Having kept a relatively private social media profile so far, I recently set out to develop a more public online identity. So, I went looking for pictures and came to a startling realisation. I have very few recent pictures of me.
Where did I go? It seems I disappeared sometime around my thirties. I could file a missing persons report, but I don’t have a recent photo to give them.
After googling myself I realised it’s the same online, there is only one image of me. An old profile picture I created specifically for a LinkedIn account.
I’m not really comfortable in front of a camera. In one of my first twitter posts, I joked about being a camera evading ninja. I was curious to see if anyone else felt the same.
When I came across a picture from 1925 of ‘Dago Frank’ dodging a camera, I realised it’s not just me.
Can I develop a social media presence without pictures of myself though?
Are flaws ok?
Looking at my friends on social media, I noticed some only have flattering images, while others put themselves out there flaws and all. Curiously, the posts I respond to the most tend to put everything out there.
I love following irreverent people like Shannon Kelly White, her blog posts on recipes and life are hilarious yet completely inappropriate (language warning). She reveals some very personal details about her family life and isn’t afraid to look messy.
I find posting pictures of myself challenging though, what am I saying about myself? I’m comfortable with words. Words are powerful, images are even more so but are open to a lot more interpretation and judgement.
Especially considering it’s not just my friends looking for me online, but also potential employers. I need to consider what posted images will say about me professionally as well as personally.
I was recently asked to take a quick selfie during a university Zoom session and tweet it. I was uncomfortable but I did it quickly before the ninja appeared and thought too much about the fact I was make-up free and lit by harsh computer lighting. The selfie is now out there for all to see. No takebacks.
Am I too old for this?
Looking at other recent posts, I realised I’m happy to post younger pictures of myself, it seems I’m only uncomfortable posting recent ones. And I don’t recall being a ninja as a kid.
Is my hesitation related to self-confidence and ageing? Is it only the older me I’m uncomfortable with? My husband suggested a rare photo taken by my son as a profile picture, one that I think is unflattering. While I was horrified, he told me that it just looked like me and he thought it was beautiful. So, is this hesitation all me, or is it an external influence?
I recently read an analysis of women’s images shown in advertisements in two prominent Australian magazines from 1960 to 2010 (Brown & Knight 2015, p.74), the analysis showed there was a ‘narrow range of images representing women’s physical appearance’ and that ‘underlying messages were that ageing is problematic and that it has become unforgiveable to show signs of ageing’.
So maybe not just me. Yet, one of my favourite photos of my grandmother was when she was in her 90’s, wrinkly face and all, and I think she looks incredibly beautiful.
Branding and authenticity
So, I did some more research. While reading a toolbox about online self-presentation (Smith & Watson 2013, p.75) I was drawn to the concepts of audience, authenticity, branding and identity online. In particular, the idea that ‘Users find online environments potent sites for constructing and trying out versions of self’, and that ‘all self-presentation is performative, that authenticity is an effect, not an essence’.
Is the solution a simple matter of revealing different aspects of myself through different channels with different audiences? After all, I’ve always done this in real life. The way I present myself around my parents or workmates is not the same as when I’m around my best friends.
Looking at Shannon Kelly White’s Facebook page, I can see as her social media presence has grown, her images have become much more staged and curated. Yet it still retains a feeling of authenticity.
It turns out curated content and images don’t have to be inauthentic; you can choose what to reveal and where in an honest way, while keeping some things private. It’s about considering and deciding what adds value to your audience when developing and managing your online identity. This concept is reinforced in Adam Brown’s, Digital Zones, blog post On Privacy….
So it’s time to let go of the ninja. Interestingly, my most liked twitter post to-date is the make-up free selfie.
Brown, A and Knight, T 2015, ‘Shifts in media images of women appearance and social status from 1960 to 2010: a content analysis of beauty advertisements in two Australian magazines’, Journal of Aging Studies, Elsevier, Burwood, Volume 35, pp.74-83. doi.org/10.1016/j.jaging.2015.08.003
Smith, S and Watson, J 2014, ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J (eds.), Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 70-95. 3 April 2020 EBSCO eBook Academic Collection
Image: Dani Vazquez – ninja (CC BY-SA 2.0)