Cape Town Girl's success threatens to obliterate the real babe behind it
‘What’s a nice girl like you doing in a blog like this?”
I don’t say this to Alex van Tonder when I meet her in person. That was more than a month ago. Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about our meeting. About a girl and her blog. About what to say, what needs to be said.
Van Tonder is a very pretty, very clever 27-year-old who lives in Cape Town and has one of those impenetrable job titles: she’s the creative group head for below the line at advertising agency King James.
By day Van Tonder pimps other people’s brands. By night she pimps herself on her blog subtitled: Tales of the Pretty: Cape Town Girl. In which Van Tonder (CTG) and her two BFF (best friends forever), “LA” and “PD”, write about their fabulous lives and beautiful friends and post pictures of themselves drinking champagne cocktails, getting spa treatments, eating sushi and going shopping.
It’s a formula not vastly different from that of American blog sensation Julia Allison, whose “lifecast” (her glamorous life, broadcast in pic-with-caption increments on her blog Non Society) resulted in her becoming something of a real-life celebrity.
Since starting Cape Town Girl in February, Van Tonder says traffic to her site has grown to more than 9 000 unique views each month. Between 300 and 400 regular users visit the blog every day and the site was a finalist in the recent South African Blog Awards for best new blog. It’s still a long way away from Non Society—Allison’s blog attracts well over 10 000 visitors a day—but Cape Town Girl is growing at an impressive rate of 20% a month.
And there are perks: CTG is “dressed by Sunglass Hut and Pepe Jeans South Africa. Her coffee is provided by Vida é Caffe and her preferred hotel is One & Only Cape Town.”
Van Tonder describes the site as a “basic general women’s interest lifestyle blog”. Most journalists would describe it as “getting shit for free and writing about it”.
“People send the weirdest stuff,” Van Tonder says. “It gives me a lot of perspective, in terms of what I do.” She’s happy to accept (and blog about) most of the offerings: shoes, cosmetics, alcohol (even though she doesn’t drink), Nomu spices (she also doesn’t cook). The other day, she got a piñata.
At the moment Cape Town Girl doesn’t charge for its write-ups. There have been one or two clients who’ve shelled out for it to make and post short online videos (about their products) but, aside from that, it’s all about building the content and the brand.
Then, when the blog has enough of a profile, Van Tonder and her “posse” will start approaching clients and turn the blog into a business. “More than I want free shit,” Van Tonder says, “I want to work for myself.” She has a spreadsheet and she knows how to use it. It’s all very “girl power”.
But there’s a dark side to Cape Town Girl and it’s not the latest Essie nail colour. When I ask Van Tonder about the blog’s numerous detractors—the “haters” as she calls them—she defends her deliberately cultivated “rich brat” image as a projection, something readers and advertisers will buy into, a caricature of the real Cape Town girl who has a real job, a real life, and hates going to functions.
Then she adds a terrifying Wonderbraesque rider: “None of us is particularly interested in being deep.” She appears to mean it too. “People who preach about saving the world. This worthy stuff. People don’t listen to that. It’s not accessible.
“I’ve been oversaturated with social obligation. The last thing I want to do is save the world.” Van Tonder says she used to scoff at girls who just cared about looks, thinking they were shallow. “I outgrew that,” she says, without irony.
Before she started Cape Town Girl, Van Tonder used to write a mad, cynical (advertising) industry blog called MyBrandedLife. It was wickedly funny. Take this post: “Y’ulz, I so bad just wanna be awesome. Gonna get super tight jeans that cre8 a camel-toe ambience & wear them in front of my chubby sister, See how she likes ‘getting the brains in the family’ now.
“Gonna move into a house with ‘all my best guy friends’ (via being a guys’ girl/the village indie bicycle).
“Gonna sleep with them all (via parental divorce-issues), even though all of them have girlfriends, some of whom are my best friends forever y’all! (via going 2 film school 2 getha). Gonna sleep with them all and ‘be besties & climb lions head on adventures!’ with them all. So bad just wanna be awesome y’all!”
On MyBrandedLife Van Tonder jokingly complained about being treated as a “blogger”, not a real person anymore, about being judged by strangers on Facebook. She wrote: “—even though my blog was cre8ed by a female/It changed sex and mated with itself 2 create ‘a life of its own’.”
Frankenstein’s monster, crafted by that masterful wielder of early girl power herself, Mary Shelley, laments: “All men hate the wretched; how, then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, thy creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us.”
Let’s hope Van Tonder wins and not the blog(s).