Whether you produce written content, pictures or livestream, everyone steels themselves to be judged, hoping for warm applause all round. The reality is often less validating, and a lot tougher to take. The truth is, however you put yourself out there, you are going to need to learn to grow a really thick skin. A rhino skin.
You can fool some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.Often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, a victim of some truly fatal feedback.
Why is online content creation so tough?
Last week, celebrity Chrissy Teigen took down her Twitter account, citing the unpleasant nature of the interactions she was having there. She had 13.7 million followers at the time. How many new content producers wish they had a following that size? We start in our little niche, hope we will be somehow both groundbreaking and yet viral and celebrated, and begin the hard slog of pouring time, energy, emotion and fragile self-worth into our creations, ready to be consumed by the world. We hope our bravery will be celebrated, that we will reach the people who most need to hear what we are saying. In support of those who find our content palatable or #relatable, and that our efforts will not be in vain. We hope for praise, validation and to showcase our skills, attributes and experience in a way that is meaningful.
Count your haters not your fans
If you come to the internet for validation, prepare for an unpleasant surprise.
All your feedback and interactions are not going to be praise. Half the likes and follows are bots, or for a follow back. A lot more are from a quick glance at your appearance. Those who genuinely like your content will often do so quietly. Those who decide they don’t, will be harsh and vocal. Be prepared. Be responsive to genuine criticism, but get very good at seeing what’s legitimate and what’s fuelled by cognitive dissonance. Grow a thick skin fast.
I wrote some time ago about internet trolls, and how to bend them to your benefit. Yet not everyone who launches against you is a troll seeking attention and malevolent kicks. Often they are an individual, who has a negative feeling that has been generated by your content. What generates the most negative feeling? Feeling rejected. Or any piece that’s a call to action. A call to improve.
Why do people attack? Why do we need a thick skin?
Negative situations in the world don’t, by and large, just float around and happen. They are the collective result of the attitudes and actions of individual people, over and over. People who justify them, don’t examine them or don’t see there is another way to be. They don’t view themselves as bad people. They view themselves as the good guy, doing the best they can in an imperfect world. Anything that calls them out on an aspect of their modus operandi is uncomfortable for them. Rather than go ‘Huh. Didn’t think of it that way. Maybe I should re-examine that a bit,’ they are instantly defensive. It’s all very subtle, on a subliminal level. They have a negative feeling generated by something, they feel attacked, and they attack back.
While most writers and content producers who have chosen a topic that is a little challenging will be happy that it sparks debate, this isn’t generally the way it unfolds. That’s not to say it’s a conscious and deliberate sidestep from the real issue, as people would need a pretty high level of self-awareness to realise what they are doing. Rather, it manifests as critique.
When you don’t want to stand up and say ‘I feel personally attacked by this, I don’t like being the bad guy,’ what do you do? You attack elsewhere. Here are some ways people attack women writers in particular, when they feel negative about a piece, or a response:
They criticise the skillset
Whether it’s saying your video looks amateurish, they don’t like your sentence structure or some other vague criticism of presentation, this option makes them feel like they are coming back at you from a place of superiority. That they are an epicurean of media consumption, and yours is substandard, thereby dismissing your point.
The attack on grammar, spelling and other details may appear elitist and that they are snobbishly looking down on you as a fool, exposing your weaknesses, but collectively it doesn’t really bear out. Let’s take an example: A few years ago, I asked a Trans woman I know (who is also a charity worker and human rights activist) to write about her experience on the swing and kink scene, as a perspective piece. The idea was to promote inclusion, understanding and open people’s eyes to the lived reality of other members of the community. She kindly did this for me, and you can still read it.
A little story:
Initially I was delighted to see my reader stats booming, until I traced back the source. It had been lifted and the link reposted to a gender-critical feminist (TERF) subreddit. What were the nature of the criticisms launched? Largely about writing style and sentence structure. If it had been a grammar-lovers group this might have been more excusable. The reality is that, rather than addressing the real issue they were uncomfortable with, they tried to look objective and not prejudiced by pretending they were a bunch of English teachers having a bad day.
I was getting so much traffic I was half tempted to leave it, but eventually my ethics kicked in and I went on the group to clarify that it wasn’t written for them. The traffic stopped. But the point is, when someone launches an attack on your skills, consider whether that is really their problem. If they actually cared to improve them, or knew their stuff, surely they would privately offer you friendly advice. Most small writers and content producers don’t have a team of professional editors and proofreaders perfecting every piece for palatability by the masses. They are often writing for free, or trying to break even. That doesn’t mean that they have nothing of value to say.
A public attack on the attributes of presentation is NEVER about that. People just don’t work that way. They are trying to present an objective reason for their dislike, that doesn’t reflect on them or cause them discomfort. So knowing this is tool number 1 in growing the thick skin you need to be a writer, content producer or other online presence.
