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Today is the end of my Gossip Girl Challenge, my personal quest to avoid all celebrity gossip for 30 days.  The challenge was inspired by a Girls on the Run lesson involving – of all things – toothpaste!  As part of the lesson, a girl squeezes a big glob of toothpaste onto her finger and then tries to stuff the toothpaste back in the tub, proving that once gossip is ‘out,’ you can’t put in back ‘in.’  The exercise got me thinking about how and why I gossip.

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As I wrote at the beginning of the challenge, I was a self-confessed celeb gossip junkie. I knew far too much about what so-and-so was doing with her money, who so-and-so was dating and divorcing.  I gravitated to celeb gossip sites when I needed a work break or while trying to fall asleep, checking up on Perez Hilton on my iPhone.  I wrote that I was a bit ashamed of my behavior, mainly because I was filling my brain with useless junk when I could’ve been using my breaks to learn something productive and interesting – like brushing up on world affairs (I used to be really into politics).  Or going for a walk.  Or petting my dogs.  Or just breathing deeply.  You get the point. 

 

So I quit. Cold turkey. And it was hard – first of all, celebrity gossip is EVERYWHERE, especially on the radio.  Second of all, I felt so out of the loop at first, like I was missing out on important breaking news.  But you know what? Um…. I wasn’t.  I was rather sad to hear through the grapevine that Dick Clark died, but as far as I know, that was the only real ‘history-making’ gossip that I missed out on.  The rest?  Just fluff.

 

I noticed two important things during the challenge – one, I was generally less negative in other areas of my life when I wasn’t reading celeb gossip all the time.  For me, the celeb gossip encouraged me to think negatively about people in my real life.  It was almost like if I read about a celeb spat, I was more willing to get worked up into a tizzy over something going on in my own family.  It’s like celeb gossip normalizes dramatic behavior!  Second, I think ditching the celeb gossip helped my own self-esteem and body image.  No matter how epic your sense of self-worth, it’s pretty hard to read articles that scream things like, “Look how much weight so-and-so has gained! Look at her wrinkles!  Look at her cellulite! Ewwww!” and not feel harsh towards yourself (or others), too.

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And did I read more about politics?  You bet!  For the first time in a long time, I actually made it to the polls to vote in a very important state election, and I had educated myself enough about the candidates and issues so that I could make an informed decision.  While I wasn’t happy after the votes were counted, at least I could say that I did my part instead of feeling insanely guilty that I hadn’t made it to the polls. Anyway, my entire goal of the Gossip challenge was to be more informed on ‘real news,’ and I definitely accomplished that.  I read a lot from NPR, Jezebel, Wonkette, and Slate.

 

Will I go back? Meh. I’m sure I will a bit…. reading gossip can be fun and lighthearted.  It is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine!  But I won’t go back in the same way that I was reading before.  Everything in moderation, right?

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Oh, and when I announced this personal challenge, lots of people commented that some gossip is a good thing.  This was really interesting to research – basically, there are two types of gossip: positive gossip (“Guess who got promoted? Yay for her!”) and negative gossip (“Guess who is sleeping with the boss?”).  While negative gossip can hurt your rep, there are some benefits, too.  Is gossip all bad? Well…

 

