Whanganui bloggers are giving thousands of viewers a window into their everyday lives. They tell Zaryd Wilson why.

Gioia Damosso is quitting smoking and trying out this whole menstrual cup thing.

Abi Marthinusen just ate a burger because, well, she can have a salad later.

Sometimes Stephanie and Elana Macdonald-Rose are just trying to get their daughter Florence to get her shoes on before heading out the door.

Advertisement

Other times they're navigating having a second baby through a fertility clinic.

These are some of the Whanganui people who are broadcasting the details — the mundane and the extraordinary — of their lives to the world.

And thousands are listening.

Technology and social media has allowed everyday people to gain swathes of followers while talking about often niche subjects.

Stephanie and Elana started their YouTube channel Dandy + Birds a few years ago when they were trying to find a sperm donor for their first child.

"I guess it was quite an isolating thing. We were ready to start a family and everything we found on the internet was very American focused," Stephanie says.

"So I guess, we originally started doing it because we thought if we're going to go through this process perhaps we should document it because there are bound to be other queer families in New Zealand who are wanting the same sort of information. And then it kind of grew from there."

Now they have over 5000subscribers — around the world — who tune in for the regular vlogs (video blogs) cut from their daily lives.

Advertisement

"It become this big huge community of people. We're sharing with them and they're sharing with us," Stephanie says.

Meanwhile, Gioia blogs under the name Coco Mama, which has its own website and Facebook page.

What's it about?

She seems to have an answer; Being a single mum, going vegan but the list grows as she speaks.

"I supposed it's just my life," she says.

"But there's lots of different aspects of my life people can related to."

Gioia Damosso blogs under the name Coco Mama. Photo/ Zaryd Wilson
Gioia Damosso blogs under the name Coco Mama. Photo/ Zaryd Wilson

Like Dandy + Birds, Coco Mama has amassed a following of around 5000 people who read about things like Gioia's attempt to quit smoking, her thoughts on nudity, her Dad pants.

"It was just a nice outlet for me to write and share stories and surprisingly — I suppose how everyone gets surprised — people found it interesting," she says.

"Sometimes I'll just post the most inane shit and people just love it. You never know what's going to tickle someone's fancy, I suppose."

Gioia speaks about things often kept private — she's recently been posting videos about her trial with menstrual cups — but she says its her frank take on those subjects which has gained her fans.

"I just think it's important to put it out there because for some reason, some of the gross things that lots of women and lots of people go through — you're not allowed to talk about it.

"As a teenager you buy tampons from the supermarket and you're hiding it in your pocket because, 'oh, my god, imagine if somebody saw me buying tampons because I've got my period'.

"Well of course you've got your period. Every woman and some point in their lives is going to get their period but for some reason it's this shameful thing that were have to cover up so nobody knows."

Nudity. Shit this is a long one! So it looks like I will be writing my first possibly controversial post! Now I...

Posted by Coco Mama on Monday, 31 July 2017

"I guess in that way I'm putting it out there and talking about it may in some little way make others feel like it's something they don't need to hide."

Gioia thinks of Coca Mama as "a journal that everyone can see".

"But of course it made me happy that people read it a found it valid and funny."
And that why Whanganui's bloggers say they do it.

They're filling a void, talking about things that not many are talking about.

"We've even had people say, you know, 'as a young gay person it gives me hope that I could have a family. I've always been told I couldn't have a family and you're proof that it's a thing'," Stephanie says.

Stephanie and Elana Macdonald-Rose, with their daughter Florence, document their daily lives on their YouTube channel Dandy + Birds. Photo/ Zaryd Wilson
Stephanie and Elana Macdonald-Rose, with their daughter Florence, document their daily lives on their YouTube channel Dandy + Birds. Photo/ Zaryd Wilson

But sometimes with the support there is abuse out there and Abi Marthinusen gets it with her instagram account millennial_.girl which she uses to blog about being "body positive" to thousands.

Her account is full of photos of her in activewear, bikinis, tight dresses along with her thoughts on being comfortable in your body and enjoying life.

"I've found women were really desperate to find something they could enjoy — being the size they were," Abi says.

But the subject attracts online abuse and she gets "horrible, horrible comments" or direct message.

Who are they from?

"Honestly? Creepy old men," Abi says.

"I don't know who they are. They'd have to be looking, surely, because they're not following me. It's not just me it's the whole body positive community.

"I got a message once; 'you're fat and ugly'. That was it."

While on holiday in Thailand the hate messages became daily and "I took a break from instagram for a few months, it did get a bit much," Abi says.

"You can say what you want about me but the minute you bring in my family or people I love — I couldn't do it."

Abi Marthinusen, who runs instagram account millennial_.girl says body positive bloggers have developed a close community. Photo/ Supplied
Abi Marthinusen, who runs instagram account millennial_.girl says body positive bloggers have developed a close community. Photo/ Supplied

It's the two sides, the good and bad of social media.

