I could be inspired too

There is a proverb (I think it is a Buddhist one) which goes a little like this, “comparison is the thief of joy.” Neat little way to sum up a lot of the criticism I see when it comes to social media. At least the surface level criticism. How it makes us feel bad to see these perfectly constructed online lives of high achievement, in comparison to the mundane lives we live in reality. I know that there are a lot of other things that are wrong with the whole social media scene (and other people have done a much better job of talking about this, check out this video if you want some food for thought). But basically, when it comes down to it, a lot of the stuff on social media makes us feel bad because we compare it to the things we have (or don’t have).

I don’t want to talk in general terms. Let me give some examples of things that always make me feel bad whenever I come across them online.

People Travelling

I hate how perfect everyone’s vacation looks. I am sure that if and when I put in effort into clicking pictures while I am out vacationing, I could also, sort of maybe come up with something that is decent. But I get lazy when I travel (that is when I’m not having a terrible time of it, like I’ve said before). I see reels of people eating pasta in small Italian villages, or perfect looking girls making montages of their chocolate syrup and croissant breakfasts in Paris, or people hiking in a pretty Japanese forest; and I instantly feel bad about whatever I am doing. I could be having a perfectly enjoyable day (tucked in bed with coffee and watching a movie I like) and seeing these images of other people enjoying their trips will mess me up.

Happy couples

I don’t want to sound salty (maybe just a little) but seeing people post about how they have found love and happiness makes me want to gag. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy for everyone that has this in their lives. But since I don’t at the moment, I don’t see why I have to cheer along this obnoxious display of cuteness. I refuse to participate in the cheer. It instantly reminds me of how single I am. Which by the way is a perfectly fixable situation if I just get out of my room and make the effort to meet new people. But where is the fun in that. Imagine a life without cribbing.

Well-trained dogs

This is an odd one I know. How can anyone hate on dogs, you might be wondering. I don’t. I love dogs. More than a lot of other things in fact. I have a dog, and I would do anything for the little beast. But if you’ve been around for a while you’ve probably picked up on the fact that he isn’t the best behaved dog out there. Ok that is an understatement. He’s a heathen. He’s all over the place. He never listens and he is spoilt as spoilt can be. All my fault, I know. I didn’t raise him well enough. Be that as it may, looking at videos of highly trained dogs turning tricks like climbing ladders or balancing glasses of water on their heads (which by the way, why on earth would a dog need to do any of this, it honestly is the worst form of showboating) irritates me.

Now that I’ve given you a few examples of the things that make me sad or irritate me, let us talk about the flip side of this.

I recently came across an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience which had Kevin Hart on as a guest. Amongst the many things they talk about, they also touched upon how social media, and looking at the lives of people who are better off (apparently) than us, might not always be a bad thing. The episode is also wickedly funny, and I would highly recommend you giving it a listen.

Anyway, Hart talks about how sometimes he looks at social media posts of other people who are doing better than him in a particular field (especially one he wants to improve in) as a source of inspiration. He looks at these posts, and instead of automatically thinking, and feeling bad about, the things he doesn’t have or isn’t necessarily good at, he tries to think of ways he can emulate the people he looks up to. Or how he can draw inspiration from them and think about the ways in which he can improve.

Putting it in context; forget the stuff I get envious of. I follow a ton of art accounts on Instagram. One of them is an artist called Sophie. I’ve never felt bad looking at her posts, even though she is ostensibly doing a lot better than me in the field I want to excel in. Instead, I love the way she posts consistently. Not just the finished project, but her entire process – the things that have inspired her, the ways in which she incorporates things people tell her about, the times she gets stuck and what she does to get over such creative blocks. I aspire to be as consistent as her in posting about my art. I want to get comfortable about showing people the process I follow in making the things I make, as silly as that may sound.

I thought this was quite a positive spin on things. I always talk about how bad social media is and how it gives me anxiety. But Hart talking about it as a source of inspiration sometimes, and not just comparison, made a lot of sense to me too.

Romanticise your life

I’ve been in a rut for the last two days. I have been irritated with my friends. I haven’t touched my paintings. I haven’t done much work. I’ve just stayed in bed the whole time. My entire existence in these last couple of days could be summed up by the introduction to Ibrahim Kamit’s video on why social media is bad – you know the one where he wakes up late, stares at his phone til its lunch time, barely gets out of bed for food, and then stares at his phone till it is time to sleep.

We all know social media is bad in some ways. We have heard so many people say this – explain why it is bad, and how its affecting our health (mental and physical) and what not – that now, to say these words, feels very clichéd.

I think it is bad too (shocker). I feel really awful after spending the whole day on Instagram or YouTube. But what else am I supposed to do with my time? To my mind, this is just the societal evil we have been given to deal with – just as our parents had to deal with industrial smoke, and their parents had to deal with feudal overlords or something (I don’t think I have the timelines right here – but you get my point). I know I am never going to get off social media (at least not in the foreseeable future) but sometimes I like to remind myself of why and how it is bad. Salem Tovar has a great video essay on this in case you’re interested.

