What Happened When I Lived According To The Pinterest Popular Page
As someone who has defended the site against its critics, I decided to dive in to try to find out if its reputation is deserved.
Since its launch in 2010, Pinterest has earned a reputation as a site for Mormon housewives, mommy bloggers, and basic white girls. I am a woman of color with a full-time job, I spend less than 30 minutes getting ready in the morning, and I still like Pinterest. Characterizations of the site as a "a churning cycle of interest, hope, inspiration, jealousy, desperation, despair and depression" always irked me because I think Pinterest is a useful bookmarking tool. The site had never made me feel bad about myself.
Then I discovered Pinterest's "most popular" page, which is essentially a collage of white girls with impossibly great hair, superhuman nail art skills, and apparently enough free time to create a tidy basket of "postpartum supplies" for "every bathroom" in the house. Suddenly I could see where Pinterest got its reputation.
As someone who has defended the site but doesn't really love Mason jars (though I do own a glue gun), I wondered what would happen if I tried to live according to the stereotype. Would it even be possible? Would it just be a series of Pinterest fails? Would living by the example of a site accused of putting too much pressure on women make me more or less happy?
For one week, I let popular tips from Pinterest dictate almost every aspect of my lifestyle.
- I cooked the most popular recipes.
- I used the most popular hair and makeup tutorials.
- I dressed in the style of the most popular fashion pins (wearing purchased, borrowed, or dug-from-the-box-labeled-"college" clothes).
- I spent my free time crafting, per the most popular DIY pins.
- I kept my home looking Pinterest-perfect using the most popular cleaning and organizing tips.
The pins I used had been repinned anywhere from 300 to 20,000 times and were all similar in style to other popular pins. I did these activities during traditional nonworking, noncommuting hours (so never between 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays), plus two full weekend days.
Here are some things that happened — not in order by day, or even everything that happened, because trust me...it was a LONG week.
1. I spent one morning contouring my face. My husband couldn't tell the difference.
I've never bothered with contouring, because there are very few occasions when I need to look like a Kardashian. Plus, as a biracial woman, it's hard enough for me to find foundation that matches my skin tone, let alone makeup that intentionally doesn't match my skin tone but then also magically blends together and look likes my skin tone.
After trying this popular tutorial, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. I asked my husband what he thought; he stared at me for a long time and then said, "To be honest... I'm not sure I see the difference." Then: "I mean, your cheekbones look more defined, but that's really it." I have no idea if this means I did it right or I did it wrong.
From one angle, I looked sculpted. From another angle, I looked dirty. Then the light hit me just right, and realized I look like a white girl who decided to go as me for Halloween and made the poor decision to darken her skin with makeup.
2. I felt like I was wearing SO MANY THINGS all at once.
All my Pinterest-inspired attire was similar to what I'd normally wear...with the exception that there was so much more of it. Why do I need a shirt and a sweater and a vest and a scarf? Why do I need to wear multiple chunky gold bracelets and a gold watch? I'd really prefer that the neighbors don't hear me wipe.
3. I made Mason jar candles and it kind of sucked.
I followed the instructions for creating this Mason jar prism candle (repinned more than 125,000 times) perfectly, but after gluing on a few glass stones, I noticed they were sliding around. A lot. I pressed a few back into place, but then more started to fall. After a few more minutes of playing Whack-a-Mole with the stones, I decided to see how a glue gun would fare. It worked perfectly, so I have no idea why I had to buy "industrial-strength" glue for the project. Getting the ribbon tied around the tops turned out to be the most difficult part, but after 45 minutes and three different types of ribbon, the jars were done. I wasn't entirely sold on how they looked up close, but from far away and with a candle burning, I guess they were sort of pretty. For a fire hazard.
4. But then I made Mason jar salads and they definitely did NOT suck.
When I started this project, a friend asked me if I was going to make a Mason jar salad; I said yes, and we proceeded to complain about how ridiculous the concept seemed. Haven't we reached peak Mason jar yet? But after reading through the tutorial (which comes from this book) and doing the damn thing, I'll admit: I see the benefits.
