On Authenticity: Isn’t It Ironic?
A few months ago, Instagrammer Essena O’Neill made international news when she took a stand against social media. She edited the captions of her glamorous Instagram posts to reveal the “truth” behind the double life she led. She even called social media a “lie,” and encouraged others to quit social media, too.
In one of her photos, she edited the original caption from “Things are getting pretty wild at my house. Maths B and English in the sun” to “see how relatable my captions were – stomach sucked in, strategic pose, pushed up boobs. I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational. It’s contrived perfection made to get attention.”
Many people lauded her for her courage, insight, and “authenticity.” She went viral. People all over the world heard her story.
But you know what’s ironic? We know her stance against social media because of social media. The even bigger irony? Her call to action at the end of it all was for her followers to please check out her new website.
On Living in the Moment
Photo by Christopher Horner
Photo by Christopher Horner
A few weeks ago, a photo of a kid in a baseball game went viral. He nearly got hit on the face by a rogue baseball bat because his eyes were glued to his phone. Netizens chastised him (and the rest of his generation) for not “living in the moment.” He was in a coveted seat during a live baseball match, yet he was still on his phone.
We later found out that he was texting his mother.
The man beside him was his father, and he was able to watch the baseball game live as a birthday present from his parents. Unfortunately, his mother couldn’t be there with them–so he snapped a photo and sent it to his mother.
He was in the moment. He just wanted to share that moment with his mother, too.
On Creating the Moment
My college bestie recently made an Instagram account (and wrote about it on Stylebible.ph.) The act of creating an Instagram account isn’t groundbreaking. But this friend is someone who’s really into fashion, design, beauty, and digital art—interests that are popular on Instagram. Most of my peers made Instagram accounts in high school, so it’s interesting that someone with the said interests is only making an account at 21 years old.
She feared that she might rob herself of the proverbial “moment.” She feared being too busy capturing the moment instead of living in it.
She’s incredibly meticulous, so I imagined her fussing over color, composition, captions, and ~aesthetics. Why would anyone want to be burdened that way?
She eventually made an Instagram account after an epiphany. She realized that she wouldn’t really be robbing herself of the moment. Instead, she’d be creating moments.
She appreciates photography and other forms of visual art. If she spends a few seconds or even hours indulging in that appreciation, did she not create a new moment instead of robbing herself of one? If she sees a mundane object and captures it in a way that she deems is creative, did she really burden herself?
I think there’s something beautiful about the idea of creating a moment instead of simply “living” in it. The latter is a bit more passive than the former.
Andi put it beautifully when she wrote:
I’ve been judging those who curate their Instagram posts so pristinely, claiming that they exploited life’s moments. In reality, I was the one sabotaging my own through a secret account and satirical efforts. Being a full-fledged Instahoe has made me realize that I’m not exploiting any proverbial moment because I’m creating a new one entirely. The pleasure of enjoying an experience is not diminished by the fact that I chose to document it and edited to my liking. It just means that I would like to appreciate it on another level. One dimension is immersing myself in the moment at face value and seeing it for what it is. And on the second layer, I’m able to look back (more appropriately, throwback) on it with a different set of eyes. I revitalize it with a new color grading, a new focus, and ultimately, a new perspective.
On The Word Taylor Swift “Really, Really Hates”
As a Swiftie since 2006, I’ve read so many interviews and write-ups about Taylor. After a decade of “research,” my all-time favorite is by Chuck Klosterman for GQ’s October 2015 issue. The beauty of that article deserves a whole new blog post, but there was a section of that interview that talked about Taylor’s reaction to being described as “calculating.” Chuck Klosterman observed that “she really, really hates the word calculating.”
I do think about things before they happen. But here was someone taking a positive thing—the fact that I think about things and that I care about my work—and trying to make that into an insinuation about my personal life. Highly offensive. You can be accidentally successful for three or four years. Accidents happen. But careers take hard work.
The word calculating extends to Taylor’s friendships. Klosterman wrote:
Her famous friends are marginalized as acquisitions, selected to occupy specific roles, almost like members of the Justice League (“the ectomorph model,” “the inventive indie artist,” “the informed third-wave feminist,” etc.).
