point where a Cormac McCarthy's (to name one of the greatest) novel gets the full critics treatment as it should be, and some ridiculous outfit or a bad perfume become untouchable.
    Please, keep on telling it like it is.

  20. Tom- Thank you :) And, you're right, of course. Even my husband has started noticing that what passes as editorial or beauty sections in magazines is nothing but extended PR.

  21. Divina- I now feel all warm and fuzzy. Too bad the reporter didn't get that it's communicating and making friends that's keeping us blogging every day.

  22. Maggie- Thank you very much!(see warm fuzzies above)

    I don't really cover MAC, but most other bloggers do, which is part of why I choose to go elsewhere. You can look around and draw your own conclusions.
    As for Bond, look in my posts from early January titled "How I saved $230" and "War & Peace". Also look at the comments.

  23. Thank you, Edwardian. This is another aspect of my blogging experience that makes it so wonderful: having readers from many parts of the world. Free mascara is nice, but having wonderful readers is thrilling.
    By the way, I still need your address so I can send you that Incense Extreme sample.

  24. I find it really strange that it's those people working in the media business who doesn't understand the blogging world.

    Anyway, you got another loyal reader out here in Jakarta, so keep up the blog cause I'm counting on you as my eyes and ears on the beauty world!

  25. Gaia, THANK YOU for writing this response! I am only a part-time guest blogger, but I have been reading a LOT of fragrance and beauty blogs over the last couple of years, and when unpaid bloggers review someting, it is their honest opinion and not what they were told to say. Of course, there are companies that have "blogs" on their commercial sites that promote their own products, but anyone with a pulse can tell the difference between that sort of PR and an independent writer. Shame on the NYT for running such a misguided and misleading piece.

    Give 'em heck - you rock!

  26. I found that article to be highly offensive. To think that bloggers are any less objective than a magazine with zillions of freebies & ad dollars is a bit ludicrous.

  27. As both a PR rep (corporate, not in the beauty industry) and a new beauty blogger, I applaud your integrity. It's well known in the PR industry that (most) bloggers can't be swayed by cash or freebies, so pitch them at your own risk.


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