  • Gossiping about others can actually improve relationships.  Basically, people love to rant.  In fact, gossiping about someone – whether it’s your mutual boss, your boyfriend, or a celebrity – actually forms tighter friendship than talking nicely about others.  Crazy.  (Source)
  • There’s a relationship between how much a person gossips and the size and strength of their social network – some studies link gossiping, social networks, and higher self-esteem. (Source)
  • One study found that people’s heart rates accelerated after witnessing someone doing something wrong, but their heart rates went back down when they were given the chance to pass on the information to someone else. (Source)
  • There are also several studies that show the threat of gossiping might improve social order.  This makes perfect sense – if someone thinks they might be ratted out for nasty behavior, they are generally nicer. (Source)
  • When people know that someone is doing something wrong but can’t control it, gossiping makes the gossiper feel less frustrated and angry. (Source)
  • Speaking specifically of celeb gossip, one University of Buffalo study “found that celebrity worship can improve self-esteem by allowing people — especially those who have self-esteem issues or fears of rejection that may keep them from developing close relationships in the real world — to enjoy a one-sided bond with a beloved star.”  The theory?  “Because people form bonds in their mind with their favorite celebrities, they are able to assimilate the celebrity’s characteristics in themselves and feel better about themselves when they think about that celebrity.” (Source)
  • Your brain is actually hardwired to pay more attention to someone’s face if you’ve heard negative gossip about them. From an evolutionary stance, this makes sense – you learn who to avoid to protect yourself.  (Source)

 

That being said…

 

Studies show that “prolific” gossipers are liked less than non-gossipers.  Negative gossipers are liked least of all.  Prolific gossipers, especially those who engaged in a lot of negative gossip, were perceived as less powerful socially than non-gossipers.   Basically, talking trash tarnishes your reputation and, even if they feel bonded to you, makes others ultimately think less of you (Source).  I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty good reason to keep my mouth shut when I’m having nasty thoughts. After all, as mommas across the world have admonished, if you don’t have something nice to say, sometimes it’s better to say nothing at all. Winking smile

{ 23 comments }

 

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  • Earthy Nicole May 11, 2012, 2:30 pm

    Congratulations, Caitlin! I stopped reading celebrity gossip a few years ago and I felt out of the loop at first too but now I realize how little it matters. I would rather spend time listening to an artist’s music than reading about who she’s dating right now, ya know? I still click over onto links from blogs every now and then about particular stories and find myself getting sucked into the drama but I’m not attached to it anymore, so it’s easy to just tell myself “no more!”. Now that I’m a mom, I don’t allow gossipy magazines in my house or watch celebrity news on TV. She’ll be exposed to enough of it as she gets older, so instead I keep books like Operation Beautiful and Healthy Tipping Point around or magazines like Kiwi and Whole Living so that if she happens to pick up what I’m reading, she’ll have healthy visuals and information, rather than toxic, mean-spirited gossip.

    Reply
  • Laura is Undeterrable May 11, 2012, 3:22 pm

    I very much agree with the point about positive vs. negative gossip. I think about it this way: if I heard that someone said X about me, would I like it? For example, if I heard through the grapevine that a friend told another friend that they liked my haircut, I would feel good. Therefore, I think that is an ok thing to “gossip” about. Also, if its a straight fact I think its fine. Your example of Dick Clark dying is in this category; it’s more human interest than anything.

    I’m glad your challenge went well!

    Reply
  • Allison May 11, 2012, 3:23 pm

    As a long-time reader, I’ve got to be honest and say I’m a little disappointed that you can’t come right out and say what vote you are disappointed in (this is the second post in which you’ve alluded to it). You have been a strong and passionate supporter on this blog when it comes to many issues you believe in, including some that many people might consider taboo. How come you can’t just come forward and say whether you support gay marriage? Why are my rights as a lesbian something that have to be spoken of in a roundabout way, almost as if you sound like you feel uncomfortable mentioning them? Based on the websites you linked to (LOVE Wonkette, omg), I would bet that I know where you stand on this. So why can’t you stand up for us?

    Reply
    • CaitlinHTP May 11, 2012, 4:37 pm

      I stand by you! I think I’ve made my feelings about LGBT rights pretty clear throughout the history of my blogs (running an It Gets Better promotion on Operation Beautiful, Twittering support, including success stories from LGBT community, etc). I’m sorry if you thought I was being annoyingly obtuse, I thought I was being damn obvious. ;) However, I can see where you are coming from.