I like packing big salads for lunch, but the only plastic container I've found big enough to hold them isn't very easy to transport to and from an office. It (along with the dressing container) takes up a ton of space in my bag (and an office fridge) and adds to the long list of shit I miserably schlep across town and back each day. Plus the plastic containers get ratty really quickly. In that context, the Mason jar is surprisingly sensible.
On the flip side, the chickpeas soaked up a bit more dressing than I would have liked and you'll still need to schlep a bowl along. But overall, it's an idea I can get behind.
5. Eating Nutella for breakfast made me feel ill, is actually a bad idea.
The Nutella mini pancake kabobs are the kind of Pinterest recipe that perfectly embodies what Claire Perkins at xoJane called "inbred food porn." Not only were my kabobs damn unpretty, but they were really rich. Fifteen minutes after finishing breakfast, I realized should have trained for this week by ingesting frosting straight from the can in slowly increasing portions.
6. I experienced a pretty spectacular storage solution fail...
In an attempt to utilize one of the many clever ways to use a tension rod on Pinterest, I installed a tension rod in the cabinet under my kitchen sink; it quickly became apparent that the rod could support no more than three bottles, and one of them had to be small. I tried repeatedly to hang a fourth bottle, but the rod just kept falling. Finally I realized it wasn't going to happen and left it with just three hanging. Sure, having a bunch of bottles sitting below in the cabinet sort of defeats the purpose of the hack, but I was determined to make it work. As I lay on the couch, scrolling through the Pinterest app looking for my next pin — my first relaxing moment in a day filled with Pinterest projects — I heard the tension rod and the three bottles come crashing down.
7. ...but also a legit win.
I used this popular pin to hide the unforgivable mess in my front closet. While I was not psyched about the kelly green baskets that were actually the best-looking option at the dollar store (where I mistakenly believed I was supposed to buy them), I was psyched about discovering like 12 rolls of Scotch tape hiding in the closet.
8. I realized that a) I am terrible at braiding and b) things that look good on Pinterest are impractical IRL.
This French braid tie-back did not go as well as I had hoped; after approximately eight attempts, I decided the braid was as good as it was going to get. It looked fine (ish), but it felt really loose — probably because I only used one bobby pin (as instructed). I was afraid if I moved my head, the hairstyle was going to collapse. This did not jibe with my habit of gesticulating wildly while I talk.
9. In fact, I’d probably have better luck waxing my own pubes than braiding my own hair.
This Dutch braid, via the upside-down braided bun tutorial, is one of those "Lazy Sunday" looks that actually takes several attempts to achieve. Not that I actually achieved it.
How does one do an upside-down Dutch braid without being able to see what she's doing? I've never been tempted to wax my own bikini line, but the fact that I could at least position mirrors strategically to help me see what I'm doing makes me confident the experience would be 99% less frustrating than this braid was.
10. I decided that this DIY Sharpie mug is actually worth it.
While I'm not terribly artistic, this DIY is fast, inexpensive, and I didn't fuck it up. The design also held up in the dishwasher. So basically, you're all getting one for Christmas.
11. Cleaning a little bit each day (but not the Pinterest-prescribed amount) actually improved my life.
I used a friendly-seeming graphic to make my house less filthy through this weeklong experiment. The schedule is...well, I wouldn't call it "oppressive," exactly, but...this cleaning schedule has no chill.
On the day I was supposed to spot clean sofas and rugs (which: no), clean out the fridge, and sweep and mop the floors, Eric did the floors because I was busy making dinner. He also cleaned out the fridge the day before. Is having your husband do chores the Pinterest way to do them? I'm not sure. The only thing I found mentioning husbands on the popular page was one pin with ideas/tips for making your husband's lunches for the week.
As the week went on, I grew more and more sick of this graphic, telling me to do things like wash the walls and doors (literally WUT) and insisting I dust my bed before I could crawl into it for the night. I'm fairly certain it was not made for a person who works outside the home. I like the idea of cleaning a little bit each day, but I'd have to modify this one considerably for my own mental health.