She talks about how comparing our real lives to the constructed lives of others online, or even the constructed online version of our own life, can make us feel bad about our existence. No surprise there. You can see a variation of this phenomenon everywhere. Take Snapchat dysmorphia for example. You become so used to see a filtered version of yourself that it makes you cringe to look at your actual face. But more than your physical appearance, looking at other people live out their lives online makes you question, and be unhappy with yours. I know all of this firsthand because I am guilty of it too. I took a trip recently (I’ve spoken about it before) and while the sights were beautiful it was a very difficult journey. For the most part, I was cold and uncomfortable. I got motion sick frequently because we had to travel by car and our driver really wasn’t interested in how many of his passengers made it back alive, including himself. But my god, if you check out the pictures I posted of the trip, you would think I was in heaven. And the captions! What a bile inducing mix of happy and inspirational quotes. Really, if I was someone else looking at my profile, I would call me some not-so-polite names. And then wish I was on that trip. Only to find out the trip mostly consists of nausea and shivering, and very little heaven.

Right at the end of the video though Tovar says that while it isn’t feasible to expect people to go off social media entirely, you should definitely take breaks from it. Another thing you should do is romanticise your life.

The best example of what romanticising your life looks like are Studio Ghibli films. If you haven’t seen any yet, do yourself a favour and watch one. The absolute joy of watching those characters do their everyday mundane tasks in the most beautiful way possible almost makes me cry. Making food, drying clothes, cleaning your house – everything is done with such love and care. Plus there is always the best lo-fi music in the background. So, taking inspiration from these movies, and Salem Tovar, here is how I have been romanticising my life recently.

House Plants

House plants are like little low maintenance buddies you can have in your room. I never understood the appeal of being a plant mom till I visited a cousin of mine who is absolutely crazy about gardening. Her entire room is filled with all sorts of plants – it takes her half an hour at least (from what I saw) to finish watering all of them. Her room looks magical. And my quality of sleep in that room was unlike anything I have experienced in a long time. So, I decided to get some of my own. I have about five right now. They give me something to do every morning, and they also give me company the entire day. I didn’t think it was possible, but having plants around me also makes me feel less lonely.

Scented candles

This is something I have loved for a long time. I love good smells. You know how they used to say that being told you smell good is an ‘elite’ compliment? I totally agree with that statement. Nothing makes me happier than to be told I smell good, or that my room smells good. Earlier though, when I wasn’t making my own money, I wouldn’t buy these candles. I grew up in a household where buying scented candles would be regarded as ‘wasteful’ expenditure. Not to mention frivolous. But ever since I have come into my own money, I’ve decided to spend it on things that make me happy. I’m not some whiz kid with money, but I know buying one or two scented candles a month isn’t going to be the reason for my debt crisis. I light one every evening, and it does wonders for my mood.

Bookshelves

I don’t mean that I buy bookshelves on the regular to romanticise my life. I just like arranging them differently once in a while. I like setting my books according to size, according to colour, and sometimes even according to authors. I have started putting little decorations on my bookshelf. It isn’t much, but it makes me very happy to look at it whenever I cross it.

Coffee

I think I have mentioned if before. Earlier I would drink coffee just to stay awake – as a sustenance thing in office. Now, I’ve started getting into the different kinds of coffee beans there are, new recipes, the whole lot. Also, interesting fact, I read somewhere that in Turkey (in the middle ages) it was perfectly alright for women to divorce their husbands if they couldn’t provide their ladies with coffee. Honestly, given where I am in life, this seems like a perfectly reasonable proposition.

Celebrities make my day…?

Link

I have spent the last couple of weeks obsessing over this one case of a celebrity’s child being hauled into jail for possession of drugs. Or something. From what I can tell, it is a pretty big deal. Not to me though – as much as it feels like it. I went to Instagram (which honestly seems like the only place I get my news from nowadays) and because of the way the algorithm works, in a few clicks, my entire feed was full of accounts either demanding the kid be released or proclaiming that its a great thing he’s been caught (serves that rich man right, am I right?). The week before that my feed was full of V’s dating scandal (V from BTS). So many opinions, so many takes…so many people caring about things that have absolutely nothing to do with them, and about people who don’t even know they exist.

Now, I’m not saying I’m not a gossip. I love celebrity gossip. I can discuss Khloé Kardashian’s breakups to death. I probably know a lot more about Addison Rae than I do about the latest climate change convention (and as you can see I have no qualms in showcasing the dumber side of my personality). But the thing I can’t figure out is, why? What do I have to do with these people? Why do I care? Anyway, you know me, I had to get into it. For whatever it is worth, here is what I think about it.

