When They Go Low, We Go Thigh-High: A Challenge for 2019
Michelle Obama has been an inspiring role model for years, but she outdid herself recently by appearing on her book tour wearing a pair of glittery $4,000 thigh-high boots. It was the most off-brand fashion choice she could make, given her association with chic, ladylike, affordable style.
The Balenciaga boots were an announcement of her freedom from considerations of what is appropriate and non-controversial. But they also signaled her confidence as a multi-faceted person with no fear of moving outside her "brand." While the boots proved to be divisive, most of us applauded her carefree boldness. Personally, I find them trashy, but on Michelle, they were regal. She owned her look by explaining, “They were just really cute. I was like, ‘Those some nice boots!’”
What if you could forget about your own brand? Because if you're on social media, particularly Instagram, you are a product, branded and curated by your aspirations. Your identity is no longer about your inner qualities. It's the aggregate of your photos and comments and hashtags. It's a version of you that's designed to attract followers. Why we want followers is a whole other story, too long to go into here. But refining away aspects of your personality for public consumption is kind of alarming. And it's a practice worth challenging.
The more you've honed your brand, the more limits you've placed on self-expression. The more defined your brand, the more your perceptions of your self are likely to get distorted. Let's take me, for example. As a blogger, I became known for being angry and opinionated. Which I certainly am! But I am other things, too. Years passed and I wrote about my personal life, about everything under the sun. If I'd been pursuing a specific audience, or cared about stats, I'd have pigeonholed myself to my detriment, emotionally. I'm angry but I'm vulnerable! Contradictory qualities are anathema to branding. But they are the essence of being human.
Lately, I've noticed that Instagram's would-be influencers are employing color schemes and Lightroom presets to unify their feeds (or whatever it's called.) You can give all your images the same look, from hazy and vintage to saturated neon. You can filter your already filtered self with a literal filter to provide consistency. This explains why the Instagram of an acquaintance has suddenly gone purple. They didn't suddenly discover Prince; they are aiming to strengthen their brand.
If you argue that Instagram isn't real life, you're preaching to the choir. But it's fatuous to insist that we aren't being affected and molded by social media. In time, nothing will matter if it can't be documented on Instagram. Insta-worthy is now an adjective that's hard to escape. Those billions of new primers and highlighters at Sephora aren't there for nothing. There is pressure to eat Insta-worthy meals and take Insta-worthy vacations. Sitting around reading is not Insta-worthy, unless you're cuddling a cute dog, (and you'll only do that if it's part of your brand.)How soon will the advice to "Just be yourself!" become meaningless? How soon before your mediated self is a soulless construct? Maybe this worries me so much because I'm not a millennial. Before social media, one's identity had to be worked out through relationships to others, and identities were messy, evolving and complicated. You had to create a sense of self-worth without followers to legitimize it.
Back to Michelle Obama, and those holographic boots. It's easy to overthink her statement, and many have done so. Whether or not it was a cry of liberation or just Michelle being true to herself, it's a great reminder of how boxed in we can get by worrying about public perceptions. Allowing yourself to be multidimensional is true freedom. Core values are what give you integrity, but artificial boundaries should be seen for what they are. Be yourself, whoever that is on any given day! There's no such thing as a fashion mistake; there are only haters, too closed-minded to appreciate your glittery boots.