But I think the allegation of being “calculating” extends to how Taylor is online.
I like how she says you could only get lucky for a while. Sustained success requires premeditation and calculation. As Taylor’s influence increases, is it not a great thing that she is conscious of her role as an influencer?
As social media users (and as members of society, in general), we influence and are influenced by the people around us. Calculating our actions shouldn’t be something we’re ashamed of. Being calculating and being authentic are not supposed to be two binary things.
My year-ender blog post took me 52 revisions and ten days to write and edit. I shortened my sentences, played with words, corrected grammatical errors, and reassessed which information I should give or withhold to keep the people I talked about unrecognizable.
This is the same blog post where I allowed myself to be vulnerable. I talked about the people closest to me. I wrote about a friend who passed away, a friend I lost, a betrayal I experienced, and some of my biggest insecurities and fears.
Was it calculated? Extremely. Authentic? I’d like to think so.
Premeditation and calculation should not be the test of authenticity. If anything, the opposite should be true. Many times, decisions we’ve thoroughly thought of—those that we align our personal values and character to—reveal more about ourselves than the erratic, impulsive decisions.
Just Be Yourself (But which one?): On the Multiplicity of Self
The word “authenticity” is thrown around so often. It’s seen as something positive and rare among online influencers. Ironically, there seems to be this notion that the “badder” you are, the more authentic you are. There is a kind of shaming reserved for those who are “inauthentic.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking what authenticity means for me.
If I snap a selfie after getting fully made up, does it make me less authentic that someone who snaps a photo of herself right after she wakes up? (Then captions #nomakeupselfie #wokeuplikethis?)
If I post about my latest achievement, does it make me less authentic than a person who posts about just getting fired?
If I post about my appreciation for my best friend, does it make me less authentic than a lengthy rant about my best friend?
I don’t think so. The act of posting a photo of yourself right after you woke up is a conscious act. You’re packaging yourself to be seen in a certain way. You take the photo. You post the photo. You write the caption. These are calculated acts, not thoughtless accidental occurrences.
In one of my theory classes in college, we explored the idea of having different versions of ourselves—none more “authentic” than the other.
I treat my boss, professor, family, childhood friends, and acquaintances differently. I act differently in class, in a party, and in a funeral. It’s not because I’m not “authentic.” It’s because the people, place, and event we’re in condition and encourage us to act in a certain way. But across all relationships and all media platforms, I do have some non-negotiable values. While the said non-negotiable values are generally consistent, I express them differently depending on the specific circumstance.
On Posters and Posers
I was once told that people who frequently post on social media are insecure. (“Post siya ng post kasi naghahanap siya ng pansin at affirmation! Insecure siyang tao!”) And for so long, I believed this. Because of some negative experiences and the belief ingrained in me equating constant posts to insecurities, I even went as far as deactivating my Facebook account.
And then I talked to people who very rarely post anything online. Some of them told me that they don’t post things online in fear of being judged or ignored. If they don’t post anything, they don’t put themselves out there. They don’t give others a chance to judge them or ignore them. They’d rather not be caught trying.
This was when I realized that insecurities are universal. We just have different ways of coping with them and exhibiting them.
This was also when I realized that social media functions more than a gauge of a person’s insecurity. It functions as a mode of expression, communication, information, entertainment, and more. While our own personal insecurities may affect how we communicate with others, we (and our social media accounts) are so much more than our insecurities.
On Photography, Performativity, and Participation: Lessons from Susan Sontag
In On Photography, Susan Sontag wrote:
Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it, and participating in a public event comes more and more to be equivalent to looking at it in photographed form. That most logical of nineteenth-century aesthetes, Mallarmé, said that everything in the world exists in order to end in a book. Today everything exists to end in a photograph.
In the same work, Susan Sontag talked about the habit of taking photos as a defense mechanism against our own mortality and anxiety. As it goes with most habits and routines, taking photos and posting them are often unquestioned acts. It seems almost automatic for people to take photos of the whole barkada everytime they go out.