The Nature of Celebrity

So, if you’re between the ages of 18-25, and you haven’t been living under a rock for the past year and a half, you know who the D’Amelio sisters are – Charlie and Dixie. They’re TikTok royalty. Charlie, I think, is one of the most followed individual creators on the platform. They shot to fame doing, well, not much. Dancing, and having fun in front of a camera. You may like them, dislike them or even dismiss them entirely, but you can’t deny that they have caught the public’s fancy. For whatever reason. A byproduct of such intense fame is that there are a lot of people waiting to make money off of you. Cue the many, many brand deals and associations. Next up, an entire Hulu series capturing their lives a-la-reality TV format (you know, the kind of TV the Kardashians made profitable). The show itself is quite boring. It has already received a lot of criticism online. I can understand why. The show follows around a very normal family that never expected to get famous, never thought it was possible, and certainly does not know what to do with the fame now that they have it. I don’t quite agree with all the criticism the girls themselves receive. There are a lot of moments you can see their own self-doubt regarding their fame. They are, as they put it themselves, just kids who decided to dance on the internet. Do they really deserve all this fame? And this brings up my first point. The nature of fame, and by virtue of that, the nature of celebrity has changed.

It used to be that people would work for years, if not decades, honing a talent or a skill. You would practice singing, or you would attend acting school, or you would produce music, and after years of struggle and strife (less, if you were lucky) you would be recognised for your talent. So in effect, fame was a by product of something internal – your talent, your ability. Such fame then, to you, was secondary to what you were actually put on earth to do, and to the public, was well deserved.

This is not the case anymore. Or at least, not entirely. You can still get famous for any of these talents. But you can also get famous (extremely) while possessing no special ability. Like the D’Amelio sisters. And in the absence of such innate ability, you are bound to second guess your fame, the perks that come with it, and also (more often than not) be perceived to be undeserving of such fame. When you have nothing that sets you apart from the masses you are viewed as more ‘relatable’, and I think a side effect of that is that people tend to think they have more of a stake in your fame.

At least, this is what I feel. I like celebrity gossip, but there are levels to it. Gossip about ‘proper’ celebrities isn’t as exciting as gossip about ‘newer’ celebrities (TikTok stars, YouTubers, Instagram influencers) is. I think people feel some sense of ‘I told you so’ when the newer kids on the block mess up.

Evolution

This is not to say that obsession with celebrities is a recent phenomenon. We have always been obsessed with people that are unattainable, people we perceive to be at the top of the social pyramid. Our ancestors were as obsessed with the movers and the shakers of their times as we are with the Addison Raes of our times. Maybe a little less. But that can be chalked down to access. Because of social media, we have unprecedented access to celebrities.

I’ve spoken quite a bit about social media and how it has had an impact on almost every aspect of our lives. Here is another thing it has impacted. The ways in which celebrities interact with us. Before the advent of social media, we had access to only what the large media houses or tabloids put out into the public sphere. There was a bit more control over the kind of news that was being generated, and in turn, consumed. Now that that bit of control has gone out of the window, celebrities have to come down to our level and interact with us in the ways we interact with each other in order to stay relevant. I think about this a lot. The antics on Instagram and TikTok make sense if you’re starting out and trying to become famous (for the sake of being famous). But if I was already an established artist, would I hop onto the inane trends of dancing around meaninglessly to a 15 second audio clip to gain more relevance? I don’t think I would. I find it kind of sad honestly when celebrities who are famous for a certain trade / craft sink to this level of eyeball catching behaviour. Anyway, regardless of why they do it, they do it. And this means that we get more access to the people we consider to be on the top of the pyramid – and as we have already seen, there was never a time when we didn’t enjoy it.

Being surrounded

The more we enjoy it, the more we consume it, and the more we are fed the same thing by the algorithms. Algorithms only care about getting you onto your screen and keeping you there (Social Dilemma anyone?). And if celebrity gossip is your juice then that is what you will get. Constantly. In fact, this false proximity to celebrities has given rise to an increase in the number of para-social relationships i.e, relationships characterised by a one-sided affair with your celebrity of choice. A strong example I can think of is the relationship many fandoms in the K-Pop industry have with their ‘idols’ (that is what pop stars are called there). The way some of us (myself included) delude ourselves into thinking we have a strong personal connection with these K-Pop stars is fascinating, sometimes even scary. If you don’t believe me try googling the term ‘Sasaeng’. You’ll see.

This behaviour on the part of the fans is cultivated by the production houses – in the ways they present the K-pop idols. These men and women do a lot more than just put put music – they have game shows, they have live telecasts (often from a homely and cozy environment to make you feel like you’re in that room with them) and a bunch of other things. They also have to remain single (at least as far as the public eye is concerned). Now isn’t this a recipe for developing a para-social relationship? Because they are marketed as ‘boyfriends’ and ‘girlfriends’, it comes as no surprise to me that obsession with such celebrities goes beyond what is considered normal.

Are you more susceptible to this than others?