I write some pieces that are fluffy swinger advice. There are some interviews and reviews, and I write some psychology based pieces. I also write some pieces that address the ways in which our behaviours affect others. Guess which are the ones that get criticised for writing style? That’s right.
Expect to get rained on if you find a storm to stand in. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do.
They belittle the content producer
Whether it’s mocking your appearance, patronising you with chauvinistic terms or combatting you with buffoonery, it is all deflection. They make fun of you, so that you might be dismissed by others, as retribution for creating negative feeling in themselves.
Now, it’s not generally the aim of any writer or content producer to create a swathe of bad feeling towards themselves, or the cause they are trying to promote. It’s just the nature of things that in finding a corner to fight, in finding a group to support and defend, you are calling out somebody. Often, quite a lot of somebodies. There are entrenched and institutionalised bad attitudes that get in the way of the world being fair. That marginalise people. Cause them difficulty. Give them stress and self-loathing. And when you want to have their back, to champion them, to show empathy and make things better, you are disrupting the status quo. A lot of people won’t like that. Especially if they are the ones who have been benefitting from it.
They will come back at you hard, with an inflated sense of entitlement. Be prepared for it.
They attack like hyenas on a wounded animal. Time for thick skin
You make your content. It gets some likes, shares, maybe some positive comments. Then one person says something negative. Suddenly, there is a flurry of other negative comments, as having paved the way for attack, these seeming newcomers can do so with imagined impunity- it won’t reflect on them, right? Someone else said it’s bad content. They can all suddenly wade in and unburden themself of that negative feeling that might have served as an impetus to consider having to change something. People will weigh in negatively who haven’t even read or viewed it. Because suddenly, they have a chance to establish their own in-group status by excluding another. Very primal. Basic. Very cruel.
You, in all you are, is being sacrificed to their in-group status. Don’t believe me? Just spend a little time on virtually any Facebook group. It isn’t just you, and your content. It’s what the keyboard warriors do. Note how very rarely they are willing to leave the safety of their own social media group to comment on your material in its original format, where the whole wide world could see them. Be ready for it. Grow that thick skin.
They become vaguely threatening
This is not unique to women producers of content, but it does take a different form with us, and almost always comes from men. When they don’t like how you’ve made them feel (by not supporting an off-topic and nonsensical Instagram comment they make on your post, by rebuffing an advance or not engaging with them in the way they want) you can see some pretty nasty behaviour. You can get threats, hateful comments, menacing messages that they will be all over your content, watching you. Unsolicited pictures and obscene messages. You can get passive-aggressive messages, rudeness and every other form of unpleasantness that entitlement takes when the ego gets a little ding.
You can block them, ignore them or display your superiority, depending on your mood and the way they have attacked. It is an attack- albeit an online one. It happens a lot. Women who produce any kind of adult content or vaguely sexual service (such as being a sex therapist, or sex positive counsellor) will tell you the horrible experiences they have had while trying to execute their profession and run their business. It’s erosive. It’s continuous. It needs a thick skin, a grit and a strength to carry on in the face of such constantly insulting behaviour. But remember? If they break you, make you stop and silence you, then they win. The suffragettes would roll in their graves.
The High School Mean Girl
Not every aggression against a woman who produces online content comes from men. Indeed, women can be spectacularly mean in very different ways. If you disagree on a post they make (even if it’s done politely or in the spirit of informed debate) you’ll see every which way a woman can come at you. They’ll also come at you on your content without seeming provocation from time to time.
They’ll call you things like ‘honey’ and patronise you. Laugh about your appearance or experiences. Belittle you. Try to encourage others to do the same. It comes across as incredibly spiteful, and that’s because it usually is. Generally, others will see their reaction for what it is and it’s best not to engage with them. They will enjoy and thrive on the sense of fighting you and establishing dominance. With people like this, it’s easiest just to rise above it and be incredibly nice. It really takes the wind out of their sails.
How do we grow the thick skin we need?
Ultimately, we cannot rely on continuous, perfect praise for the work we do to feel secure in ourselves. That’s not to say we need to be so headstrong that we are inflexible or unresponsive to change or other points of view. Rather, when we evaluate our feedback, we need to critique it too:
-Is this person likely to be reacting to a negative feeling? If so, we can dismiss its objectivity.
-Is this person the kind of person I created this piece for? Some people will always be bothered by anyone who disturbs their world view a little. Even if it’s simply by their existence.
-Is this person providing feedback that is genuinely about me, or the piece of I have created, with a positive view to helping me improve? Have they addressed it to me directly? Or are they showboating? If it’s all about them, then why worry yourself?
Is it worth it?
If we upset nobody, ever, are we really even changing anything? Or are we just trying to feed our egos and believe that everyone loves us, based on meaningless social media likes? What are we actually producing our content for? Is it for money? If so, are you making any? That’s your gauge. Is it for fame and validation? If so, you’ve picked a tough and unforgiving place to seek it. Make real friends, and stop imagining you have no worth unless you are a celebrity. Is it to try to place yourself in a situation where you can try to slowly change anything for the better? If so, expect resistance. The more resistance you receive, the better you are doing. Discussing issues that absolutely everyone already agrees with is completely pointless.
