In the age of Tumblr and other image-driven social media, are we helping to kill self-confidence in women?
For the sake of this story, I’ll call her “L”. L is fourteen, living in a major metropolitan city where billboards — and the price of rental units — run sky high. She’s like most girls her age: interested in boys, feeling as if her life is going to crash and burn at every turn, has a love/hate relationship with her parents. She also like a typical teenager, grabbing her phone with every second of boredom, anxiety or a mix of both.
She collapses into her Instagram account for hours at a time. Every like she gives is not for self-affirmation, it’s for attention. She only knows about “Chase” by what pictures he posts all the time — his dog, the beach, his Abercromie & Fitch build, his face — and she likes it. She likes him. She likes the image of him, at least.
She hopes that her multiple likes will make him want to look at her page, like all of her pictures, message her. She hopes that he’ll notice her through the crowd — a crowd of millions, in internet terms.
One day, the red “1” lights up on the corner of her phone screen. She gasps for air, hoping it’s him, screaming internally at the thought of it being him. It isn’t. It’s her best friend, sending her a private message with a photo attached of “Chase” with a girl. A girl that looks in no way like them. In reality, that girl is an anomaly. “L” gently tosses her phone in slight disgust. Only to pick it up less than two minutes later. To continue to look at “Chase”.
Images have always acquired currency. From Picasso to Kahlo to Warhol; from Vogue to Playboy, from NBC to Netflix, images — moving and otherwise — attract not only purpose and influence but also value.
That value can be measured economically but also socially. Obsession with image is not a new concept. Since time, we’ve always been attracted to what we as a society deem to be “pretty.” Those images often excluded those that were marginalized and included those of privilege. Privilege is attractive because it looks good on people.
So it’s no wonder that, in the latest iteration of “images matter”, that we’re stuck with trying to figure how much social media can line our pockets and our popularity.
But to what effect does that have? Can we even measure it? What’s the after-effect? Do we just have to leave the monster alone?
[To be continued…]
This is part of my attempt to write every day in July. You can follow the series here.