      At the end of the day, this isn’t a political blog. That’s really what it boils down to. I stand up for you in my personal choices, my votes, and the way I treat other people, and through some ways on the blog as it relates to healthy living/my life. But again – HTP isn’t a political blog so I don’t want to beat people over the head with my political views. Although I try to create a space this is inclusive of everyone, regardless of whether I agree with their opinions or not, the LGBT issue (as well as other political issues I feel strongly about) is a hard line for me to walk on the blog. Because I do feel so passionately about your rights, Allison.

      We can be Facebook friends if you ever want to hear my personal rants. ;)

      Anyway, in conclusion, thanks for stating your feelings on the topic. I hope you know where I’m coming from, and I’m glad you shared where you were coming from. Also, I hope you know that I stand up for you in my thoughts and actions in my everyday life. One love!!!

      Reply
      • Allison May 11, 2012, 4:48 pm

        Cool. I was pretty sure that’s where you stood, and I appreciate your response. If I could rephrase my original comment, it would have been that it doesn’t bother me one way or another if you even mention the vote, but by mentioning it in such a roundabout way, it contributes to the mindset that even talking about gay rights (much less supporting them) is somehow taboo.

        Anyway, again, thanks for such a cool response and thanks for fighting the good fight. And holla to my fellow Wonkette reader!

        Reply
        • Caitlin May 11, 2012, 4:55 pm

          You’re welcome; thanks for responding back (and responding in a loving way in the first place).

          Reply
    • Tara May 11, 2012, 4:39 pm

      Agreed. If you actually feel strongly about it, you’d just say it and move along. If you are worried about alienating readers who don’t agree with you, shame on you for preferring a few page clicks ($$) to standing up for what is right.

      Reply
      • Tara May 11, 2012, 4:41 pm

        Your reply came up as soon as I posted. Thanks for that.

        Reply
        • Caitlin May 11, 2012, 4:42 pm

          Sure thang.

          Reply
  • Kattrina May 11, 2012, 3:45 pm

    My sister is a huge celebrity gossip fan but I have always been “out of the loop” and don’t particularly care too much. Sometimes I find myself reading celebrity gossip and then I’ll go long periods of time not reading it. I guess it goes in waves and depends on my mood.

    Another thing to point out, especially to young girls, is that so much gossip is not true. So although the stats you mention (ie. bonding, feeling relief after venting, etc.) may be true, it’s important to be careful about “spreading gossip” when you (the general you, not you personally) don’t know if it’s true. I think this is what happens a lot in school. Or at least when I was in school a million years ago.

    Anyway – congrats on your successful avoidance of celebrity gossip! Have a fun weekend.

    Reply
  • Annette@FitnessPerks May 11, 2012, 3:49 pm

    Nice work on doing the challenge! I don’t really read much of that anyways, I think it’s all pretty lame (and full of crap), so I mostly avoid it. Once in awhile I’ve check out pics of pretty dress from awards shows, but the gossip, not worth my time.

    Have a good Friday!

    Reply
  • Rachel May 11, 2012, 5:03 pm

    for the last few months, i’ve actually had subscriptions to a couple gossip mags (they were free, whatevs..) & it’s so funny how they all either have the exact same story or totally contradicting ones! just goes to show that they def make some of that crap up! anyways, the more i flip through them, the more i’ve realized what a waste of time they are. i have a 3yr old daughter & a 3mo old son. my life is in NO way impacted by whether or not Brad & Angie get married or how Jessica Simpson is going to lose her baby weight (ugh, don’t get me started on that…)!

    so now, the magazines arrive every friday & they go directly into the recycle bin. like you, i try to read things that will educate me. i’m a stay at home mom, so i try to keep current on things other than kid stuff. i love reading the Wall Street Journal & a weekly current events/news magazine called The Week (they have a free app on the iPad that’s amazing).

    i feel like society has really amped up the perceived importance of celebrities & pop culture these last few years. but the older i get & the more hectic life becomes w/ marriage, kids, church, etc. i realize that in the scheme of things, those are the things that matter, not celebs/gossip.