How can we protect ourselves from negativity burnout? And grow a thick skin?
There are a few tips I have:
-Remember why you started.
-Try to stay objective. We remember and feel negative comments much more strongly than positive ones. It doesn’t mean the positive ones are less valid. Your content could have helped 100 people quietly, and upset one. Having a thick skin doesn’t mean ignoring responses. It means considering them all.
-Remember that any interaction with your content counts towards your stats. They might hate you, but the longer they interact the more they are unwittingly promoting your presence.
-Don’t be afraid to block. Your mental health is not worth battling an eternal antagonist. You have new content to create. You’ll actually rapidly forget them. Nobody’s skin is so thick they won’t encounter someone who needs blocking.
-Don’t always respond or react. Sometimes others will do it for you, and you can rise above. Words online lack tone and context. They may not be as extreme in their feelings as you imagine.
Here are some experiences and top tips from other online content creators:
In the context of Jo Divine we don’t get a lot of problems (at least not yet) and the shop protects us. We are very careful about the people we open up to and have generally had positive interactions. I think we end up being seen as a publisher even if we’ve actually written the stuff! We actually get more antagonism around medical stuff.Paul & Sam, Jo Divine, sex toy company owners
I generally don’t have to deal with too much in terms of attacks or reductionism because I am fairly careful about who I let in and totally unafraid to protect my space and by blocking anyone that invades it with any kind of problematic behaviours. I don’t think it’s about thick skin for me, so much as valuing my space and keeping it safe. And honestly, I think I’ve been quite lucky! I have had far less issues in this space than I’ve had in the vanilla world! I’m sure there are examples. I’ve just dealt with them swiftly and not really let it bother me too much. I think fiesty is good. Although it’s exhausting having to be fiesty all the time. I’ve named and shamed people in the past.Eleni, Kink and Cuddles, weblogger and adult content writer
I had one guy tell me it was my fault his wife was leaving him and how my books had f_cked up his life. He was the only really angry person I had to deal with. Not nice. I said his marriage must have had its own issues before my books came along. He didn’t want to hear it and called me all sorts. Had to report and block him in the end. His ex wife was mortified and very apologetic.Louisa Berry, author of the vanilla extract series
So here’s my take on being a sex writer/kink writer/ woman with a voice who is not afraid to use it. To be honest, I don’t get too much negativity about my work, which is a good thing. My content is my baby, and if someone attacked my baby, I’d be furious…a bridge yet to cross, I feel (woe betide the person who lights that fire.) The negativity I have faced and face regularly is from guys who don’t understand what I’m all about. I believe they see that I’m a ‘sex blogger’ or ‘kink writer’ or ‘sex positive writer’ and instantly think, ‘she’s easy, and she’s looking for sex; let me send her a picture of my d_ck because if she writes about sex, she must be gagging for anyone’s c_ck, especially as she’s a swinger!
When I decline, and I do politely decline, I usually get a barrage of abuse and lewd questions. Sometimes I thank people for their offer but point them in the direction of swinger websites, but if they are insistent on sending me pictures of their anatomy, I point them in the direction of my ‘How to Swing if you are a Man’ articles.
I do not want to inflict the said individuals onto other swingers without at least trying to educate them a little first.
What follows is either silence (what I want) or frustration, in the form of yet more unpleasant messages. At this point, I block. What I’ve learnt is this: you have to grow a thick skin in this niche. Suppose I added up the number of messages and absurd requests I received in relation to the number of genuine messages I receive from couples and individuals seeking help. It would probably be a 70-30 split. But that’s 30% who are real, you are the reason I do what I do!Thiskindagirl2020, swing scene advice guru and swing blogger
Practice self care. Spending a lot of time pouring emotion and energy into content creation, especially a live stream or video, without physical in-person feedback from your audience is very tough. It’s mentally and physically exhausting. It’s like being on stage, all day, as the actor, director, writer and producer of your own show. Making it look easy is a testament to practice and skill. Take time out after a session to turn off all electronics and social media and relax.Mellie.C, Content producer of thatguitargirl on Likee
I think that we all need to have a thick skin in the end, no matter what. No matter what your gender or your sexuality! We, women, are always seen as an object no matter how you dress, how you act, what you do and what you say. I learn on my skin that not everyone will like you, but we do have the power to block and remove whoever we don’t like or makes us feel bad! Nothing should stop us from being ourselves, and be scared or feel ashamed of what we are and what we do in general.donnalisa.92, Instagram content producer
Please do go ahead and critique my writing style and sentence structure in the comments below. 😉
Women content producers, what are your experiences of negative feedback? What do you think is the root of it and how do you make yourself strong? Do you court or avoid controversy? Or do you adapt the archetype you present as? Do you have self-care tips for other women in the public eye? Please share your experiences below.