Can You Ever BeReal on Social Media?

Hello, dear internet friends,

This week, I wrapped up edits on my book’s next chapter about the intersection of celebrities, social media, and identity. (A topic worthy of its own full book, but I hope I did it justice!) I had a lot of fun working on this one. I find pop culture to be an endlessly rich subject matter for all it has to say about us. It’s our shared dialogue. An overarching narrative full of rich themes and fascinating characters that we all take part in shaping through what we buy, watch, listen to, and talk about—and who we make a star.

It was so interesting to walk through the iterations of young female celebrities in my lifetime, from the glossy, well-choreographed pop stars of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, to the bedazzled-pink paparazzi craze of Paris Hilton, to the flashy, fame-focused Kardashians, to now. The era of the internet creator, where suburban Connecticut high schooler Charli D’Amelio—playing the role of our modern Cinderella—went from filming TikTok videos that embarrassed her older sister to promoting her custom Dunkin’ Donuts drink to millions of followers.

What surprised me during my research—though it really shouldn’t have—was how many articles placed Charli in a frame of authenticity or relatability. Certainly, in contrast to the Kardashians before them, the D’Amelio family as a whole comes across as humbler, politer, and more grounded. Charli is likable, but I wouldn’t say she’s relatable; she’s aspirational. Just as Paris Hilton represented an ideal of excess in the reality-TV-saturated early 2000s, Charli exemplifies celebrity in the 2020s: optimally suited to go viral on the internet and make it look natural.

“Authenticity” is the guiding undercurrent of the most popular social media platforms today. The heavily filtered selfies of early Instagram have given way to blurry “candid” shots. TikTok feels like the Internet finally turning in on itself, trying to Do All The Things, All At Once. What if you meme-ified your closest relationship to the current trending song? Perhaps due to the virality that keeps it running—and constantly raises the stakes—it’s the platform where the boundaries for what’s appropriate to share have most dissolved. Many times I’ve used it, I’ve scrolled into a shockingly intimate piece of a stranger’s life and been left with the unresolvable unease of knowing what someone is going through but not them. I don’t “like” it.

Then there’s BeReal. The buzzy new app that may not last but has caused enough of a stir that Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are copying it. The stated purpose—for those who haven’t been exposed yet—is “to discover who your friends really are in their daily life.” Users are given a different two-minute window each day to post photos taken simultaneously from their front and back cameras. If you don’t post, you can’t see your friends’ posts. If you post late, your friends will be notified. The number of times you retook your photos is also visible to your friends.

Being “real” is enforced.

I haven’t used the app myself because I don’t want to post, so I don’t know what it’s like experientially. I understand that the norms of a given platform sometimes morph it away from what the designers intended. Still, the concept reads like a parody of our attempts to create—or perform—authenticity online.

You can’t make people be real. Online or off. Maybe we should stop trying.

All of this has finally broken the spell of social media for me. I’ve long been aware of its problems, of course, but I wanted to believe that not altering or filtering your photos was enough. That as long as you didn’t lie or manipulate the truth in what you posted about your life, it was okay. No room for harm.

I’m not holding onto those hopes anymore.

I don’t know how you step on the stage of social media and not perform a little. No matter what app you use—BeReal included—you get metrics on how well you do. How “likable” you are. (You can hide like counts on your posts or those in your feed on Facebook and Instagram, but you still get the likes.) The more I’ve thought about it, it disturbs me that I intuitively know what “content” of my life is most appealing to the algorithm or audience. It has little to do with what’s meaningful for me to share.

Maybe you can’t envision someone envying your life, because you’re not a social media celebrity living in the same white-walled California home they all seem to have. I think of another me in an alternate universe whose life unfolded a little differently. Maybe she’s a couple steps behind or had one less stroke of good luck. What would she make of me, or rather, my posts? And I already struggle sometimes with comparing myself to some imaginary me who had the foresight to do everything just right.

Why make it harder on myself? Why add more ghosts to the room?

I think many of us feel exasperated with at least some aspects of social media, and yet we keep going. It’s hard to log off completely and not feel like you’re missing out, socially or otherwise. I know I wouldn’t have as many blog readers if I didn’t use social media, and I’m grateful for the connections and conversations that sharing my work has inspired.

All this to say, I can’t see the full path ahead, but I’m walking anyway. Taking the apps off my phone to remove the temptation to check them every quiet moment. Deciding to continue sharing my writing but leave my life where it belongs from now own.

