This post has been brewing for a while and after watching Kathy Burkes 'All Women' last night I felt compelled to get my words down. The first episode tackles the construct of beauty and how social media and current social pressures warp our sense of beauty standards and the way women should look. The program explores so much of what I've been feeling for a while around social media and what quite frankly feels like, the death of individuality. I've been creating content seriously for a couple of years now and I've started to feel really disillusioned and disappointed with the blatant promotion of certain types of images which are only adding to this narrow ideal of beauty.
When Kathy asks 20-year old Laura why she was surgically changing the way she looked, she specifically says that she always knew she looked different which meant she couldn't get many likes on Instagram. Right now the majority of what covers my feed are pictures of slim, white European girls in beige outfits with beige backgrounds (my own feed included). That's not to say there is anything wrong with those pictures or indeed anything wrong with that style but what troubles me is that social media feeds this idea that the current trending type of image is what we should all aspired to and that unique or different content isn't good because it isn't fitting into that. Instead of showing you content in a chronological order, it hides content that isn't trending or deemed as "popular". This then breeds a learned reaction that in order to be liked and popular you need to replicate those images. Likes equals popular and not being liked makes you think you're different and difference isn't celebrated as it should be for its uniqueness, instead its shunned. Literally hidden.
Now let me get this straight, there is nothing new or particularly wrong with appreciating and being inspired by what other people do, how they look or what they wear, its a fact of life. As Oscar Wilde said "life imitates art more than art imitates life" in so much as art affects the way we see the world around us and in a lot of ways, ourselves. But, what I worry about is not being influences by art, or style or certain aesthetics, but that the we are only seeing a populised version of those things, fed to us by a machine learning tool that dictates what we want to see based on what has been most liked. This isn't healthy and it's extremely dangerous especially when it starts to impact your self image and mental health, particularly in those who are especially impressionable or vulnerable.
Whilst I'm aware this is reading like a bit of an stream of consciousness/black mirror episode, this post is meant as a reminder to myself as much as to anyone else, a reminder to step back, take stock and think about the reasons why you started creating content and putting yourself out there. Our power and beauty lies in our individuality and too much exposure to warped images of perfection contribute to the homogenisation of culture and art. When you start to measure your self worth on how popular you are online, it leads down a slippery slope in which you start to forget your own style, your own interests and tastes and before you know it you're morphing into something you don't recognise, with the lines between who you are and your sense of self start to blur into an amalgamation of what you've seen online.
This is by no means an extensive essay on the positives and negatives of social media, we largely know those. Neither is it necessarily everyone's opinion or even of interest to the majority of people, but Kathy's conversations really brought to the surface some niggly feelings that I wanted to formulate. So, go watch it for yourself and form your own thoughts but most importantly, lets not be afraid to be ourselves, to be different and to embrace our idiosyncrasies, after all therein lies our power.
"if you're a wonderful human being, declare yourself"