But not everyone is affected in the same way. Yes, all of us love to take our mind off our lives with a bit of harmless gossip now and then – and I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. My issue is that each and every single thing celebrities do nowadays – all the mundane things about their lives that no one should care about – gets discussed with an unhealthy amount of fervour. And it turns out, these things are not interesting to all of us (makes sense). They start to mean a lot more, and do mean a lot more, to people who generally suffer from low self-esteem issues. It allows us to live a life vicariously, outside of our own lived experiences. This form of celebrity worship also starts to mean a lot more when we are going through major changes or periods of uncertainty in our lives.

No wonder this form of entertainment became the behemoth it did during the pandemic. Anyway, I’m going to get back to the debate on whether or not that celebrity’s kid deserves to be prosecuted. Talk soon.

Stories for days

I read a book recently. The Lonely City. I don’t think any book I have read this year captures my mood for the year better than this book. The book talks about loneliness – no shocker there. But it talks about that specific, anonymous, discoloured loneliness you can only get in cities, made even more incongruous because you are constantly surrounded.

The author, Olivia Laing, talks about some of the best contemporary art and how so much of it was born from persons who were intensely, and always, lonely. Edward Hopper for example. I hadn’t seen his paintings before 2020. And then I saw a post online talking about how the entire year in lockdown has felt like being in a Hopper painting. If you look at his paintings, it usually shows a single subject sitting in a cold, isolated, dispassionate city scape. He used a lot of greens and blues in his paintings. Laing calls this the ‘Hopper Green’ in her novel. It reminds me of that depressing green you’ll often find in abandoned diners or public washrooms. If I had to put a feeling to the colour, I would say it reminds me of when you’re walking around in the rain but the water has already seeped into your shoes, so you just walk around in silent, wet, misery.

There are a bunch of other artists she talks about (including one who worked as a janitor and made art his whole life, never told anyone about it, and died alone in a room, where they discovered all his art only because his neighbours complained about the stink coming from his home), but towards the end she talks about a man named Josh Harris. The man made a bunch of money in the dot com boom. But he became disgruntled with what was happening around him quite quickly. He predicted that the internet would take on a much less benign form in a couple of years, it’ll become a space where every single person will compete for visibility for the most mundane things, and showcase their lives to the fullest, dystopian degree just because they can. And well, he wasn’t wrong. To prove that he was right about the ways in which human nature will interact with constant access and visibility, he held a social experiment (there is a movie on this too). He invited strangers (anyone and everyone was welcome, it was on a first come first serve basis) to live in a house for a period of time. All the amenities they could want would be provided to them. They would be denied only two things – privacy, and the option of exiting the house before the experiment was over. Every single part of the house was covered with cameras that streamed the happenings of the house to the outside world constantly.

The result? People started behaving in bizarre ways. They started acting out for attention. They became hostile towards their housemates for no reason. And almost all of them became depressed beyond measure. They were simultaneously fighting to be the most visible in the house, while feeling increasingly disconnected with reality the more air time they got. The experiment had to be shut down (for obvious reasons). Harris wasn’t happy though. He wanted to take this live streaming, this shit show of total visibility to its logical conclusion. So, he set up cameras in his own house. The idea was to record himself and his partner for 30 days (I think, could have been longer) no matter what. Every bit of their lives (and I mean every single bit – including washroom breaks) was made available to a voyeuristic public. This time though, the people watching could also give live feedback. And they did. Harris and his partner started behaving in the same way the participants of the first experiment had – they became more aggressive, less sensitive, more radical, and more depressed. They started fighting more, because as it turns out, that was what got people going. And as they fought, they noticed that the public opinion was usually with Harris’ partner and not him. When the experiment ended, the couple broke up, and Harris moved to an unknown location – became a recluse for the next couple of years.

Now, as shocking as this was at the time, it is much more uncomfortable to read now. Not only did the man predict (with uncanny precision) how the internet would change all of us, but the effects most of us feel (at least I know I do) are the same. I can’t stop putting stuff out there. And most of the times it doesn’t even make me happy. I want to post even though I feel deep revulsion for my online persona as soon as I am done posting, but I still can’t stop doing it. The worst of it is the Instagram stories. I don’t know what it is about them. Maybe because they are temporary, I don’t feel like I need to put in effort and can post whatever I want. But it isn’t that effortless either. I always think about it. I keep going back to the app, and whenever I do, the first thing I check is my story. How many people viewed it? How many people reacted? What does the story look like from someone else’s account? I’m not even as bothered about comparing myself to others on social media as I am to comparing myself to what I put up online. Anyway, I could keep going on about this. Go check out the book if you have time, I promise it is worth it.

