Taking it offline

The Bloggess gets national love: Houston fave featured in Forbes for making social media matter

The Bloggess gets national love: Houston fave featured in Forbes for making social media matter

News_The Bloggess_traveling red dress
Jenny Lawson — aka The Bloggess — in the red dress that's making a difference. Photo via TheBloggess.com
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Jenny Lawson in her well-known profile picture.
News_The Bloggess_traveling red dress
News_The Bloggess_Jennifer Lawson
News_The Bloggess_traveling red dress

Semi-local blogger Jenny Lawson (a former Houston, current Kerrville resident known across the Interwebs as "The Bloggess") first garnered national attention in Christmas of 2010, when she made a simple deal with her readers: The first 20 respondents having trouble buying gifts for their families that year would get a $30 gift card. When the gift cards ran out, Lawson's readers — one of the most tight-knit community of commenters on the web — began offering to buy cards for other readers in need.

Just a few days later, Lawson's comment section had raised more than $42,000 for more than 400 families in need. The "James Garfield Christmas (and Hanukkah) Miracle," as it was dubbed, was covered by everyone from The Washington Post to the Mother Nature Network.

Now Lawson, who is at once a mommy-blogger and an advocate for those suffering with depression and anxiety disorders (in addition to sharing common ground with taxidermy enthusiasts and lovers of haunted dollhouses and quirky humor), is making headlines for a new movement: The Traveling Red Dress project.

Lawson has used her immensely popular blog and mobilized her more than 200,000 Twitter followers to continue the project that she began in 2010, when she received a red ball gown made by her friend Sunny Haralson of Rubypearl.

 "The red dress was a metaphor for things like flying lessons and doing cartwheels in the park [...] So often we deprive ourselves of the silly things because they’re frivolous or ridiculous, but it’s those very things that we remember as golden moments in our lives." 

Lawson wanted to wear the dress with no occasion, simply to "wear a dress as intensely amazing as the person I so want to be." She then passed the dress to other friends — both online and off — who also wanted to strut the sidewalk, á la "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," who all wrote about the dress' journey. 

The project took on new meaning this month after Lawson, who has long been open about her struggles with depression and anxiety, came out about her battle with self-harm. Lawson wrote about the shame that surrounds such intensely internal struggles, and noted that while other diseases have walks and drives and support systems, mental issues are often suffered in silence and in solitude.

In her post, Lawson encouraged sufferers and supporters to make and wear silver ribbons to honor those struggling with mental illness. She put the ribbons on her popular online store (which also carries much lighter merchandise inspired by her posts), and decided to use any profits to buy a new Traveling Red Dress.

Old fans' flames were rekindled and new Twitter followers read the original Red Dress post for the first time once Lawson linked it. It took off.

Hundreds of women offered up red dresses, contacting strangers to facilitate their exchange.

Forbes writes that despite the business world's obsession with social media to maximize profits and visibility, "[Writer Jenny] Lawson continues to prove that, at its core, social media is about people connecting people."

Lawon notes that the Traveling Red Dress Project is not gender or red-dress-lover exclusive. She tells Forbes: "The red dress was a metaphor for things like flying lessons and doing cartwheels in the park and belting out a song at the bus-stop and jumping in a fountain just for fun [...] So often we deprive ourselves of the silly things because they’re frivolous or ridiculous, but it’s those very things that we remember as golden moments in our lives."

To donate or request a red dress, visit Lawson's Flickr page dedicated to the project. She also has a book, Let's Pretend this Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, due out in April.