It gives people who otherwise wouldn't have it, power and an audience, but that can be used in a negative way as much as a positive.

Abi thinks people's own insecurity drives the hate.

"It's hard to think that people want to go out and hurt others but I get by thinking 'well, they've got something to work on themselves then'. I'm fine."

And that reinforces to her why she blogs in the first place.

"When girls message me and say 'thank you so much for that post, I really needed that today', that's why I do what I do," she says.

Abi put up a post with the caption 'size 16 girl in a really tight dress'.

"I got a few message from girls saying 'I'm going out tonight and I really couldn't decided what to wear — now I'm just going to wear the tight dress'.

Gioia says on balance its worth it.

"Anyone can go on there and express their opinion about anything they like. And if people don't' like it they can simply unfollow you and not look at it."

It's the same with Stephanie and Elana.

"I think the internet can be quite a hostile place sometimes but we haven't found that at all — instead we've found this incredible community of people," Stephanie says.

"The people who watch us now have really good intentions around wanting to see a two-mum family. The bigger you get the more likely it is you're going to start dealing with keyboard warriors.

Elana Macdonald-Rose and her daughter Florence get some screen time.
Elana Macdonald-Rose and her daughter Florence get some screen time.

Because anyone can blog, and millions use media, bloggers gain a following by being authentic and they're careful not to curate their lives to much.

"I just think if we're going to put it out there we may as well be transparent," Stephanie says.

"I mean, it's still and edited version of our lives.

"And anytime I'm editing it I think 'would I be bothered knowing that somebody who works in my office or lives down the road is watching this?'

"But most of the time I think 'this is our lives, this is the way things are playing out this particular day — and I think people respond to that."

"What you read is absolutely my personality in real life," Gioia says.

"I know anyone could do it and lots of people try to do it but, eventually, if they're not relatable, if they're not talking about things that matter to people then they're not going to get much engagement and they're not going to create much of a following."

The same is true for Lydia Harris who's Back to Basics blog on Facebook has more than 7000 followers.

It started as a page for recipes but morphed into a blog about her minimal lifestyle and the lessons she's learned.

"When your just being real and saying out loud 'we didn't have the funds to do this, we've made do with what we've got, we've stayed away from consumerism', other people can kind of go 'oh, it is okay, it's not such a bad thing'. You're giving them a bit of validation," Harris says.

"I think it's very hard. That would be the biggest set back for the majority of people, to be that real. I wouldn't want to follow anybody who's life is perfect everyday. We all have our emotions and our feelings, that's what makes life."

Lydia Harvey's Back to Basic's got her a regular column on TVNZ and had led to her starting her own business. Photo/ Stuart Munro
Lydia Harvey's Back to Basic's got her a regular column on TVNZ and had led to her starting her own business. Photo/ Stuart Munro

But, of course, some things will always be private, especially when there's a child involved. Stephanie and Elana have that with Florence.

"I'm conscious of that and think about how she might respond when she's older," Stephanie says.

"But I think more than anything, the way that I view it is it will be quite an empowering thing for her because she will see that she not only had lots of people physically around her who loved her — the fact that our donor has been documented and has been really involved in her life — but that there was this whole community of people around the world who just adored her."

What do they do it for?

Bloggers who have followers in the millions can earn a living but there are smaller rewards.

Gioia and Abi have been asked to do product placement, Lydia got a regular column on TVNZ out of it and is now creating an organic out-catering business, and Stephanie and Elana get a little bit of money from YouTube — their cut of the ad revenue.

"The money's never been important," Elana says. "I don't even think we've paid for our camera from it."

"For us it's not about that," Stephanie says. It's about being proudly out as a two-mum family, connecting with other two-mum families and to have this really amazing record of our family life together."

Gioia says of course there's an element of human ego.

"You think 'oh well that went really well and you feel good'.

"But I'm aware of the dangers of social media and I felt when I've been slipping that way so I just re-centre myself and say, look, 'it's not actually about the likes. That's not why you got into it, it's not what you're doing it for'."

Abi says it has to be that way.

"Because the moment it becomes a job it's not fun anymore. I never want to be that person who's obsessed with the likes and the comment and the follows."

And she says, contrary to some comments she's had, it's not about vanity.

"Well, what's it to you?," is what I'd say to them," Abi says.

Abi Marthinusen says blogging has helped give niche ideas a voice.
Abi Marthinusen says blogging has helped give niche ideas a voice.

"It was never about myself. I've just always been confident in myself and that pisses people off.

"I think it's amazing. I love where social media is going. It's brought a lot of people out of their shell.

"I think it's going to empower women so much, in my niche."

But more than that, personal blogging has helped many minority groups and ideas find a voice and a community.

"I may be naivety to not look at the negative. But I can't wait to see where it takes society, where it takes the world," Abi says. "It's people connecting with each other."