Stepping off the stage. For me. For you. For us.

xoxo

Marie

“Every Version of You is on Your Side”: Words of Wisdom from Ashley C. Ford

Happy Sunday, my sweet summer sparklers,

Instagram is my social media platform of choice. Of course it has its flaws, but I love seeing snapshots of the lives of people I know (or would like to know, or once knew). And maybe this is strange for a photo-heavy app, but I love the words I come across. Every once in a while I’ll scroll onto a colorful background with a few lines of text, read them, and think, Whew, I needed to hear that. So on this cloudy July day (perfect for cozy reflection), I wanted to share one of my recent finds with you:

Ashley C. Ford is a writer who recently published her first book, Somebody’s Daughter, to rave reviews. The memoir is “A story of reckoning with your past to take hold of your future—of finding love for those you have yet to forgive.” Specifically, it delves into Ashley’s experience growing up in Indiana while her father was incarcerated. This quote is from an episode of the podcast Hear to Slay, hosted by Roxane Gay and Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom, in which Ashley discussed the challenges involved with writing about (and making peace with) her past.

No matter what kind or size of challenges you have faced, I think the idea of letting your past selves exist as who they were, without trying to change them or hide them, is so powerful. One thing I’ve been working on in the past year or so has been learning to not be so hard on myself. I know beating myself up doesn’t make me a better person; if anything, it makes it harder to stay in the present where I’m needed. Sometimes I get stuck in a loop of reevaluating past choices. Or, not reevaluating, but just looking back with a deep groan like, Ugh, why did I do that? Reflecting on Ashley’s words, I thought, what if I let every younger version of me just exist, as is? Not only as a character in a different chapter, but one in a whole different story. Someone who was wholly imperfect, but perfectly suited for the journey she was on at the time. I don’t need to go back and stretch 13-year-old me, or 18-year-old me, or 23-year-old me into my 30-year-old frame of how things should be. It’s unfair to all of us.

If you ever get stuck in the past, I hope this quote gives you a little lift out like it did for me. Links to the podcast episode and Ashley’s work will be listed below. I highly encourage you to check out her writing; her spirit shines a light of grace that I think we could all use more of.

xoxo

Marie

“Let’s Just Be Honest” – Hear to Slay

Ashley C. Ford’s website

Ashley C. Ford on Twitter

Ashley C. Ford on Instagram

Somebody’s Daughter on Amazon

Somebody’s Daughter on IndieBound

Soft Bellies & Hashtags: The Good Side of Social Media

Hello, Internet darlings!

Social media can sometimes be a dark, negative place. Obvious, stated. As easy as it is to scroll down into an Instagram or Twitter hole and not come up for hours, I think we all know that may not always be the best thing for ourselves or our time. Research on the impact of social media on our mental well-being is a growing field, but there’s still so much to be explored as the digital landscape grows and morphs.

But as you can very well tell from the title, I’m not here to get into the negatives. One of the most exciting things about social media, from my perspective, is that creators and activists can share their work without having to depend entirely upon traditional media sources. In particular, I’ve been interested in and excited by the images you can find on social media, which help fill in the diversity gap that still exists in more traditional outlets. Don’t get me wrong—traditional media sources, from advertisements to magazines to television shows, are making improvements. Fenty Beauty made headlines at its launch last year not only because of its celebrity creator, but because it celebrated diversity at every step, from its product range to the accompanying campaign images. But for every big step forward, we still have a loooong way to go. Thankfully, activists and creators are stepping up to the plate via social media. Let me introduce you to a couple of them.

Browsing Megan Jayne Crabbe’s Instagram account, @bodyposipanda, was my first foray into body positivity on social media. Growing up, Megan struggled with an eating disorder. Discovering the body positive community transformed her life, and she started her account to share what she’d learned. She uses her account to not only share quotes, illustrations, and reflections, but to make space for beautiful, loving photos of herself and other women. They are photos that may not find a place (yet!) in traditional media, but that deserve to be seen. (P.S. If after browsing Megan’s account you haven’t got enough, consider reading her fantastic book. I recommend it times one million.)

Another wonderful woman you should know is writer Keah Brown. Just over a year ago, Keah shared a few photos of herself on Twitter (see below!) with the tag #disabledandcute. As she told Teen Vogue, “I started it as a way to say I was proud of the growth that I made in learning to like myself and my body.” The hashtag took off, and other individuals with disabilities shared their own selfies and photos. People with disabilities are given hardly any space in entertainment and other media, and as Keah further explained, when they are, they are often turned into caricatures. With every selfie, #disabledandcute challenges those portrayals. (P.P.S. Keah has an upcoming book entitled The Pretty One, and I can’t wait for it to hit shelves).

