You would think that during a global pandemic that has united us all (OK, maybe just the reasonable folks) in fear for our lives and livelihoods that folks would have better things to do than to troll and be toxic on the internet—but my friends, you would be wrong. In fact, many of us seemingly don’t know what to do with all the extra time we now have on our hands due to these stay-at-home orders—and you know what they say about “idle hands.”
But you know who else has time? Black Twitter.
While we have long known this truth to be evident, British writer and editor Liv Siddall recently found out the hard way when she took to Twitter to announce her departure from Instagram. (I know; make it make sense.) And because nobody asked, Siddall made sure to blame her exodus on an idyllic-looking image of a woman in a sundress and hat, social distancing from the world while enjoying a book and an apple atop an immaculately styled picnic blanket replete with pillows and flowers as a storybook-like manor, vintage truck and cloudless blue sky provided the perfect backdrop.
“Don’t know when I’ll be back, but let it be known that this was the image that did it,” Siddall wrote—because again, no one asked (and last time we checked, unfollowing or simply scrolling past are also still viable options).
As a “writer, content producer and podcast creator specializing in music, art and design, great people and pop culture,” according to her Linkedin, Siddall, a story editor at WeTransfer and deputy editor of Riposte magazine, is no doubt accustomed to highly stylized images like this one—after all, from the sound of it, it’s part of her job (as it is mine). Online influencer culture was built on images like these, but if we’re really being honest, they long predate social media, as seen through the rise of lifestyle experts like Martha Stewart, “Barefoot Contessa” Ina Garten, Australian food stylist Donna Hay, British royal cousin and interior designer India Hicks, “Shabby Chic” founder Rachel Ashwell and more recently, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop empire.
In fact, writer-director Nancy Meyers’ entire onscreen aesthetic (as seen in rom-com hits like Something’s Gotta Give, The Holiday and It’s Complicated) has mirrored a cottage industry (pun intended) of airy, camera-ready interiors and tableaux as aspirational as they may arguably be insufferable—pretty much par for the course in the current lifestyle influencer realm. With that in mind, one might wonder why this image, in particular, was the straw that broke Siddall’s Instagram account. But what do all of the above women have in common?
The unambiguously brown-skinned woman pictured in the photo that so offended Siddall’s sensibilities? Her name is Paula Sutton of Hill House Vintage, a digital creator, stylist and former bookings editor for Elle who specializes in English country interiors, a setting in which black women are rarely if ever featured. Nevertheless, Sutton not only owns an estate in the English countryside but dares to center herself in aspirational imagery that rivals any Town & Country photo spread...and we’re here for it.
But what for us is a refreshing moment of representation, however elitist in its presentation (hey, just like white folks, we’re everywhere—we’re looking at you, Duchess Meghan) quickly devolved into an online ki-ki for Siddall and a few of her fellow white media friends. Gleefully co-signing her disdain, a few went so far as to insinuate the “c-word” upon an unassuming and altogether innocent Sutton—and Black Twitter (as well as several of our ally friends) was not having it.
Predictably, Siddall’s account has since been locked, though at least one of her followers’ derogatory tweets remains undeleted—and screenshots are forever, so there’s that. (And again, we highly doubt she keeps that same energy for influencers of her own race.) She also purportedly apologized to Sutton, though not nearly as publicly as she derided her. But since Sutton was the focus of Siddall’s criticism, it’s only right that our focus returns there, as well. And we are happy to report that despite the disrespect, “Auntie Paula,” as she’s now fondly known, is doing just fine, as she reported on Saturday via Instagram, where she is still living her best, bourgie, black British life and likely won’t be stopping anytime soon.
Well, it’s been the strangest 24 hours that I’ve ever experienced on social media. It started with a twitter rant using my picture as an example of what is wrong Instagram (the author has since contacted me privately and apologised) and ended with an incredible outpouring of love, support and kindness that I will be eternally grateful for.
I - like many people - started this account to talk about the things in life that make me happy; Architecture, A styled room here, a cushion there, a baked cake, a summer dress or a bunch of flowers... It turned into a space where I felt comfortable to show my face and to also write a little about my feelings of positivity and being grateful, and more recently exploring my feelings of loss in losing my mother whilst still trying to seek out joy... It’s always been a safe little corner to explore a creative side that I kept hidden for so long after servicing the creative endeavours of others. I enjoy creating little scenes and stories... I’m inspired by old Hollywood, and by the fashion photography of the 1950’s and 60’s, and all that is reflected in my images.
I suppose what I didn’t realise - in my naivety - is that some people look at the pictures without reading all of the captions and therefore understanding who I am... These images are meant to be joyful and fun, and are styled and created to please the eye. They are a tiny snapshot of an otherwise very mundane and normal life. Too shallow for you? Perhaps....but I’m a firm believer in taking the responsibility to find the content that brings YOU joy and moving on from the things that upset you.
I just want to thank each and everyone of you who understands that, and who came out in droves to follow, cheer on, show solidarity and support.
I’m not one to dwell on things, so that’s all I shall say on the matter, but THANK YOU. From every inch of my heart. With love ‘Auntie Paula’ - as it seems I am now known!! xx❤️💫
Sutton is clearly more blessed in social graces than we are, as our instinct was simply to continue reading Siddall for filth. But again, we’re in the middle of a pandemic; no need to heap on the toxicity. So instead, please join us and over 200,000 of our new friends in a little escapism over at our new favorite IG account—and superimpose yourself into these picturesque surroundings if you find yourself in need of a little pick-me-up today. Because brown girls deserve storybook settings, too.
(Updated 3/3/22 with new details)