Style Matters




“Outraged, Andrew! I am outraged!” fumes my colleague, Trin.  While it may take presidential candidates who claim that the pyramids were used to store grain or who wish to begin a Muslim database to provoke the oomph of outrage in most of us, Trin has a lower threshold, tending to outrage freely if her soup is served lukewarm (“My ex was hotter than this tepid mess and he had man boobs!”), if someone tries to parallel park in front of her (“If I wanted my journey to be delayed by the great unwashed, I would have taken public transport!”) or, in this instance, if online dating hasn’t gone her way.

Trin is outraged, she tells me, because the man she met for a first date stormed out of the bar as soon as she settled down in front of him. Given this kind of reaction is usually inspired by Trin’s personality, rather than her looks, I voice surprise: what could possibly have triggered such behaviour? Trin fleetingly mentions her profile pictures before reverting back to outrage.

“Wait, sorry Trin…did you just say none of the pictures on your online dating profile were of you?” 

“Of course they weren’t. They were of some actress from Grey’s Anatomy who my friends told me I looked like one night after we’d had a few drinks and I asked them who my celebrity doppelganger was. Anyway, the spine of this man to just get up and…”

“Woah Trin, hold up. Show me these pictures.”

Trin rolls her eyes and emits an exasperated ‘humph’. I am shown a set of photos of an enchanting woman at least 30 years Trin’s junior who looks entirely dissimilar to her in almost every possible way. Scrolling through, I realise that while this date was not quite anticipating sharing dirty martinis with pre-restoration Ecce Homo Jesus only to have post-Gimenez-treatment monkey man show up, we are almost in that territory.

“Trin, there might have been nicer ways of handling the situation, but is it possible your date left because he was expecting this woman to arrive and you are not her?”

“Ridiculous, Andrew. This is online dating. You would be stupid to expect anyone to look anything like they do in their profile pictures!”

While Trin’s sense of entitlement stirs up the outrage in me, I see the logic in her argument. When teen Instagram sen-selfie-sation Essena O’Neill ‘quit’ social media a few weeks ago, revealing the not-so-glamorous ‘secrets’ behind most of her previous oh-so-glamorous posts, she became the newly-authentic face that launched thousands of warts-and-all ‘reality’ ships. Following O’Neill’s lead, myriad ‘grammers, bloggers and ‘tubers ‘came out’ of their online closets, racing to showcase how different their everyday lives were to those they had constructed on social media in an attempt to demonstrate solidarity with O’Neill’s new manifesto that “Social media is NOT real life”.

Reading through online commentary about O’Neill and the ‘revolution’ she has sparked, I couldn’t shake the feeling that none of this was very radical. “Social media is NOT real life”? To quote another ‘revolutionary’: ‘Duh’. While our social media accounts may vary in the thoroughness of their curation and sophistication of their styling, is there anyone who isn’t guilty of having an online presence that goes through some type of press-release process

Commuting during peak hour, our face pressed into someone else’s armpit, holed up for hours under fluorescent lighting in a windowless office, struggling through boring paperwork, we don’t want to open our phones and see photos of people trapped in the same mundane reality. Instead, we want an escape: space, time, freedom from the daily grind, exotic locales, toned bodies and endless good times with endless friends. With the exception of the very privileged, very few, no one really looks like that (except, perhaps, those captured ‘in the wild’ by street-style photographers – hi Giuseppe!), lives that life, indulges in that luxury or experiences uniformly positive emotion on the reg. No way. If we did, the accounts of people who peddle that fantasy, people like O’Neill, wouldn’t have amassed over 750 000 followers and there wouldn’t be such intrigue generated when that fantasy is exposed for what it is.

We may not be aware of it, but part of us knows that social media is not real life and that is why it can exert such a strong influence over us. Our demand for fantasy fuels its supply. More radical than asserting that social media is not real life would be using social media to document all the elements of our lives that make us uneasy and that we try to keep hidden, both from ourselves and from others. But to do so, to remove the ‘virtual’ from the elements of reality displayed by our online selves, would be, in a word, outrageous.

Based in Sydney, with a background in psychology, Andrew has written and interviewed people about music, theatre, film, art and fashion for a variety of popular publications and academic journals.