He wanted his posts to be read, and feared that people would read them, and hoped that people would read them, and didn’t care if people read them.
~ Nussbaum, 2004
I’m a 26 years old woman with a past/present experience as a fashion model, living in 2018 and I’m compulsively interested in social media. I have all elements and traits to be an Instagram successful user: I fit the standard and with a strategic but not necessarily invasive editing I could have a satisfying amount of followers and attention.
I definitely don’t.
I aesthetically fit a stereotype. I have good quality pictures as well in a folder on my desktop, and I know for a fact they would be appreciated on the feed. Every time I post a picture that is portraying myself rather than any other subject, that is going to have around 80% more likes. I have to admit to myself that it feels good to have eyes on me: but there is a constant, intense and increasing awkwardness for me to indulge this common tendency. I want to be part of the game but at the same time I know I can’t be too picky on following its rules, I want to be part of the system and at the same time I don’t want to be considered an accomplice. I honestly want to interact but I’m too reserved to overshare; I want eyes on me but I want to be recognized as the outcast I wish I could be.
I think that posting self-centred and narcissistic content could be for me, in a sense, liberating: my personal education has usually condemned excessive frivolity and narcissism but which can actually be healthy if in a controlled dose. I still don’t understand if taking control of my privacy is due to personal awareness or if on the other hand, it relies on the coward fear to be rejected. I am attracted by the confessing and diaristic nature of its structure but repelled by the disseminated and understandable need to portray yourself at your best.
As previously analysed, addictive dopamine resulted by likes on posts and the obsessive need to balance consideration is affecting the opinion I have towards social media, and there is one first, impacting consequence: I don’t trust them. I would never expose myself with someone I consider untrustworthy. Not only I have to do so, but I also have to potentially expose myself globally in an environment where I don’t feel out of danger. It’s a minefield where, in order to protect myself, I need to cover up with soothing content. I’m aware that there is not a one-way road to success filled with stereotypical expression for a female user: there are many profiles which are considered unconventional and controversial, but I feel there is a constant lie faking spontaneity anyway.
To me, almost every user adds fuel to the flames.
There is one change on the platform that had a significant impact on favouring stereotypical content: the algorithmic timeline, one of the first and most significant changes to the platform since it was bought by Facebook in 2012. Rather than presenting users content with a diachronic order of what the people they were following were up to, Instagram began giving priority to the most noteworthy posts from the accounts. In this way, dynamics that focus on certain content, images, places or hashtags become even more prioritised than before resulting in an exponential esthetic stagnation where who has better access to attention is going to receive even more consideration and, furthermore, success.
Every time you open the app, people get richer, more handsome, more successful, and are apparently more on the top of the food chain then you do.
The latest addition on the app are the questions added to the stories. Who does usually answer questions from their public? Celebrities. They are the latest chance to mock a fame that is so widespread it doesn’t exist anymore. The result is often in silly, unspontaneous and curated answers where the filter is invisible but still exists in the expressive process. No-one is going to answer to "how did you overcome with your acne" with ‘Photoshop’. They are more likely to suggest drinking a lot of water and meditation. These answers are going to make you feel tangibly the voyeuristic attention your comprehensibly fragile ego needs. I understand the playfulness they can carry but still can’t avoid feeling an uncomfortable awkwardness when coming through them.
Being a woman is making the whole situation more complex than I would like to admit to myself since having to keep in mind my biological gender still is to me, in a way, humiliating. At the same time, I won’t probably be ever aware enough of the privilege I have by being white, young, cisgender and thin. Young girls and boys are not only developing their identity using social media, but they are also going to age while using them. I fit the standard right now but how is it going to feel like when I won’t be young anymore?
Rosalind Gill is defining Influencers’ Selfies as Subversive Frivolity and I do agree that Instagram has been a platform with no precedent in media history to give any range of women at least the chance to express their right to self-representation, sexual confidence and autonomy. I follow extremely interesting activists and artists using their platform in a fresh, liberating way. But do we have to be influencers or activists in order to give to our efforts a meaningful sense?
Rosalind Gill in her dissertation From Sexual Objectification to Sexual Subjectification: The Resexualisation of Women’s Bodies in the Media, which focuses on advertisement but that is clearly fitting in this contest as well, asserts that a key problem with the shift from sexual objectification to sexual subjectification is the notion that women are pleasing themselves and are freely choosing. Women are endowed with agency so that they can actively choose to objectify themselves. This notion that it’s freely chosen fits very well with broader postfeminist discourses which present women as autonomous agents no longer constrained by any inequalities or power imbalances, who can somehow choose to ‘use beauty’ to make themselves feel good. In her opinion, a key problem with the shift is the notion that women are pleasing themselves and are freely choosing.
This argument fits well with Naomi Wolf‘s study of the divisiveness of ‘beauty oppression’ — a secret ‘underlife’, a ‘vein of self-hatred, physical obsessions, terror of ageing, and dread of lost control’ which is poisoning and undermining women. This representational practice offers women the status of active subjecthood so that they can then ‘choose’ to become objects because this suits their ‘liberated’ interests: one of the most disturbing aspects of this profound shift is that it makes critique much more difficult.
What is actually pushing me to post a picture portraying myself?
I feel on my skin the desire to take ownership of my image while having pleasure and fun doing so, and asserting sexual confidence: at the same time being even partially aware of the consequences it ’s making me believe it’s not just a game anymore.
Marisa Olson wondered: Is being online fun anymore?
I’m asking that to myself as well.