Sometimes I worry that narcissism is going to break the world. Or maybe just break my brain. Because from where I’m sitting – clutching my iphone and browsing social media – it seems like vanity is the new black.
Here are two examples from the past week that have triggered a negative reaction in me:
Here is how my internal dialogue goes when I look at these images:
Me: Wow. That’s interesting. I enjoy looking at other women’s bodies even though doing so sometimes makes me feel insecure and inadequate about my own.
Me: What extraordinary confidence to post a photo of yourself like that. I could never do it. Nor would I want to. To be honest, it makes me cringe.
Me: Because it’s so vain! So look-at-me-I’m-so-hot!
Me: But what’s wrong with that? Aren’t you always banging on about how women should love their bodies? Why can’t these women show them off? Don’t be so judgemental.
Me: You know I hate that word. It gets in the way of a proper discussion. Please don’t use it. I’m expressing an opinion. Stop trying to shut me down.
Me: OK sorry. But I still don’t understand why you have a problem with these women showing off their bodies to the world?
Me: Good question. I think there are a couple of reasons. When I was at school, vanity was seen as a very negative trait. Something to be ashamed of and ridiculed for. Vain is the LAST thing you ever wanted to be called. I’m not sure if it was because I went to a girls’ school or because being boastful goes against the Australian tradition of self-deprecation that we hold so dear. You Must Never Be Up Yourself.
Me: But isn’t that just Tall Poppy Syndrome? Why cut down someone for being successful or showing off their body?
Me: I’m not cutting them down but I understand what you’re saying. At it’s worst, self-deprecation manifests as Tall Poppy Syndrome which I hate. You’re right, that IS destructive. But at it’s best, self-deprecation is simply humility and modesty. Being humble. Not showing off. And I believe those are all important, valuable human qualities.
Me: Maybe it’s because you’re Gen X. Maybe Gen Y has no problem with vanity. Maybe the world has moved on.
Me: Maybe it has. I may well be out of step with popular opinion on this one.
Me: Can we get back to the question of Lea Michelle’s arse?
Me: Yes. OK.
Me: What’s your problem with that picture?
Me: I think that the show-off thing is part of it. And the other part is the disengenuousness of the faux captions, pretending there is something deeper at play here other than just “look at my hot body”. If you’re going to post a picture of your body because you think it looks great, at least own it. Don’t pretend you’ve posted it for any other reason than that. Like Kris Jenner saying “Celebrate life!” or Lea Michelle saying “New day, new year” Come on. This is not about the day. This is about your arse. And wanting people to look at it and tell you how great it is.
Me: I have another question. How come when someone ‘bigger’ posts a photo of themselves with their baby belly or their stretch marks visible, you’re all ‘you go girl!” and “that’s so brave!” but when a slim person like Lea Michelle or Kris Jenner does it, it irks you?
Me: I’ve been thinking about that because I’ve heard that point made before and I think it comes down to this: there’s nothing brave about posting a photo of your body when it conforms to every social pressure placed on women to have a certain type of ‘ideal’ body.
If you’re slim and conventionally “hot’ and you post a photo of your body, brave is the last thing it is. But when your body doesn’t fit that incredibly narrow (literally) ideal of what a ‘hot’ woman should look like and you overcome that and post a picture of it anyway, I do think that’s more difficult. And, yes, brave, because you’re swimming against the tide of societal pressure.
And I think that the more diversity of female bodies we have – whether in the mainstream media or social media – the better. So it should be encouraged. And I will always cheer those people.
Me: So should people with slim bodies cover themselves up?
Me: Of course not. That’s not what I’m saying. Do what you like. I’m not the Taliban. This isn’t even about hot bodies or Lea Michelle’s arse, it’s about trying to understand why it makes me feel uncomfortable.
Me: Do you understand now?
Me: I think so. Thanks for your help.
Me: I need a really big cup of tea.
UPDATE: A little while after having my really big cup of tea and reminding myself that hey, this is Instagram not Syria, I happened to buy this book to read on the plane on my way home from holidays.
Rebecca Sparrow and I are a tad obsessed with Brene Brown at the moment – so is our other friend Oprah but that’s a post for another time.
And you guys, you’re not going to believe it but one of the first chapters in the book is about the culture of narcisism! No shit.
So I’m thinking: MESSAGE FROM THE UNIVERSE (like this one time? When I was obsessed with The Secret? Anyway).
Let me tell you what the sublime Brene Brown has to say about people like me complaining that the world is going to hell in a handbasket called Narcisism.
“We need to understand these trends and influences, but I find it far more helpful, and even transformative in many instances, to look at the patterns of behaviours through the lens of vulnerability. For example, when I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be loveable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose. ”
How awesome is that. She goes on to say:
“Sometimes the simple act of humanising problems sheds an important light on them, a light that often goes out the minute a stigmatising label is applied.”
I think Brene Brown just nailed it for me. I must look at the things like this that irritate me and try to humanise them instead of rolling my eyes and getting huffy. I AM GOING TO BE SO OPRAH IN 2014 YOU GUYS!
Wait – one more thing. Brown concludes:
“I can see exactly how and why more people are wrestling with how to believe they are enough. I see the cultural messaging everywhere that says that an ordinary life is a meaningless life. And I see how kids that grow up on a steady diet of reality television, celebrity culture and unsupervised social media can absorb this messaging and develop a completely skewed sense of the world. I am only as good as the number of “likes” I get on Facebook and Instagram.”
Which really makes you look at the following images in a totally different way, doesn’t it?