I can’t decide if I am body positive

When I was growing up, it was the most common thing to call out someone for being fat. In fact, I don’t think there is anything that has been ridiculed (mostly unkindly) more universally than a person being fat. It almost starts to feel like an archetype. You know, like the concept of mother nature, or how all children smile as a sign of showing pleasure even before being taught the connection between the action and the emotion. And it didn’t even stop at making fun of fat people. People were considered inferior, just by virtue of being unfit. I wish I could say I was better than this. But I remember feeling distinctly superior to a lot of the people in my class (who were, if I am being honest, leagues above me) just because I was, well, thin. As kids, we were merciless. I’m actually reading a book right now called ‘Cat’s Eye’ by Margaret Atwood, and it is one of the best books I have read on showcasing the cruelty of children (right up there with the ‘Lord of the Flies’). It talks about the relationship the protagonist shares with a girl named Cordelia, at once her best friend and most vicious bully, and how the interactions of her childhood haunt her entire life. To quote the author, “little girls are cute and small only to adults. To each other they are not cute. They are life-sized.”

With time though, a certain amount of sensitivity was introduced to the topic. I had stopped making fun of people for the way they looked (physical attributes that is, I was still a bit of a brat about people’s dressing sense) somewhere around high school. That is not to say that these conversations had stopped taking place around me. And the most common point of derision was, you guessed it, being fat.

By the time I entered college, times had changed (mostly for the better). It was social suicide for calling out people for their physical appearance and calling someone fat was the fastest way to die. No one did it. To be fair, I attended college during the first big wave of the me-too movement, so even compliments were being doled out sparingly, let alone nasty comments about your weight. This was the first time I had encountered the words ‘body positivity’. And I want to take some time out to talk about this. So, I’m still researching on this topic, and I want to be able to do a good job with this – and it is going to be a bit of a long one. So, strap in.

Why are we talking about it?

The body positivity movement is an off shoot of the fat acceptance movement. It is hard to tell that there is a difference at all since both movements largely deal with the fat acceptance bit only, but there is a difference. Where the fat acceptance movement was started to, well, accept people who are fat (or just generally bigger than usual), the idea behind the body positivity movement is more inclusive. It covers all body types, not just the fat ones.

The message is a good one. It often gets buried under the whole ‘fat v. fit’ argument, but the movement itself, at least as it was conceptualised, was meant to encompass all kinds of bodies. Now I’ve already mentioned above that the intention of this movement was not to be a second-coming of the fat acceptance movement, but it has taken that direction in popular debate, and therefore a lot of the opinions I am going to share are to do with the whole fat people / weight loss / fat acceptance side of the movement. Everyone, regardless of the body they have, should be allowed to feel good about themselves. All bodies need to be normalised and accepted. People often get this part twisted. I’ve heard so many people say some variation of, “yeah but I just don’t think that body-type is attractive / is it a crime to find conventionally attractive people attractive / should we be forced to like things we don’t naturally like” and every version of this statement is irritating. The idea is to normalise and accept, not be attracted to. And a large part of normalisation is representation. Forget bodies for a second. Consider food. There were a lot of food items none of us would have tried before the advent of social media, and many items we still only try because of constant and positive representation in the media. Korean food instantly comes to mind. The same kids who would be turning up their noses on this new cuisine now line up to get a bite. None of this would have happened if it hadn’t been normalised first (in all fairness I think the word normalised is also a bit offensive, saying you want to ‘normalise’ something indicates you considered it abnormal in the first place, but for lack of better terminology I am afraid this is the one I am going to go with).

Let me give you another example. For the longest time I didn’t understand this concept of ‘representation’ and why it is so important. I would hear a lot of people in the entertainment industry talk about how we need more LGBTQ+ representation on screen, and how kids need to see their realities reflected in the mainstream. I knew academically why it was so important, but because it isn’t an issue that affects me personally, my support for this cause remained distant and academic too. Then my sister noticed and asked me why I was skipping parts in my latest K-drama ‘Nevertheless’ (great show by the way); parts that had the lesbian couple’s love story. I liked the couple, and I was rooting for them, I just found it boring because I couldn’t…relate. Now imagine a situation where all movies, shows and books only portrayed LGBTQ+ love stories. I would have to imagine Miss Darcy being a man? Unfathomable. I can’t wrap my head around how bad and unseen I would feel if I couldn’t get straight people love stories in popular media to fixate on when I’m daydreaming. So, the same thing for bodies. I can assume this position of pleasant indifference (saying dumb things like, ‘oh who cares what kind of bodies they show in advertisements, just love yourself’) because I am privileged, in that I can see my body-type (somewhat) in the images I see around me. Many are only starting to, and there are still a lot of people who cannot.

