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The Shaming of Blythe Harris

One of the things that has really struck me over the last several days is how deeply offended people are that Blythe "stole" her avatar picture. Leaving aside the fact that we have absolutely no idea if this is true or not, and given that Kathleen Hale is one of the most unreliable fucking narrators on the planet, her word alone is inadequate to prove it, I have found this aspect of the controversy really compelling. I think it necessitates some unpacking, so I'm going to do it here.


Every article I go to, basically, has several commenters who essentially side with Hale because of this fact. Examples of commentary include someone on Alex Hurst's blog, who said:


"That being said, I do have an issue with “Harris” lifting another person’s photo and using it as a profile pic. With the information presented in the article, it sounds like Ms. Hale stumbled upon the truth of who this reviewer really is. If that’s the case, then that reviewer is using another person’s photo without permission. Would any of us feel comfortable with a (perhaps overzealous) book reviewer/blogger lifting our photo and creating numerous social media accounts with it while using a pseudonym?"


I've posted some comments over there, but I think they provide food for thought, so I've reworked them for this post.


We don't know where that picture came from, nor do I personally think it matters. If it is a stock photo, someone probably would have found it by now. If it was of her friends, I would imagine that there have been some really unhappy confessions that needed to be made between Blythe and the person in the picture.


It could also be, honestly, that if Blythe really is older than her bio, that the picture was of a much younger her.


Let’s be honest, guys. If an older woman, or a woman who is overweight or only semi-appealing physically, uses her real picture on the internet, nearly everything that she says about anything can be completely lost in the insults to her appearance. In addition, there is the reality, that has been proven in study after study, that human beings automatically attribute beautiful people with intelligence.


I really feel like one of the things that makes people mad in this controversy isn’t that Blythe allegedly used a fake avatar. It is that she is accused of using a picture of someone who is very attractive and who isn’t her, imbuing her with those advantages in a way that, in their minds, she doesn’t deserve.


And I think that Kathleen Hale intended for just this reaction based upon the way she wrote that article.


Did you notice, as well, how focused Hale was on the fact that Blythe was “young, tanned and attractive, with dark hair and a bright smile,” and then in the article she has to throw in the fact that Blythe wouldn’t video chat with her, that Blythe appeared to be 20 years older than her bio said (46, not 27)?


Really, all of that, in my opinion is just baiting people to think “some ugly old lady who isn't even rich hates this young, beautiful author and who does she think she is?”


Like Blythe’s criticisms of her would have been fine – if she was young. If she was pretty. If she was a teacher. If she actually did go to Greece. If she lived in a big house with instagram worthy interiors, instead of her slightly rundown residence with the overgrown lawn and the torn-off doorbell.


Who among us hasn’t used pictures that were so flattering that they actually barely resemble what we actually look like? My profile pic on FB is of me, but it is of a me that has just come back from the hair salon, with a fresh, very cool haircut, and it is just my face, so you can’t see that I am overweight by a good 30 pounds, and I converted it to black and white, so it looks edgy and cool.


I’m 47 48 (I am so old that I actually forgot how I old I am!) years old, but that picture looks like I did when I was 25, and beautiful, before my babies were born and twenty years of sitting on my ass practicing law made me who I am today. I am blessed with great skin, so all of the pictures of my face make me look young. But I am 47 48 years old and I don’t have a personal trainer or access to plastic surgery, and my body looks every minute of that 47 48 years old.


Isn’t that, really, a form of inaccurate self-presentation, if not intentionally misleading? I mean, yeah, since my friends know what I look like, I’m sure that to them, that picture was just a very good picture of Moonlight Reader. Someone who only knew me through that pic would barely connect what I look like there to the real me.


Our society hates poor people. It hates older people. It hates fat people. It hates ugly women. These are groups that it is still perfectly okay to criticize, to dismiss, to mock, even with malice.


I’m not saying that Blythe IS any of those, just that Hale is – slyly and with great skill – placing the suggestion that she is. And her suggestion is working. It is making people lose their minds that someone who isn’t pretty, who isn’t young, presented herself like she was those things. That says a lot about her understanding of culture and human nature, because she did it with such understated malice and such subtle skill that her readers don’t even realize that they are being manipulated.


What do you all think?