The End of An Era
Self-commodification; so 2019
For 10+ years I’ve been creating content online. It has become so second-nature to me, so much a part of my own inner landscape, I often forget that everyone else in the world doesn’t share this same reality.
It all started with a cute little food blog when I was 25. I was throwing these epic brunches and dinner parties from the high-rise condo I shared with my boyfriend at the time, overlooking downtown Fort Lauderdale stretching down to the ocean. I had fallen in love with cooking and entertaining, and all I wanted to do was share this magic with others.
Then there was a YouTube channel, a TV show, a move to New York, a pop-up restaurant, a catering company, another company — my first baby, Salt House. All the while, creating content remained a through line. I continued to blog, and then, share my life on Instagram.
For around a decade I felt this constant pressure that everything I did, everything I learned and cared about and went through, every bit of wisdom gleaned and recipe cooked, should be shared. Which often resulted in me feeling bad about myself, lazy or incompetent, because I could never seem to get around to actually doing most of it. But it was always in the back of my mind: I should write a blog post about this. Instagram carousel, a YouTube video.
I am 37 now. And while it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I stopped finding the joy in all of this, I know that I was on a downward trajectory for a while.
It started with Instagram, where everyone and everything began to look the same. Same people, same poses, same captions. Then everyone began obsessing over authenticity, which I found even more vexing as these “authentic” posts seemed to be even more calculated than the more perfect and curated posts that everyone was complaining about.
Social media is, after all, a projection. A collection of images and words that we put out into the world to represent who we are. We can’t possibly fit our whole and vast selves into a series of tiny squares, so whatever we do decide to share is a projection: what we want the world to see and know about us.
It was disturbing to learn that I wasn’t immune to its bullshit. An Aquarian nonconformist to my core, somehow all of this sameness had infected me, too. I found myself sharing affiliate links to what I was wearing, not because I cared to do this but probably because I saw it over and over again. Or worse, those same elongating poses had found their way to my camera roll — and I’m not saying this is bad, to want to look good in a photo — but now that I know the difference between a flattering and unflattering angle, it’s like I can’t unsee it, and I kind of wish I could. Like my husband, who thinks I look exactly the same (beautiful, in his eyes) in every photo. Naturally I’d tried to teach him the ways of the Instagram husband, showing him two photos side-by-side, don’t you see how I look better in this one? He never did. It used to drive me nuts, and now I just want to be more like him.
Then there was the Instagram bio; I constantly felt like I had to cleverly define myself in 150 characters or less. Or my about page on my website; I felt this had to tell my complete story, all of my accomplishments, hobbies, interests — my entire life history onto one neat, digestible page.
A product. I had become a product that I was selling on the internet.
Self-commodification: The reorganization of our personal lives and relationships on the model of market relations; well illustrated by the recent practice of “personal branding,” a strategy of cultivating a name and image of ourselves that we manipulate for economic gain.
Maybe this sounds obvious to anyone on the outside, but for me, it was a revelation. And as soon as I had this revelation, I released myself from it. It felt like, one day, waking up from a bad dream. All of the heaviness was gone. I didn’t care anymore, about any of it. Finally, I felt free.
Free to live my life for myself again.
None of this is to say I’ll never post to social media again, or publish content online (clearly, you are reading this newsletter 🙃). But my relationship to it has forever changed.
Around the same time this was happening (and probably not coincidentally), I had another revelation: I figured out what I actually do want to spend my time doing.
Allow me to introduce you to the beginnings of what will be Sarah Spiegel Home. I am developing a home line, focused on textiles. Specifically, prints and patterns. This is a whole world I have been dreaming up for so long, a world focused on beauty and self-expression in the home.
It’s a bit of a full circle moment, as some of you may remember I started my first company Salt House with a line of aprons. I think I will have to bring the apron back in its honor, though my plan is to start with tabletop and other soft kitchenwares (have been in need of a better oven mitt for quite some time).
This was really at heart of what I wanted to do with Salt House, but it was buried beneath a lot of fear and other things I thought I needed first. More money, more resources. (Which, don’t we all always need more of?) I did need more of one thing, though, and that was time. Time to allow my own artistry to unfold; for my aesthetic and style to mature, to develop. I probably needed to move to the country, and definitely, I needed to become a mother. Nothing has brought me more clarity than motherhood.
Yes, having a baby imbues you with a superpower to know at once what matters to you and what doesn’t. Every moment I spend away from her is one that I must choose with utmost intention. If I am going to be away from her, I better be doing something worthy, something I care about, something that truly brings me joy.
I thought a lot about that as I sat in the muck for the last two years, the discomfort of not knowing: What truly brings me joy?
I have always written, and that was what I clung to during this time. But was that my joy? I came to the conclusion that writing feels necessary to me to live, to make sense of myself and the world around me. But it does not feel like play, that thing I can get lost in for hours and hours. I spent a lot of time thinking about what takes me to that place, and it was here that I landed: pattern and color and the creation of a beautiful, expressive home.
This fulfilled another, perhaps more essential part of me, something that I feared writing could never do, and that was my visual nature — my deep need and desire for beauty.
While writing will always be a part of what I do, it feels good/right for this not to be my focus, which put too much pressure on it, took the joy from it.
So here I will continue to write. I look forward to sharing more as this new chapter progresses.🌷
Wishing you all an inspired, self-revealing spring season ahead.