The media recently

I wasn’t going to talk about this topic. I had a host of other topics lined up that I wanted to talk about first. But then, as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed, I was inundated with news about, and the controversy surrounding, Adele’s weight loss. Apparently she went ahead and lost a bunch of weight and got super fit and while some people were happy about it, a lot of what seemed to be members of the body positivity movement were pissed off. They seem to see this weight loss and radical transformation as a betrayal, in that, by losing weight, Adele seems to have conformed to the idea that thinness is good and everything else isn’t. This isn’t the first time I have heard something like this. There was a lot of controversy surrounding Rebel Wilson’s weight loss as well from what I remember. Apart from the fact that I don’t understand (at all) why this should be an issue (most things celebrities do are blown out of proportion and should never be an issue), I also don’t understand the body positive movement is so obsessed with keeping fat people fat. This is actually one of the biggest criticisms of this movement – why people started regarding this movement as being ‘toxic’ in the first place. There seems to be an intolerance for change which sort of reminds of me of the beauty standards the movement is allegedly against. If you were anything other than skinny and blonde, you weren’t pretty. Now, if you’re anything other than fat, you’re not a part of the movement. And a fat person who loses weight? Unimaginable. Most of these celebrities losing weight have spoken about how their intention was not to get thin as much as it was to eat healthy and take care of their bodies. Why should they feel the need to apologise? Even if they did want to become thinner, who cares. Reminds of me of a concept I learnt in law school – the idea of positive liberty and negative liberty. Positive liberty is when you do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t impact anyone else – like eating healthy, losing weight or dying your hair. Negative liberty is the idea that you should be allowed to do whatever you want, even if it harms other people – like driving while drunk. Positive liberty is ok, negative is not. If Adele losing weight doesn’t impact you in any way – why do you even care? Move along.

If you start reading up on the Adele controversy, you will eventually land up on the Tess Holiday posts. She is someone who has publicly admitted she feels scared to lose weight (or anything else that might be regarded as healthy) in case she upsets her millions of fans. Who, it seems, have hinged their entire identity on Tess maintaining her weight and never, ever changing anything about herself. If that isn’t toxic I don’t know what is.

The thing that really gets to me is that that most of the people online, who are visibly a part of this movement or supporters of it, are usually pretty conventionally attractive themselves. I used to find this weird at first. How come all the ladies online telling us to “love ourselves” and to “love all our rolls and scars and stretch marks” are so…fit and thin? Why are thin people occupying spaces they have no business occupying? How is a fitness expert going to tell me to love my fatness if she isn’t fat? Isn’t there something so fake about that? Also, did you know that a lot of the times when these influencers show you their ‘real’ bodies compared to their ‘Instagram bodies’ (you’ve all seen those posts I’m sure), that they edit in the ‘flaws’ they want us to see? So, basically, we as a society are only body positive to the extent that conventionally attractive women edit themselves to present ‘flaws’ they think others will relate to, and they will be applauded for? Nothing wrong with editing yourself, go for it. I do it all the time (because as you know I have become all but incapable of showing my face without filters and editing). But it gets to me that women who are professing to show real bodies would take the time to edit ‘flaws’ into their bodies so that they become more relatable; and how they talk about how editing can make you look good while simultaneously editing their images to whatever version they think will give them the most (controlled) praise online.

Fake it till we make it

From what I can gather, the movement seems to be less and less about truly accepting all kinds of bodies, and more about an overly performative act of self love we take part in through our online avatars. Spend a day in these spaces and you’ll come out feeling like you can never be insecure in peace again. Admit to a single flaw in yourself, and you’re a traitor. Work towards improving yourself, and you’re worse. I think it is all a little excessive, and I honestly don’t think I can subscribe to such extremist thinking. Do I think there needs to be more than one idea of beauty and that we need more representation? Absolutely. But do I think I am perfect the way I am, confident in every aspect of my appearance and will never change anything about myself? Fat chance.

Body hair and such like things

There are people in the world who are naturally hairless. And there is nothing I envy more. Except maybe natural mathematical ability. And a purpose in life. And people who know how to drive manual. Ok, so maybe there is a lot I want but can’t have. But nothing is more jarring to me than the fact that I am not one of those naturally hairless elites. Of course, nothing says I need to stay dissatisfied with my body. There is a lot I can do to change this about my appearance. I can shave, wax, or even permanently laser this off my body. The first two are temporary and the third one is slightly more permanent. I didn’t know laser body hair removal was a thing till I was about 21. I’m generally a pretty spaced-out person, so this isn’t surprising. I was on a trip with my cousin and her friends. At some point on the trip, there was a possibility of extending the trip for a couple of days and I was all for it. But we couldn’t do it, because one of the girls had to (HAD TO) be back home by a certain date. She said it was because she had already undergone laser hair removal on the left side of her body (I think) and needed to get it done on the other side. Now, it is entirely possible that this is scientifically incorrect and/or I misremember the incident. Maybe she had done the lower half of her body and needed to get the upper half done. All I remember though is how the procedure was only half done. Apparently, her mother was making her do it because she comes from a long line of women who are ‘very hairy. Plus, there was a possibility that her long-term boyfriend might propose, so naturally, all the hair had to go (?!). I was amazed. I remember being very excited at the prospect of sharing this newfound knowledge with my mother and getting it done myself. Not to be folks. The idea was, rightfully so, shot down immediately. And I’m glad.