    Reply
  • Rebecca May 11, 2012, 5:15 pm

    There are also plenty of articles on the negative effects of gossip.
    Didn’t you write something in the Operation Beautiful book about how comments that can be meant to compliment can actually be damaging? Sure, that was mostly about appearance, but can’t that hold true for other complimentary statements as well?

    The downside to that celebrity worship one is that when the celeb gets attacked for the characteristics you identify with, I imagine it drops your self-esteem because your identify with the characteristics being attacked. And for me, it’s more the characteristics of the people they portray on TV or in movies, not the celebs themselves. I don’t pay enough attention to celebs to identify with any of them.
    Celebs are just people with more media coverage than others for whatever reason. We have people who are famous for being famous, which is kind of stupid. Sometimes it bothers me how much people idolize others. Yes, they do good things, but “normal” people do those things, too. We shouldn’t be freaking out over one person’s good deed or screw-up just because they’re in the public eye. Plenty of other people do those exact same things and no one really cares. No comprendo.

    Reply
  • Sarah May 11, 2012, 5:21 pm

    It’s funny how you mention gossip can bring people together. I spent nearly 3 years working at a retail store with my close friends and we passed the time folding clothes by gossiping about everyone we worked with. Even when we weren’t at work, our conversation revolved around talking about people.
    A few of my friends still work for the same retail company. Now when I hang out with them I feel like we have nothing to talk about/or like I am completely out of the loop. I don’t know who they are talking about and I definitely find myself not caring at all whatsoever. I am pretty bummed to find out our real connection was over gossip.

    Reply
  • Lauren May 11, 2012, 6:18 pm

    Fabulous articulate, eloquent post!! I definitely need to decrease my consumption of celeb gossip…I truly believe that it is detrimental to both my mental and physical health. Thanks for the poignant reminders! :)

    Reply
  • Katie @ Peace Love & Oats May 11, 2012, 6:24 pm

    awesome job on following through! I think a teeny bit of gossiping is impossible to avoid, it’s hard to never talk about anyone else!

    Reply
  • Army Amy* May 11, 2012, 6:53 pm

    Gossip is terrible at my work place. You can’t say anything to anyone without everyone finding out. It’s hard to escape. I don’t want to gossip, but sometimes it feels like the only way to do that is to say nothing all day.*

    Reply
  • Danielle May 11, 2012, 9:19 pm

    My biggest issue is what to do when someone is gossiping to you. How do you not engage without making the person feel stupid. It’s nearly impossible!

    Reply
    • Amber K May 12, 2012, 12:58 pm

      I haven’t found a tactful way to get around it either. Definitely complicated.

      Reply
      • Kelli May 14, 2012, 11:49 am

        Say something to the effect of “I can see where you are coming from, but we’ve all been guilty of that (or something like that) at one time or another. I think in general he or she is a good person with good intentions.”

        That way you show that you understand/sympathize with what is being said, but that you aren’t buying into it or contributing.

        Reply
  • Casie May 11, 2012, 10:33 pm

    Awesome challenge. More time for the things in life that are important.

    Reply
  • Mildly Entertained May 11, 2012, 11:54 pm

    The thing about gossiping is that it often brings up feelings of comparisons. Which then brings on judging – judging others, yourself and yourself vs. others. This then can lead to bitterness, anxiety, stress, anger, distractions, etc.

    I definitely need a step back from celebrity crap (like the magazines, but especially TV shows – including talk shows which are basically total Gossip shows – have you ever watched “The Talk” or “The View”?! Total B*tch-fest on hot topics which is so gossipy and sickening). It makes me angry that grown women sit around spitting their opinions on what other people are doing with their lives! God, “celebrities” (including A, B, C and D-list talk show hosts need to get real jobs because they are making money off such shallow existences).

    Reply