During my hunt around Flickr and Instagram over the past week, I came across a pretty disturbing (and, indeed, confusing) Instagram account.
The page, run by one girl, invites users to tag photos of themselves, which are then shared on the page in question, with an invitation for other Instagram users to rate the photo out of 10.
The girls (they are mostly girls) appear to be teenagers; they look young, and the rather deplorable standard of the spelling and grammar in the comments support that assumption. They pout and pose in bikinis and outfits far beyond their years, all heavily-applied make up and doe eyed innocence.
The page disturbed me, because it threw into disarray my thoughts about the narcissism of youth. I’m a fairly strident opponent of the notion that the kids of today are overly narcissistic; instead, I prefer to think that the seemingly endless stream of selfies and self-promotion is simply symptomatic of the fact that there are so many tools at the disposal of youth. I thought that the levels of narcissism had probably always been the same; it’s just that today, there are so many more ways to promote yourself, and the overt sharing of oneself online just seems over the top to us older folks, but is in fact perfectly normal behaviour, given the circumstances.
But… I don’t know. I’m really confused by this Instagram page. I’m quite sure that there’s a massive element of insecurity lurking behind each girl’s decision to submit her photo for public scrutiny, but at the same time each girl must know that she is quite beautiful, because if you possessed genuine self-image issues, surely you wouldn’t put yourself in such a position. I’m not a psychologist; I don’t really understand the motives behind selfies, let alone this kind of bizarre activity. Sure, I share selfies not-irregularly, and I’m not entirely sure why I do it, but it’s certainly not motivated by the desire to have people tell me I’m beautiful or gorgeous or give me a rating out of 10. (God forbid.)
I was a teenager once and although it wasn’t that long ago, it was in a time before smartphones and social media and perpetual self-promotion. I can remember what it was like, though, to be a teenager, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have opened myself up to criticism by being featured on a site like this Instagram page. (I’m not saying the name as I don’t want this post to turn up in Google searches.) I was a painfully insecure kid, plagued by body image issues from a very young age and was certain that I was about as attractive as a dog’s breakfast. I remember believing, when I was the age of the girls featured, that I would never get a boyfriend (I did; getting one at 29 is proving much more challenging!), that I was too fat for a bikini (I wasn’t, but it took a while to realise that; I learned around the age of 22 that every body is a bikini body), and that I was really just too damn weird for public consumption (correct, but I’ve embraced it).
The existence of sites like this IG page really do make me wonder whether growing up is actually very different today to what it was 15 or so years ago. When I was a teenager, the Internet was for nerds, for goodness’ sake. It was unusual to be online, not the norm. Growing up online must be such a challenging experience. As a 14 year old, it was bad enough wondering whether I’d ever feel “acceptable”, without my photographs and my social life being plastered all over the web. I wonder what the girls who needed society’s approval – the girls who needed strangers to rate them out of 10 – did back in 1999. How did the insecure beauties from my school get the validation that they needed? Did they even need to seek it, or is behaviour like this a product of the fact that life is basically an ongoing public competition of blatant self-promotion?
It makes me feel out of touch. I am happy to share so much of my life with the world, in the form of blog posts, photos, and tweets, but at the same time I’m still very much aware of the fact that I’m a private being. All the random insecurities that arise in my own world don’t manifest in a need to have the public tell me I’m worthy. I can’t even begin to identify with what it must be like to be fifteen and perma-connected.