12. I discovered some legit new recipes...
The winners: paleo egg muffins (good, but I definitely should have drained the chorizo better), a chicken fajita bake (came together easily and was pretty light), beef with broccoli (a little too saucy, but really great after I drained it a bit), and the best chocolate chip cookies (AMAZING AND EVERYONE SHOULD TRY THIS RECIPE IMMEDIATELY).
13. ...and one that I’ll never make again.
In hindsight, the cream cheese and the mayo called for as ingredients in this meatball sub casserole should have been a sign. THE NAME OF THE DISH should have been a sign. But when it came out of the oven looking really delicious, I wasn't thinking about any of that.
It's not that the casserole was bad, it was just...rich. I didn't even finish my helping, and yet there I was, all set to hibernate until spring.
14. Because of all the cooking, I had to run my dishwasher two to three times per day.
This was unexpected. But hot damn, I was happy to have a dishwasher.
15. I sought the perfect no-chip manicure and found it — but not with the first try.
First I tried this DIY shellac manicure hack.
I did it while watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, because Harry Potter shit is all over Pinterest, and because what better things does a grown woman have to be doing on a Saturday night? The manicure looked as beautiful and glossy as the sword of Godric Gryffindor. By 4:00 the next day, however, it was peeling off in sheets. Avada Kedavra, manicure.
Undeterred, I tried a second DIY shellac manicure a couple days later.
It was similar to the first one, but you layer the polishes differently. It promises to last for two weeks; if it had lasted for two days I would have been impressed. It ended up lasting for about four days before any wear and tear showed, and a few more days with just minor chipping. This discovery was one of the best things that happened to me during my Pinterest week. And...all of 2014.
16. I put Scotch tape on my face to perfect my eyeliner and it WORKED.
I was actually excited about this trick because I'd been watching the new Taylor Swift video and realized I needed more winged eyeliner in my life. It didn't make a perfect line, and I ended up doing quite a bit of tweaking after removing the tape, but it looked much better than my previous attempts to freehand a cat-eye. And since I had just discovered so much Scotch tape in my front closet, well...why not put it to good use?
17. I learned how to look like I give a few fucks on days when IDGAF.
On a day when I was running low on time, I tried the 5-minute curl tutorial; it actually worked well and did save me time. I also did a plaid shirt layered under a sweater. I figured this look would be slightly more comfortable than a straitjacket, but it actually ended up being really comfy, and it made me look like I gave way more fucks about my outfit than I actually did.
18. I premade my lunches for the week on Sunday afternoon for the first and last time in my life.
I ate these make-ahead grilled chicken and veggie bowls throughout the week and they were good. I wouldn't say they were "give up an hour on a Sunday" good, or "I don't mind that my pee smells vile" good, but pretty good.
19. I spent 90 minutes getting ready for a date with my husband.
First up: a smoky eye tutorial. After several steps and more than a few do-overs, I stepped back and saw that...I had an insane amount of eye makeup on. I didn't hate it; it was actually really sexy. Though it's not evident in my selfie, I was wearing more makeup than Liz Taylor as Cleopatra.
Next I did the 10-minute loose curls tutorial; the style looked close to how I wear my hair regularly, but the technique turned out to be completely different. By the time I was done — which took 20 minutes, by the way — my hair was very big and full of secrets. I LOVED it. I put on jeans, a T-shirt, a blazer, a scarf, the bracelet stack, and wedges — all inspired by a date night outfit that was repinned 20,000+ times — and once again, I felt like I was wearing SO MANY CLOTHES.
I checked my watch and realized it had been 90 minutes since I started getting ready. FFS.
When we got home from dinner, I realized that the day before was the worst possible day to use the last of my eye makeup remover.
20. My search for a bold, dark shade of lipstick made me think a lot about Pinterest and race.
This lip cream smelled like caramel and went on like a dream…but it wasn't as dark as I thought it would be. I was expecting a deep, vampy color. On my skin, it was more of a nice wine hue. It was still bold, but it was a bit of a letdown. (Also a letdown: the fact that it wouldn't stay on my lips longer than 10 minutes.) But this is a familiar disappointment to any woman of color who has wanted to try a "must-have" makeup product or the latest beauty craze, only to realize it's not available for her, or doesn't have quite the same effect with her skin tone or hair type.