Is that even necessary?

Now, I’ve spoken about plastic surgery and my mild obsession with getting a brow lift (among other things) done before. But it turns out my idea of what ‘plastic surgery’ is, was entirely skewered. There are a lot of things that I never thought of as being plastic / cosmetic surgery which do fall into that category – including laser hair removal. If you have seen the episode on ‘Plastic Surgery’ on Netflix explained, you know that our conception of what it means to look attractive, and what you can do to attain it (both in terms of things that are seen as ‘necessary’ and ‘optional’) is constantly evolving. If you haven’t seen that episode, I highly recommend it. For example, till a few decades ago, having body hair was considered entirely natural. But somewhere along the line, celebrities started showing up to events completely waxed and plucked – and then hairless became the new natural. So, what was an ‘optional’ thing you could do to improve your appearance (i.e., getting hair removed) now became a necessity (it isn’t considered a beautification method anymore, it is considered weird if you don’t do it). I remember watching Titanic as a kid and thinking Rose was pretty unhygienic for stripping down naked when she hadn’t even taken the time out to do the basics like shave her armpit hair. Which is ridiculous because who was going around worrying about their armpit hair in the early twentieth century. No one. And peer pressure, as it turns out, has a lot to do with this.

I’ll do it if you do it

I saw a video on how people feel the need to get this surgery done because everyone around them is getting something done. South Korea is famous for plastic surgery, often even referred to as the plastic surgery capital of the world. In Korea in fact, plastic surgery makes for a very common graduation present for children who have just completed high school. They have the highest per capital plastic surgeries in the world, as it turns out. Coming in at a close second, is Brazil. A woman in Brazil, in the video, talks about how she felt ‘left out’ when she found out everyone else had altered their appearance and she hadn’t had anything done yet. When people talk about getting breast augmentation done because everyone around them is doing it, it seems a little outlandish. There is no way you’d be willing to go under the knife to change something about yourself that you might be ok with just because everyone else around you is doing it. Right? Well, no. It is hard to reconcile just how much we are willing to do under peer pressure when we talk about extremes like surgical procedures. But consider the trend of wearing bright tights under skirts. I never once in my life thought this was a good look. I hated the contrasting colours and the silhouette it gave me. But I know that I, along with most other girls who attended school with me, went along with it. To my mind, that was a terrible year for fashion all round. Having said that, everyone did it because, well, everyone else did it. Ok, maybe this example is too mild. Wearing badly coloured tights is not the same as injecting chemicals into your body or cutting it up to reshape it. But what about something like Keratin treatment then? Almost everyone I know has gotten this done in the last couple of years. It is advertised as something that smoothens and straightens out your hair by injecting keratin into it. It is supposedly less toxic than re-bonding your hair. But it doesn’t just inject keratin (which is a naturally occurring protein). It also uses chemicals like formaldehyde. This is a known carcinogen. Meaning, we all know it causes cancer or can cause cancer to grow. We still went ahead and did it though. I did it too. I hated what it did to my hair. For the first two days I was told not to wash it, and I went around with poker straight hair smelling of animal fat. Disgusting. Anyway, the point I am trying to make, is that even though we think we are impervious to the things around us, there are a lot of chances that we will end up doing things we are uncomfortable with under peer pressure. Including plastic surgery.

Instagram faces

That is one part of it yes. But plastic surgery has been around for a while now. Why this sudden interest in it? Because I see it around me all the time. This used to be something I knew about but never really bothered much with – better left to the reality stars in outlandish TV shows who do it for the camera. Recently though, it has taken over my social media feed. There is a rise in the number of plastic surgeon influencers all over. These people advertise themselves, talk about the procedures you can get done to become an influencer, or just to generally fix things you don’t like about your appearance. And they are all over the place. It is like two sides of the same coin. On the one hand you have a bunch of influencers who all look the same (not surprising since most of them buy their faces – and it is always the same kind of face, the ‘Instagram face’ with the foxy eyes, plump lips and narrow noses), and on the other hand you have professionals who are promising to turn your face into the faces you see online.

I’m addicted to…

And apparently, there is a possibility, that once people get started with cosmetic surgeries it might turn into an addiction. First, you will have to keep repeating procedures (in all probability) to maintain the face / body you’re after. And the more you do it, the more reliant you become on it. Kind of like the filters we use. I simply cannot post a picture without using filters or editing my pictures. To the extent that I hate looking at pictures of myself that other people have clicked. This is a very real thing. Before we had social media, we just had body dysmorphia disorder. Now, we have many, many variations of it. We have filter dysmorphia, snapchat dysmorphia, Instagram dysmorphia – you name it. In an interview I saw online, a plastic surgeon talks about how earlier people would come in with pictures of famous people or celebrities they wanted to look like post plastic surgery. Now, people just come in with edited images of themselves. And why not? Once you get used to looking at unblemished, contoured versions of yourself, it becomes increasingly difficult to like your actual face.