There are days when I sit in a table full of loved ones Instagramming everything instead of speaking to each other. In these moments, I found myself thinking of the word “performative” even if I usually associate that word to gender. I think it’s because performativity is about constructing your self-identity. And those intimate dinners unwittingly turn into carefully crafted PR events with illogical program flow but commendable and formulaic shot lists.
On Conformity: Basic Bitches and the Instagram Aesthetics
Speaking of formulaic shot lists, I’m fascinated when people talk about the so-called Instagram aesthetics. Here are a few rules I heard in order to “make it” on Instagram:
The more putol, the more sosyal. Always desaturate your photos. Make sure all your photos are color-corrected the same way. (Think of every photo as part of your entire grid.) Make sure to use three hashtags at the most. Maximum of three posts a day. (Try hard to look like you’re not trying hard.)
I often label those who follow these rules as basic, ditzy, and pretentious.
But then I realized that me passing those judgments is hugely ironic and hypocritical. After all, I recognize blogging as a profession. I recognize social media as a powerful and profitable tool for advocacies, businesses, and freelancers. I even intend to go full-time on my online work some day.
I also established that being calculating and putting in the hours on social media aren’t always a bad thing–so I always try to correct myself when I start harboring these judgments about others.
I remind myself that that different people assign different purposes to their own social media accounts.
I know people who make accounts solely to get in touch with their loved ones. They barely post anything, but utilize the messenger app almost everyday. They also like commenting on their relatives’ posts.
I know people who use social media as shared journal entries. They post unguarded thoughts on anything under the sun. They don’t mind posting poorly-lit, pixelated photos.
It took a while, but there came a point when I figured out what social media is for me.
I see social media as something public. (And we all know what they say about washing dirty linen in public!) If I have a fallout with someone, I won’t post it online–not even an anonymous parinig. Apart from Shoti, I don’t post photos of my family online. I don’t post photos of my room, or of my house, which I want to keep private.
I see it as my online portfolio. I found out that it works more powerfully than my resume. If I have an achievement, I post about it. I won’t go as far as posting a screenshot of my GWA at the end of the sem (#blessed #thankyoulord #praisegod), but I post about articles I write or events I speak in. On one hand, I think it’s only right that I’m hands-on with the promotion of publications and projects that I’m associated with. But on the other hand, I post about them because I want to celebrate the joy of these milestones with family, friends, and followers. I recognize that these posts help people know my experiences as a potential person to work with and to hire. I can’t count how many job opportunities I’ve gotten through my posts about previous work.
Because I see social media as my online portfolio, I look at my Instagram account as a curation of my own personal aesthetics or my own works. I won’t post photos which I think are poorly lit or poorly composed. When I’m out with my high school friends, I don’t snap photos of our meal or even of our barkada–because I know that I would obsess about lighting and color and composition and hashtags and just about every other thing I learned in photography and videography classes. Other people have the capability to multitask and get back to the conversation, but I can’t. At home, I switch off the TV once we start talking about each other’s day. When my family went on our first trip abroad together, I told myself prior to the trip that I would only allow myself to shoot photos (apart from immature snapshots) in two locations: Lao Pa Sat and Marina Bay Sands. I left my camera at the hotel for most of the trip. It was clear for me that during those times, I didn’t want to be distracted by the impulse to shoot photos.
On the flipside, I’d have shoots for my blog and my Instagram, often with some brands I work with. The shoot would last for a whole day, but it usually takes weeks of planning. I have a color palette, a shot list, a tentative editorial calendar, a Pinterest board, a production planner, and lots and lots of pegs. It’s the epitome of being calculating–almost everything is premeditated.
The same goes for the things I write. Whenever I blog about something like this post or this post, I’ve usually finished processing the situation. I’m calmer and more zen. I mix anecdotes with think pieces, epiphanies, and my favorite readings.
But in my day-to-day conversations, I’m often an anxious mess with a hundred failed attempts to make good jokes. It’s difficult to focus long enough to finish a sentence.
My online self is the public version of myself—calmer, calculated, sometimes vulnerable, but authentic.
Photos by Zeus Martinez (@shootinanylight)
Hair and Makeup by Gela Martinez (@gelamakeup)