I am an Instagram creep.
I have an account, and about once every month or two, I post a picture of my dog, slap an artsy filter on it, and caption it with a heart emoji. Once I got 24 likes on such a photo and I felt smug and complete and popular, and sorry for the people I follow on Instagram who only had 3 or 14 likes on their photos.
Mostly I use Instagram to follow celebrities I don’t really care about, news outlets whose posts I almost always skip over, and intellectual yet confusing publications like The New Yorker, the humour of which I almost never understand and always feel vaguely annoyed by and does anyone actually read The New Yorker or does everyone just pretend to because we have all universally agreed at some point that people who read The New Yorker and comprehend those cartoons are vastly more intelligent than the rest of us who find the whole business of satire sort of annoying and confusing.
I also use Instagram to pass time when I should be doing other things like cleaning or doing laundry or showering.
This is when I find myself scrolling through the account of someone whose niece is engaged to my second cousins best friend who lives in Washington State and goes to music festivals and I ended up on this account because this person liked a Bruno Mars post from 63 weeks ago that I found while browsing posts from Rolling Stone magazine, which I also follow and which frankly I feel is more in tune with my level of intelligence than the aforementioned publication.
And what do I find on these accounts that are 37 times and 962 degrees removed from my own Instagram account?
I find selfies.
A lot of them.
And they make me rage inside.
There are selfies from all age groups and genders, certainly. But the population that rules social media is also the same one that runs the selfie game.
I have so much to say to these women, much of it inspired by my anger and dismay at the sheer volume of them who have fallen into the trap of self-absorption and vanity that the Selfie Universe has sucked them into. A place where likes and comments from both friends and strangers has become something to seek out and appreciate and covet. A place where, suddenly, people – mostly women – are something to be looked AT again.
I don’t want to be too tough on these young women, because being a young woman is fucking hard. It’s confusing and scary and sad and exhilarating and becoming anything takes trial and error (basically just error) and guidance and tough love and really awful fashion choices that you and your friends will one day look back on and shudder and then look behind you and see some 21 year old wearing a new version of it and you will say what the actual fuck that look is in style again oh my god how did that happen did we look that ridiculous wearing woven ponchos too?
I also don’t want to tell them anything in person because young people give me anxiety and also make me feel guilty because was I a self-absorbed asshole when I was that age? (yes)
But I do want to tell these young women some things.
I want to tell them to watch HBO’s Girls, to revel and rejoice in the discomfort and the thrill that Lena Dunham’s pride in her own naked body brings, even though it’s not what we consider perfect and then say FUCK YEAH to the strength and the courage that it takes to be different and more than ok with it, to completely seek it out and embrace it and own it.
I want to tell them to vote, even if they don’t care about politics because someday, something they love about this country will be at risk, and it will matter to them, even if that seems hard to see right now.
I want to make them to watch TED talks given by brilliant women.
I want them to fiercely feel the pride that accompanies a job well done, by a woman who works hard, whether it’s as a nurse or a teacher or a neuroscientist or as a cashier at Walmart, and to know that many of those women struggled to become what and who they are simply because they are women.
I want them to see and appreciate the strength it takes to be a woman, in whatever form that may take, and to respect and feel awe and humility for those women who have gone before us and who have fought and cried and bled so that all women could have a small shot at equality. I want them to know that we have battled, and are still battling, to learn to love our bodies and protect them from a never-ending population of people who want to control and exploit and destroy them.
I want them to look at themselves, not just through the lens of the camera on their phone, but to actually wonder at their young beauty and be proud of it, and feel thankful that they are experiencing life in a time and a place when their physicality, their very being, is something that they, as women, can finally call their own. It no longer belongs to society, not in the way that it used to. I want them to see this for what it is – a gift that has been given to them by their mothers, their grandmothers, their aunts and older sisters and teachers and the women they work with. I want them to know that they can’t refuse this gift, that they should take it and say thank you and promise to keep it and hand it down to their daughters. Becuase this is a precious gift. It is freedom, and it needs to be taken care of so that it can be given over and over again.
I want to tell them that there are women everywhere, right now, this second, who are exploited and abused and taken advantage of because they are women. I want them to know that we owe it to these women to be strong and powerful and to use our loudest voices to protest this exploitation and abuse, until as many women as possible finally hold this same gift in their hands.
Is all of this heavy stuff directly related to taking selfies? Maybe not. Maybe selfies are harmless and fun and I have no doubt that some of these half-naked, pouting young women will go on to do great things and make amazing changes in the world.
Until then, though, I want them to know that they are more than this, that pretty doesn’t matter, not really. Pretty is fickle and fleeting, just like the people who value it over everything else that these young women, who are in charge of carrying the gifts of sexual freedom, equality, and justice and handing them over to generations of young women to come, have to offer.
I also want them to know that they should stop colouring in their eyebrows. Because hello? We can all see that THOSE ARE NOT YOUR EYEBROWS.