At the end of the digital day, social media is what we make of it. If something makes you feel bad about yourself, unfollow! But if you, like me, crave images that display diversity in beauty, they are out there. And they deserve a place in your feed.

xoxo

Marie

Celebrities Who Use Their Fame-Power for Good

Caitlyn Jenner Vanity FairToday is a very big day in Pop Culture Land: the Vanity Fair issue with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover hit newsstands.  The cover made the internet rounds last week, so I’m sure by now you’ve seen it, as well as commentary on it from many a source.  Admittedly, I’m pretty selective as far as what comes up in my various feeds (the internet can bring you down, man!), but the vast majority of what I’ve read regarding Caitlyn’s cover story has been supportive.  Many have been cheering her on for not only making the change she felt she needed, but also for being open about her story in the hopes of helping others.  Watching all this unfold sparked me to reflect on some of my other favorite celebrities who attempt to use their fame-power for good.  Today seemed like a great day to acknowledge them.

Instagram: @ddlovato
Instagram: @ddlovato

One of my absolute favorites is Demi Lovato.  Over the past few years she has become an outspoken advocate for mental health.  In a number of interviews – including this beautiful recent on HuffPost Live – she has opened up about her own struggles with bipolar disorder, addiction, and eating disorders.  She often uses her well-followed social media accounts to speak out on relevant cultural issues.  Above and beyond all that, though, she’s teamed up with a few organizations that support mental health:  she created the Lovato Scholarship with CAST to help those who need mental health treatment access it, and she has also partnered with Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health to educate individuals on how to access mental health care for themselves and advance it within the community.  I admire Demi because she goes all out for what she believes in.

Instagram: @taylorswift
Instagram: @taylorswift

Taylor Swift, my favorite musician of all time, has taken the top spot of DoSomething.org’s “Celebs Gone Good” list for the past three years.  Part of what makers her so “good” is her commitment to donating to charity.  She’s even donated her music, so to speak; all the proceeds of “Welcome to New York” go to the NY public school system, and all the proceeds from “Ronan” are donated to cancer charities.  One of the things I enjoy about Taylor most, however, is how far she goes to connect with her fans.  There were the 1989 secret sessions.  Then there was Swiftmas.  Best of all, though, are the times she reaches out to fans on social media that are going through something, be it a bad breakup or even the death of a parent.  Taylor certainly has a knack for returning the adoration to her most devoted fans.

Instagram: @zendaya [Yes, that is her senior portrait, and I love it.]
Instagram: @zendaya [Yes, that is her senior portrait, and I love it.]
Last, but not at all least, one celebrity who has been on my radar lately is Zendaya.  That girl is so smart, and she’s not afraid (or doesn’t appear to be!) to speak her mind.  Most recently, she took to social media to say a few words about makeup (and the right we each have to wear it or not).  But what really struck me was her eloquent and intelligent response to an offensive joke made by the “Fashion Police.”  She could’ve just snapped back, but instead she used the opportunity to educate – and ultimately, forgive.  She seems to be the type of person who turns “bad” things into opportunities, and I admire that.

Here’s the thing:  it’s entirely reasonable to be skeptical of celebrities, even when they’re doing good.  The celebrity world is a very fun one to observe, but it’s also meticulously crafted, and at times, fake.  So it’s healthy to take it in with a proverbial grain of salt.

But beyond that initial side-glance, I have a few thoughts on the matter.  My first is, I get it.  No, I’m not a celebrity by any stretch of the imagination.  But when I first started writing, I had two driving impulses.  The first one, the initial spark, was that I wanted to write things that would help people the way things I’d read helped me.  The second was, Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if my stuff reached lots and lots of people?  If in the process of helping others, I made a name for myself as well?  And that’s the reality.  I don’t think impulse #2 takes away from the good of what I’m trying to do.  If anything, it’s become a good checkpoint:  am I writing this because it’s a message I believe in, or primarily because I think it’s very social-media-sharable?  And I think, or would like to believe, that for celebrities like the ones I’ve mentioned, the sentiment is fundamentally similar.  In fact, Caitlyn Jenner has already addressed potential skeptics head-on:

“I’m not doing it for the money.  I’m doing it to help my soul and help other people.  If I can make a dollar, I certainly am not stupid.  [I have] house payments and all that kind of stuff.  I will never make an excuse for something like that.  Yeah, this is a business.  You don’t go out and change your gender for a television show.  O.K., it ain’t happening.  I don’t care who you are.”

Perhaps I am overly optimistic.  Even if that’s the case, my next thought is this:  doing good is doing good is doing good.  If someone reads Caitlyn’s story, or watches one of Demi’s interview, and feels more educated or prepared to fight their own battles, great!  If a Disney Channel fan follows Zendaya on Instagram, and feels inspired to speak up for themselves the way she does, awesome!  And I have no doubt that tears and happy dances have been the direct result of Taylor reaching out to her fans.  If celebrities get a publicity boost from their do-good endeavors, that’s fine.  We can always use more good in the world, so whatever motivates someone – celebrity or not – to go out there and provide it, well, I’m all for it.

xoxo

Marie