The year was 2008. Facebook had only been around for us for just over a year or so, only starting to gain traction. It was still a relatively adult-free space, despite having opened up for anyone with a valid email address. It was quieter then, freer. No parents or aunts around to see our binge drinking albums.
Uploading photos to Facebook worked differently then too. You needed a digital camera to take them because even if you were lucky enough to have a camera phone, those pictures would be small, grainy and certainly not Facebook quality. From the digital camera, you’d pop the memory card into your computer to view the full-sized pictures. Then you’d have to upload them onto Facebook and after about 15 minutes of buffering, they would eventually post. There wasn’t much picture editing back then, unless you were a Photoshop buff. Otherwise, pictures just had to be posted as is, no filters, no frills. The horror.
It was Valentine’s Day. My parents were out of town and my first boyfriend and I were baking heart shaped cookies, and of course, taking plenty of pictures for Facebook.
“Have you seen girls posting pictures in those ridiculous poses?” I ask him, high up on my not-like-the-other-girls pedestal.
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“You know, it’s a thing now. They contort their bodies in the weirdest and most unnatural ways,” I explained. I couldn’t just pull out my phone and show him the pictures back then. I would have to go onto a computer and log into Facebook to access them. Instead, I decided to demonstrate. “Like this.”
I picked up the tray of cookies we’d just assembled and held it out in my right hand. I jutted out my right hip and extended my leg impossibly far away from my body. I shifted all of my weight onto my stable left leg, popping out my bum and leaning far back into it. I pushed my chest forward for maximum mocking, laughing at how awkward it felt. My boyfriend snapped away with my digital camera.
Later that night, when I reviewed the pictures we’d taken, I was shocked by what I found. Those super posed pictures looked great! They didn’t look awkward at all. Quite the opposite, really. I’d never seen myself look so good. My smile looked natural and not forced. My legs looked slim, and my posture was excellent. The thin line of exposed midriff between my low rise sweat pants and tank top didn’t disgust me. For a girl battling with constant self-esteem and body issues, this was significant. I’d never considered myself to be the least bit attractive before.
The next day, I promptly made that picture my profile picture. The comments came in shortly. A compliment from the cutest boy at the restaurant I worked at. My cousin said I was skinny. People messaged me about it on MSN. It was the first time anything I’d posted had gotten such a positive reaction.
And I loved it. I loved that people liked my picture. It felt good. I understood then that I was no different than the girls I’d been mocking, trying to capture their best angles. In reality, external validation feels good. Seeing yourself in a positive light is good. Much better than feeling embarrassed in your own skin.
So now the year is 2021. And social media exists in many different shapes and forms. It’s not something we have to pull out our computers for, it’s readily available to us 24/7, within the phones permanently affixed to our hands.
Now we all know, social media can be a dangerous place where people carefully bend reality to display its best bits. And it’s much worse these days with filters and editing apps so readily available. People create this ideal beige toned utopia on their pages carefully omitting any shades of blue. They go really far for those bursts of dopamine that come from other people liking their posts. And I get it. But it can obviously be a problem.
But social media is not all bad, is it? Sure it’s mind numbingly addictive and can eat away hours at a time, but I actually think 15 and 18 and even 21 year old me could have benefited from social media in its current state. There are so many great resources out there, so much positivity, so much realness despite all the filtration. If I had followed an Instagram account telling me the things I’d experienced were not my fault, and that other people had been there too, I think I would have grown up healthier. If I had known the simple, obvious things that I’ve learned through social media, I would have been happier. Realizing I wasn’t as alone as I felt back then would have made a world of positive difference.
And blogging. I’m so grateful to have found a space where I can share my rambling thoughts with an online community that is so supportive and kind. Bloggers are the internet’s best kept secret; the nicest people anywhere on the web. Being able to share whatever pops into my head and have people not only like and comment, but relate and even share their own similar experiences is an incredible experience. Feeling confident to even post here is a feat I attribute purely to the positive power of social media.
I think as we navigate these platforms, seeking validation to some degree is fine. Natural. Positive. It can be a really great experience. It’s human nature. We’re social beings. People have been sharing photos since long before social media existed. And before that they painted portraits. But it can certainly be a slippery slope to becoming a bad thing. Fake. Negative. Truncated. It’s important to remember why and what you’re sharing. It’s important to remember that other people are carefully curating what they’re sharing too.
At the end of the day, striking a healthy balance online is as important as striking that perfect pose.