Note: This post is written for a grade in a University course about Issues in Cyberculture. While the views herein are still my own and perhaps not much different from the content I would freely post here (had I not abandoned my seven readers some months ago), I think it needs to be said that I am writing this a few hours before the deadline under the influence of too much caffeine and Cocomelon nursery rhymes on loop in my head. Also, the fact that this course examines the identities we create for ourselves by what we post online (like in this blog post) is really messing with my head, so I am very much conscious of what I am about to write, knowing that my lecturer will read it. I am unsure whether that awareness is working for or against me, or whether it will make my content more or less authentic than what was posted here before I started this course, but here we go…
For the record, I was always suspicious of anyone at all who seems to have all their ducks in a row. You know those folks on Instagram whose lives are filled with those neat little inconveniences that give them a valuable life lesson for a caption, and beautiful, perfectly-timed photos to post? Yea, I have nothing against those people, and occasionally I even learn a thing or two from them, give them their hard-earned likes, and keep it moving. But there has always been a part of me that was suspicious of them.
You know who I was always most suspicious of? The moms who spend half their lives online, but never seem to get grouchy or impatient, or just plain tired of taking their kids’ shit. Mind you, they don’t claim to have perfect lives on the ‘gram. Oh no, that doesn’t really sell when it comes to ‘mom-fluencers’ (because, come on, no one is buying that crap). So they will post the messes that the kids make and talk about how things can get crazy around their homes, and broadcast the adorable little learning opportunities they have with the children, because that is the accepted narrative. That’s their content. No harm done. But what always got me was how these moms are just always so pleasant and patient and nurturing and kind to their children all the time. Eeeh Nicky? Yuh really just a ‘kin teeth with di pickney same way after she come all up ina yuh live broadcast a hiccup ina yuh face and a interrupt yuh every minute? A so you just patient and kind and loving round di clock? Because surely by now my son would be in a corner hiccupping silen… azamatartafak!… I wouldn’t dare start a live recording in my house because kids love to push limits around company, and thousands of followers is plenty company.
And I was right to be suspicious!
Being that I write for a women’s magazine, my path is bound to cross with some of these Insta-moms from time to time, and a few months ago I had the opportunity to interview one of them (and don’t try to guess who, because now that I think about it, I have interviewed at least four of them in the least 12 months). Now remember, I like these women and their content. I just couldn’t understand how they managed to be so nice all the time, especially when they have multiple children. Because I know I’m a nice enough person, and I’m not a terrible parent, but I am no Mother Teresa either. I lose it. Often.
So here was this very popular local Insta-mom who I got to interview. I expected it to go pretty much like the others did (basically talking for up to an hour, with them effortlessly maintaining their online character. They get featured in the paper. I get my work done. Everybody wins). But when I met this particular woman, who for some reason or another (maybe because I looked stressed out that day and she thought I could relate), felt like she could trust me to keep a secret, said to me:
“Candiece, I’ll be right with you for your interview in a few. I just need a fucking break. I’m going into the car for a quick smoke.”
Like. Woah. She smokes. Woah! What? It was bittersweet because while I was happy that my suspicions were not just a covertly grudgeful manifestation of my perceived shortcomings as a mother, I also felt an immediate wave of pity for her passing through me. I mean, it’s not like I couldn’t understand why she would choose not to smoke on camera, even if it’s something all her friends (and, oh God, her children) know about, but I couldn’t help feeling somehow like I had been deceived.
And you bet she came back all put-together, smelling like freshly baked cookies (or edibles or whatever), and was the same on-brand funny, sarcastic and charismatic Insta-mom everyone knows during the interview. She spoke of real experiences and she spoke her truth. But once again, after the video camera and my voice recorder were off, though, in those few moments before I left her space, the woman in front of me was a very tired woman just trying to make it through yet another stressful day to do it all again tomorrow. Nothing at all glamourous about it. And she also talked about that–stressed-out woman to stressed-out woman. Again, she spoke of real experiences and she spoke her truth. I probably shouldn’t have been that shocked by the entire encounter, because, hey, I had my suspicions anyway, but that day changed how I perceive career social media users.
The moral of the story
The moral of the story (and the part where I try to prove that I pay attention in the virtual classes) is that, despite my cynicism and suspicion, I had started to believe that this woman’s online identity was all there was to her. Despite being very much aware of the glamourized version of reality that exists and is perpetuated on social media platforms, and the embellished grandeur that must be maintained if certain users want to remain relevant and continue to make careers out of these platforms, I was subconsciously buying into the circumspect personality that this woman had created on Instagram.
But do I think she is a hypocrite? No. As French philosopher Michel Foucault said in 1984, the self is not given to us, so “…there is only one practical consequence: We have to create ourselves as a work of art.” I hold the view, especially since I’ve been able to watch my three-year-old grow from being an oblivious neonate into a preschooler with a very fascinating personality, that as humans we have the innate ability to shape and project the ‘self’ that best reflects our interests, experiences and circumstances. Self is not static. If my son’s teacher can honestly tell me that the hyperactive tyrant I have at home is her most well-behaved student, who am I to say which, if either manifestation is his authentic self?
While I can see where my (admittedly excessive) consumption of social media can negatively impact my perception of my own self, which pales in comparison to the artistically crafted personalities that live in cyberspace, I am not prepared to blame social media, or these seemingly well-adjusted (even if a bit suspiciously perfect) personalities for that occurrence. It is yet another avenue of creation and expression, and true ‘self’ is but the absolute sum of all that we create and express.
So I came home that day to my plain old life with my plain old child in my plain old house, thinking a lot about what authenticity of self really means, and whether we are too quick to call these representations of selves on social media ‘fake’ or ‘alter egos’ or disingenuous. I thought maybe though there are different manifestations, (and perhaps a little dash of multiple personalities, too), these are the stories that these people tell themselves about themselves. Who are we to decide for them which is real and which is not, or to say their coexistence is immoral or hypocritical? Who limited self to a singular expression?
What really brought it home for me though? I took a scroll down my own Instagram. Though I spend way less time on the platform that these ‘suspicious’ Insta-moms, and I have but a thousandth of their following, I, too, am selective in the parts of my life, and my self, that I share. Reading my captions and looking at my posts through a fresh pair of eyes, I admired the woman I appeared to be, while knowing that it was not all their was to me. I never once felt dishonest when creating a post, yet I chose, semi-consciously, to only post things that would express the person I want to be online. This was me. And so is the foul mouthed, caffeinated, procrastinating tired woman who is submitting this post a few minutes before midnight. My ‘true self’ must be somewhere in the centre of all of that.
And look, neither did I post when I lose my shit. Kinda suspicious…