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.
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.
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?
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.
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.