Walking on egg-shells: the challenges of serving many communities

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Head Wound

When I wrote my book in 2005, I didn't have a philosophy about weddings. I had planned exactly one wedding (mine!) and avoided most wedding media (including websites, magazines, tv shows, and books) while doing so. Offbeat Bride: the book, was just me sharing my story, corroborating with a hundred or so other brides, and then trying to encourage folks to figure out what they wanted to do.

When I first launched this website, I still didn't have a philosophy. I was just promoting the book, doing my thing. I ranted and bitched a fair amount before realizing that I didn't like the kind of attention that sort of writing attracted, and shifted to a more tolerant, “go you, whatever you may do” philosophy. By mid-2007, Offbeat Bride was dedicated to tolerant support of pretty much everything and everyone.

And now here we are many years later. Despite the site having grown exponentially (1 million of you read every month!), we still focus on supporting non-traditional niches. These days, we cater to a LOT of different niches, and that's where the editorial challenge comes in: everyone wants us to cater to their niche, and when we don't, sometimes y'all get upset. See, when you're dedicated to niches, you can't make everyone happy all the time… because if we did that, we wouldn't be about the niches any more. We'd be USA Today.

We've received complaints from members of almost every niche community you can imagine (and some you've never heard of), telling us that we're being insensitive because we didn't acknowledge their needs. We suggested having a drink, when some of you don't drink. We've written about honeymooning in regions with political turmoil, where some of you won't go. We've featured pictures of smoking brides, and when some of you think that it's a bad example for younger readers. We referred to a vegan wedding as “cruelty-free,” and some of you like meat and don't appreciate the insinuations that you're cruel, thankyouverymuch. We've offended environmentalists by referring to a non-green-enough-for-their-tastes wedding as “eco.” Once, an advertiser told us she was uncomfortable with our talk of genital excretions — but that ended up being a misunderstanding about the word “squee.”

I've gotten frequent enough complaints about the swearing on Offbeat Bride that I have a form letter response, thanking the writer for the feedback but informing them that swearing has been a part of Offbeat Bride's language since 2006 when I included the phrase “ass-fucking” in the book, and while I totally respect that the profanity isn't going to feel right for everyone, it's just part of how I do things.

Then there's what I call the reverse discrimination fallacy, where brides on the more traditional end of the spectrum complain that they feel excluded or demonized for being “too normal.” We've edited wedding profiles to exclude lines like, “I didn't want a stuffy traditional wedding,” knowing that somewhere an Offbeat Lite bride was going to think to herself, “Oh, so now my wedding is STUFFY!? Fuck you, offbeater-than-thou bride.” (Speaking of Offbeat Lite: not everyone likes that term, nor does everyone like the phrase “Wedding porn.”)

The feedback we receive from readers is almost always tremendously educational — even when we don't capitulate to the requests. I've learned a huge amount about gender identity from readers of Offbeat Bride. I had no idea that people who followed the Paleo diet saw it as an identity to the point where they would be offended by vegans. I've learned boat-loads about the range of recovery community opinions — some of you are positively mortified when we make even lighthearted suggests to have a drink, others joke about how one glass of wine would turn into the whole vineyard. The “offbeat couples of color” tag issue was one with strong and articulate opinions on both side of the fence. The only thing we could all agree on is that we should let folks self-identify.

The challenge for me editorially with all this feedback is that I simply can't make everyone happy. While we work our tails off to keep Offbeat Bride an inclusive, supportive environment where folks of all backgrounds, genders, niches, and tastes can hopefully feel comfortable, ultimately, this is OFFBEAT Bride, and you WILL see things here that you don't like. In serving another niche, sometimes we won't perfectly serve yours — and we hope that can be ok for everyone.

If every post was written to cater to everybody's tastes, we'd be doing something wrong. We're not USA Today, after all — and that's part of why y'all read the site. For us, “Offbeat” ultimately just means being authentic to your identity, and for Megan that can mean cracking SNL jokes that people don't always get and/or like. For me, it means sometimes using language that strikes some people as crude and gross. For one intern, it sometimes means having strong opinions about websites that some wedding photographers might find insulting. Other writers might have suggestions for wedding undies, but also be ok with you not wearing underwear at all to your wedding.

I want to encourage all our readers to be critical thinkers — we're not the arbiters of taste, nor are we going to be able to cater to all readers at all times. We LOVE getting feedback from our readers about how our posts make you feel, even if I can't always promise that we'll be able to make all of you feel good about every single post on the site. We're ok with that, and we hope you can be too.

Comments on Walking on egg-shells: the challenges of serving many communities

  1. I sort of subscribe to the 80/20 rule when I think about OBB and reading about weddings in general–if I like, or can understand, or am simply interested in 80% of the stuff on the site, the site is good for me. That means that 20% of the site I may not like, I may not care about, and I may even disagree with or be offended by.

    What’s important is that I find most of the content valuable for one reason or another and that I have a safe space to offer a disagreeing or controversial opinion as long as I do it politely.

    *That* is what I value about OffbeatBride–it’s diverse enough to teach me about all kinds of new stuff, rather than pigeonholing me into a certain kind of “acceptable” offbeat- or traditional-ness, and tolerant enough that I feel safe to say when I don’t like or understand something, and either get further information or an agreement to disagree.