It's always bothered me when (mostly white) women say Pinterest is only for white girls as a way of insulting it. Black women (and women of all races) use and exist on Pinterest. Pinterest is associated with all things stereotypically feminine, but that we only associate things like fashion, beauty, and being a homemaker with white women is troubling; it suggests that black women cannot be soft, feminine, or carefree. In reality, Pinterest can be a fantastic place to discover tutorials for natural hair or to find amazing photos from African-American history. Or to just find a recipe for the best chocolate chip cookies, because sometimes black girls want to do that too.
But I realized that while that content exists on Pinterest, you have to go looking for it. During this experiment, I saw far, far fewer brown faces on the "popular" page (and in Pinterest searches that didn't explicitly mention "black" or "African-American") than I did white ones. Was it the end of the world? Not really. But it meant I had to disregard a lot of pins, and the ones that seemed innocuous enough often produced results like this lipstick. Had I searched "dark lipstick black women," I may have found the goth lip color of my dreams. Instead, I get a pretty bright wine that subtly reminded me that I'm different.
21. My ponytail was the flounciest one on the block.
In an attempt to rock a Pinterest-worthy pony, I used a trick I've seen all over Pinterest, where you make two ponytails — the first hidden beneath the second — to give the illusion of a fuller ponytail. I was pretty sure there was no way in hell the second ponytail would actually cover the first. I was wrong.
22. I discovered that you CAN sort of DIY Kylie Jenner lips...if being able to smile isn’t important to you.
Next I tried the extremely popular Kylie Jenner lip tutorial; it didn't have the pretty rose effect I was hoping for, but it was acceptable. But when it was time to snap a selfie, I realized that Kylie Jenner lips don't really smile.
First, because Kylie Jenner doesn't really smile so much as she purses; to demonstrate the full effect of the lipstick and liner, I needed to do the same. Second, because the matte lipstick and liner didn't really move.
Thanks to the false lashes, my tired visage, and the annoyed smirk that was on my face in every photo I took that morning, I now know exactly what my mugshot would look like if I were a celebrity arrested for a DWI.
23. I learned that a lot of Pinterest is just good lighting.
One night, I made broccoli cheddar soup; it tasted great, but didn't look very pretty, which was frustrating. When you spend your night making soup, you want it to look like the photo.
Feeling inferior in the quest to achieve Pinterest perfection has been well-documented; a 2013 survey by Today found that 42% of 7,000 U.S. mothers surveyed said they feel "Pinterest stress" for not being crafty or creative enough.
But my soup could look like the photo...just not right after I made it. The next day, I re-shot the soup in natural light with a DSLR camera. I didn't do any fancy editing, and yet it looked so much more appealing this time around.
And all it took was a $500 camera, a $250 lens, and the luxury of being at home during the day, when the natural light was just right for a photo like this. All things most women who work outside the home don't have.
24. By the week's end, I didn't come close to getting everything done that I set out to do.
Of all the popular pins I tried, I found the cleaning and organizing tips were the most useful, because not living in filth is important to me. On the other hand, the beauty, style, and hair pins didn't feel worth it. Despite all the focus on my appearance, I rarely felt very pretty, likely because I was so stressed about getting everything done.
25. But I also learned how important it is to take real, actual time to appreciate your efforts. And to know your priorities.
Anyone who does anything from Pinterest should take some quality time to celebrate the shit out of themselves. If you burn yourself out in the pursuit of your goals, it's really hard to enjoy the results. And if you can't just chill and sip coffee from your DIY Sharpie mug because you have to spend 30 minutes on a smoky eye then WHAT is the point of life?
I think the key to not losing your goddamn mind when surrounded by so much ~pinspiration~ is having clear priorities. Just because a lot of other people (or their pins, Insta photos, and Facebook statuses) imply that something is really important doesn't mean it's actually important. Unfollow anyone who makes you feel shitty about your life choices. And don't put mayo on your cream cheese on your mozzarella cheese on your meatballs.