I know I have been going on about cosmetic surgery for a few posts now. But I can’t help it. I’m probably going to do a deep dive into this in a couple of more posts too. It is just so fascinating to me. I can’t stop obsessing over it. On the one hand, we are taught to dislike and attempt to change things about ourselves. On the other hand, we are also taught to promote and hype ourselves up constantly whenever we do make an appearance online. The split is maddening. No wonder I hear and read about so many people practicing the art of ‘shifting their realities’. Which is also something I’m excited to write about, but that is going to be a whole different thing.

The beauty algorithm

Photo by Asad Photo Maldives on Pexels.com

As someone who has grown up with the internet, I feel like I have had the privilege (maybe) of being born in just the right generation. A generation older and I would have been out of date. A generation younger and I would have lost whatever little semblance of sanity I have in this day and age of media consumption.

I’ve experienced this with the use of Instagram. Let me give you an illustration. Before I started being active on Instagram, at a time when I would only log in once in a while to upload pictures of momentous events or congratulate someone on their life events (I’m talking weddings and graduations), I had about 3 skin-care products on my bathroom counter at best. I had a basic face wash, a body wash and shampoo+conditioner. Since I have started using Instagram regularly, I have run out of space on my shelf to store all my different (and unnecessary) skin-care products. It started with looking at pictures of pore-less and perfect skin. Even after I found out about filters (and I’m sure the use of make-up) were involved, it didn’t stop my brain from comparing my skin to what I saw online. Stored between these images of unattainable beauty were advertisements for the many products you can buy to look like your role models on screen. I think the first purchase I made was for a toner. Then came the separate water-based and oil-based cleansers. Then the face packs, not to be confused with the face sheet masks which followed suit. Then the night cream (separate from the day cream even though both of them seem exactly the same). The night cream won’t work alone though, and it certainly won’t work on all parts of your face (?!). You need a night / sleeping mask, eye masks and night eye creams. Oh and also, the day cream has to be used before the applying the sunscreen but after you’ve put on your serum. Did I forget to mention that you also need serum? And don’t forget the many, many essential oils you need (the cold-pressed variety too, and that is separate).

Losing track of everything you have to do? Of all the different, but equally important serums and creams you have to lather on to your face if you want even a shot at looking as nice as the people you see on your screen? I did too. Don’t worry. Once you start making your purchases, the algorithm will start throwing beauty gurus in your face. People who will tell you the exact sequence in which these products have to be used in order to be effective. There are variations too. The 3-step skin care routine, the 6-step skin care routine, the 12-step skin care routine. You name it, they have it. AND YOU CAN NEVER SKIP A DAY. Otherwise, say hello to all your old skin problems again. Mind you, we have only covered the off-the-shelf commercially available products you have to use. You may also, depending on your skin (and if none of these work, it is always the fault of your skin), have to use prescription drugs and ointments.

Now, everything I have spoken about is just one example of the effects of active social media can have on your life. There are definitely others, and far more sinister than an extended skin-care routine. And this is just one app. The worst app, from what I hear, is TikTok. By far. I’ve been watching a lot of videos on how TikTok has an in-built ‘beauty algorithm’ which means that only people who are considered ‘conventionally attractive’ are promoted on the app. Now, since most of such algorithms are protected as intellectual property, this claim can only be conjecture. Conjecture supported by some serious experimentation though. For example, one study claims that under the Instagram algorithm, “photos in which the subject is scantily clad are promoted and viewed more in user’s feeds”. TikTok, however, seems worse. Not only does the app promote a certain idea of beauty, certain leaked internal documents also show that, “TikTok instructed moderators to not promote content from viewers with “ugly facial looks.” The document tells moderators that videos of people with “abnormal body shape,” “too many wrinkles,” “obvious facial scars” and “facial deformities (not limited to: eye disorders, crooked mouth disease and other disabilities” are “less attractive, not worthing to be recommended to new users.”

I don’t know if all of you already knew this, but this genuinely came as a shock to me. Having never considered that the oh-so-perfect faces and aesthetically pleasing content was being pushed out by the apps themselves, I had always taken it on face value. In a video I saw recently, the creator talks about how in our everyday lives we rarely see genuinely ‘beautiful’ people (I use beautiful to mean what we consider to be conventionally attractive, or what we have been taught to consider as attractive). Contrast this with what you see online – image after image after video of beautiful people with perfect skin on your timelines / ‘for you page’. That has got to be a recipe for disaster, and it is.

I’ve seen the internet evolve into the behemoth it is. So, at some point down the line, I can still differentiate between what is real and what isn’t. I can still, though it takes effort, convince myself that it is neither normal, nor necessary to look that perfect or be that well put-together all the time. But, for the younger generation – the generation that has only known one way of living, I can imagine how difficult it must be. There is a lot to be thankful for, but I guess one of the things I am most grateful for is that I didn’t have to attend high-school in the age of TikTok.