So much about living in the modern world involves an element of performativity. Am I using metal straws because I legitimately care about the sea turtles, or because I want to prove to everybody what a good environmentalist I am? Do I watch Sex and the City because it’s hilarious and timeless or just so that I can understand Man Repeller’s articles about Sex and the City? And online, do I write, photograph, caption, post as I do because it feels the most genuine or because I’m performing the idea of The Girl Blogger?
The online performativity is inescapable. If I present a hyper curated self online, I’m performing a “perfect” life. But by the same token, presenting a “quirky”, “interesting”, even super artsy personality online is equally performative. The degree of separation between the real time, me acting in the present, and the me I post online involves an obligatory pause, a question of “do I want to post this online?” And while that pause is important and was drilled into me through middle school computer classes about stranger danger, it also results in inevitable curation. Just as a brand can go through tens, if not hundreds of photos, tossing ones aside driven by the search for on brand content, I go through photos, ideas, throwing away anything off brand for my online self.
The nature of my account does naturally lead to this curation. My business account is my personal account- friends from elementary school as well as people I’ve never met follow me on Instagram. In tying my actual brand, No Longer Grey, to my personal brand, myself, I’ve created a heightened sense of performativity where I must not only question if a post is “me” but also if it’s “No Longer Grey.” At this point the separation is almost hindering, adding another layer to an already complicated puzzle of my online presence, to the point where I’ve considered rebranding to just myself, taking out the verbal, if not actual, separation.
But the issue, of course, exists even for people without brands, or people whose brands aren’t themselves. Apps like VSCO, Planoly, Facetune, apps created to plan and edit content all create the ability to plan, and therefore belief that content should be planned. Gone are the days of un-self conscious blurry sunset photos. And while Instagram looks a lot better, there’s nothing like a painfully self aware selfie to represent the ethos of our era.
In doing “content creation” or “influencing” or whatever kind of vague buzzword, I profit from that planning. But I can also feel myself falling for it. Even though I know how staged even the most candid of instagram posts can be, seeing a beautiful post is still inspiring. Greenwashing, clickbaiting, thirst trapping are all mediums of performance, created to inspire, to influence, and they all work best when the content looks real.
We’ve all read too many stories about bloggers and influencers who appear perfect but are falling apart offscreen to buy into the Insta perfect life. But now the urge to perform imperfection, to, in a way, perform genuineness instead of perfection makes influencing a whole lot harder. As Instagram has become less perfection driven and more interesting (overly curated feeds are so passé), the rise of less perfect content drives this belief even more. Because I’m no longer striving for perfection, but instead that je ne sais quoi imperfection that’s somehow even more difficult to attain. We all know relatability isn’t just liking the Office and being clumsy, but rather having genuine problems, thoughts. It’s just that those ideas are so much harder to share online, both to be vulnerable but to also capture, to portray in a genuine way.
I know who I am, or, at least, I know moments of myself. Even though the entire picture is something only slowly coming into focus, I know what feels like me, feels right. And maybe that’s the genuine, regardless of how planned out it is. I’ve taken enough photos of myself to know the ones where I look like me.