Lifestyle bloggers are their own breed in the blogging world, and could be likened to the popular girls in high school. Thirty-year-old Emily Schuman is the Queen Bee, or as one anonymous reader called her, "a homemaker sociopath." Your pick. Emily carefully curates "Cupcakes and Cashmere," a blog that garners an average of 120,000 daily visitors, mostly postgrads who see her as their generation's Martha Stewart. What her readers don't see is that almost every creative gesture on her site has been done before, and in some cases, better. She has no apparent culinary background or fashion expertise. But through interactive ads for Estee Lauder and Walmart, Los Angeles Times contributor Shan Li reported last month that her growing "empire" makes 15 times her previous AOL salary -- with your clicks.
Forbes recently published an article claiming that these sites are ridiculous and "bad for women." Contributor Susannah Breslin wrote, "You don't become someone new by pretending to be someone else. You reinvent yourself by letting go of who you wish you could be, and figuring out who you really are." Very few things that lifestyle bloggers post are innovative, but they are pretty! However, during a time when women's magazine are being scrutinized for how intelligent their content is, I'd like to think bloggers for this demographic would want to publish material that might teach us something new or unique. But that apparently is not Emily's goal, who admits, "Even my mom is the first one to say that posting how to bake cookies is not revolutionary, but it's how you package it together."
Almost every day since March of 2008, Emily aka "Cupcakes" has been packaging cute little paragraphs about things that she's "obsessed" with (her favorite word). Most posts showcase three to five blissfully airbrushed pictures of Cupcakes frolicking in various Hollywood locales, trying not to smile, or doing her own version of Taylor Swift's surprised face. Sometimes she sports classic pieces, such as a fitted blazer from Elizabeth & James. Other times, she misses the mark. By a lot. She wore a fuchsia and black ensemble complete with lacy netting and platform stilettos to grab coffee on the morning of June 6th, 2012, and admitted people were staring at her. Reader Kim remarked, "you look like you are doing a walk of shame... those heels are completely inappropriate for coffee. even in new york. and you are not in new york." (Comment has since been deleted).
These beauties are often coupled with an innocently framed complaint, or "white girl problems." On June 17th, Emily unsuccessfully tried to be lazy: "I've come to terms with the fact that I don't know how to sleep in (does 7:15am count?) [and] I get antsy if I watch too much TV." Last fall, while packing for New York Fashion Week, Emily had to cope with the fact that while she loves wearing hair ribbons, unfortunately, they fall out of her silky hair far too easily. She "came up with an easy way to channel the same preppy look in a few simple steps," which are, of course, in photographs, so no one has to do any more reading. She didn't come up with it though. If you google "grosgrain ribbon covered headband," her post is one of over 87,000 results that appear. And her step-by-step tutorial is not even on the first page of links.
The step-by-step cooking posts on the blog are as slyly uncreative as the rest. In her New York Times best seller coffee table book (of the same name), she recommends using a box mix for her favorite baked good. Other times, Cupcakes procures recipes from the Food Network or Epicurious, but only credits the original baker about half the time. Reader Shari caught Emily's Shark Week themed cupcake plagiarism last summer, writing, "These are cute, but I just saw them on Pinterest via Martha Stewart. I feel a little turned off when you portray ideas as purely your own instead of saying where you got your inspiration from." I guess if everyone called out Cupcakes when she recycled an idea, she would be out of work.
In fact, it's the glossy and neurotic branding job that makes her (look like) an expert. Her husband even quit his advertising job to further engineer the "family-run business." In January, they hired their first full-time employee.
Over the years, Emily has found a truly gullible audience. If she isn't paid to advertise a piece of clothing, sometimes she won't even mention where it came from. However, readers are increasingly curious about how their online activity could be contributing to the media industry. Reader Jessica commented on Emily's May 21st "Wedding Wear," voicing this rising concern: "I sometimes feel like nearly half of the products you mention in outfit posts have been sponsored in some form or another... it makes me feel like it is more of an advertisement than a personal recommendation... I just wish there was more transparency for us, the readers." Cupcakes vaguely responded, giving a shout-out to SAY Media, her ad manager.
These sites are businesses backed by strategy, not frosting. Yet, it's still unclear whether the whole thing is an act, or Emily is that easily amused by Jacques Torres's chocolate covered cheerios ("genius idea"). What readers should realize is that by following Cupcakes as she wanders through flea markets, they are engaging with her business and making her quite the high-roller. One wonders if recording your life in blog form is your job, are you really enjoying a moment for what it is? Without having to sell stuff? Cupcakes says, "It's not just a blog, it's an entire company." I'm disgusted and impressed at the same time.