    Good on ya, guys. Thanks for providing the space.

  2. And that is just the thing.. you can’t make everyone happy all at the same time. Life happens, people move on.. It is called being Tolerant of those who you may not get, understand or even like. Hey, we love you, even though there have been things that I for one would not be all that in too, but thats ok. The only thing you can do is to be you. And that should be good enough..

  3. I’m glad that you made this post, and I’m glad that offbeat bride exists, and I’m glad that you’re sticking to your guns and doing what you do best. You’re absolutely right, not everything on the site is going to appeal to everyone on the site, and that’s okay.

    I think this is one of those times we agree to disagree, and find a way to put our opinions up in an adult and mature way. The whole point of offbeat bride is to be a community for the offbeat brides, right? So if a person feels excluded from one part of the website, then obviously you’re doing something right, because it’s all about being different.
    I’m from Vancouver Canada, so I happen to get frustrated that none of the ads I see are relevant, but I still love the posts, the ideas (aaand inspiration :P) and particularly reading about how different people approach the wedding tradition in such amazingly different ways.
    I think that this site is a celebration of humanity. The thing we all have in common here is that we’re getting married. Beyond that, all the different things that make this community so colorful are what make this site worthwhile. Although I can’t always find what I’m looking for here (like a response to my question in a forum for example) I can rarely find what I’m looking for elsewhere.

    Anyways, keep up the kick-ass job Ariel. We love the site and have become obsessed with the rest of the empire as well, for all the porn it’s worth! xox WestcoastBex

    • I could NOT agree more! You perfectly articulated all my thoughts while reading this. I’ve been anti-marriage/wedding since my first wedding, and because of the alternatives from the mainstream commercial-fest I’ve seen from this website, I’ve allowed myself to fall madly in love and desire a marriage again. Not that he didn’t have any small part in that process 🙂
      THANK YOU!

  4. Any site that will use a form letter to defend their right to use the term ass-fucking, or similarly colorful language is alright in my book! Keep on keepin on OBB, and WORK ON YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR PEOPLE! 😀

  5. This is probably the one of the best things I’ve read in the Offbeat empire. I’ve sometimes felt outside the fence because my particular Offbeat-ness doesn’t have a handle (ie, steampunk, rockabilly, hippie, goth, or other self identifying term). But for me the authenticity comes not with belonging to a specific niche, but in being true to myself and also in enjoying, or simply learning about other ways things can be done. It’s more than an aesthetic romp in counterculture, and I love that. There is a strong element of self exploration, encouragement of growth, and stretching one’s comfort zone within your Offbeat world. I just want to say how much I appreciate the result of so much eggshell-treading on your part!

    • I so agree. I’ve never found anything on OB that offends me – though I’ve found plenty outside my personal range of experience. And that’s a good thing! I’m not a bride nor even close to being engaged but I come back to this site all the time because it constantly opens my eyes to different views and cultures that I really, truly appreciate.

    • I’m also on board with this. Maybe it’s just that I am extremely hard to offend, or very laid back. But when you try to give everyone the appropriate nod towards their identity, it can be so difficult.

      For what it’s worth, I know that this site tries its best to be as acknowledging and respectful of identity as they can be. No one can be perfect, and certainly not a webgroup. It is the internet and a certain amount of wank and waaaaaah is to be expected.

      We should be so grateful there is something trying to cater to the many varied niches in the world, rather than be limited by what’s going to make a majority smirk and nod.

  6. I moderate a large forum on the internet. THIS. ALL OF THIS. I love my forum dearly but some of the things that offend them make me 0_o

    For the record, I and Altared Visions are proud to be fans of any wedding blog that includes the term “ass-fucking”.

  7. Ariel- You’re awesome and all of your sites are awesome. If people don’t like them, they have the option not to read them… why is this so hard for people to understand? When I come upon a site I don’t like, disagree with, or if I got offended by a site, I would just choose to ignore it and move on to find another one. Lighten up people… nobody is forcing you to be here and read/view.

  8. I really liked this post. I think a lot of people, especially people planning stressful events like weddings, take things way too seriously. When you read a post, just take away from it the ideas that you like and leave out the ideas that you don’t. For instance, I love the way a lot of outdoor barbecue weddings are executed but my partner and I are vegan. Does that mean that the people who have meat at their weddings are evil and they are not the kind of people who I should draw inspiration from? Fuck no, it just means I serve seitan instead of pork. There are things on this site I don’t always agree with but that happens everywhere I go. Hell, there are lots of things on vegan and vegetarian websites I don’t agree with, but that doesn’t mean I need to get offended and go on a twelve paragraph rant. If there’s a way I can provide constructive criticism I do so and then I move on.

  9. I feel like Offbeat’s not a niche community, it’s a tolerant community. And tolerance means being accepting of things you don’t agree with, not asking everyone to change their opinion to agree with you. Part of being human is growing, and you can’t grow if you’re never exposed to anything new!

    For what it’s worth, the people of Offbeat are doing a damn fine job (oops I said a swear) and providing a great service.

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