I follow a lot of cute girls on Instagram. Not intentionally, but what else is on Instagram aside from cute cats and cute girls? While following too many fashion bloggers and amateur models can give me a sense of ‘fomo’ (especially a weekend after a festival that EVERYONE and their dogs went to), in general I try to keep the perspective that what’s in a photo is what someone wants to show of themselves, not how they actually are.
On ‘almost friends’.
It’s easier for me to be rational about strangers on the internet (oh she probably has a professional photographer follow her around), but I find myself stumbling when it comes to people I know. These women are the ones I went to university with, or a friend of a friend, or the girlfriend of someone I know. When I look at their travel photos or their selfies, I find myself feeling envious of their lives.
Maybe it’s because the degree of separation is smaller with us, so somehow they’re more ‘real’ to me even though I know very little about them.
There seems to be no end to slim & beautiful acquaintances who jet-set across the world. London, Paris, Dubai, Tokyo, the list goes on. These girls never seem to wear the same outfit twice, and are always wearing the latest Zara clothing which are so ‘on trend’ with their chokers, off-the shoulder tops, impossibly perky derrieres and slim waists.
The other day, I scrolled through a really pretty selfie of one of these girls on Instagram showing off her new haircut. Perfect porcelain skin, huge Bambi eyes, and of course, flawless shiny locks. I must’ve stared at that photo for a good 30 seconds, how can someone be that perfect?? I screenshotted the photo and sent it via a groupchat to some of my girlfriends who also know the girl peripherally. “Why is Becky so pretty? Ugh I’m jealous.”
Then my best friend responded, “Is she pretty on the inside?“
While she probably meant it light-heartedly, that sentence really struck me.
The thing is, I know enough about this girl to guess that she’s probably not all that pretty on the inside. In conversation, she tends to only talk about herself. Who she talks to seems to depend on who is the most useful to her at that moment. I’ve always known this, and yet I still find myself fooled by her shiny, perfect exterior. I even reward her narcissism with occasional praise. “Gorgeous!” “So pretty!”
Why am I enabling vanity?
I don’t do it for people I genuinely care about, because I know vanity is not a trait that will help them. I actively stop myself from praising my friends’ physical attributes because I want to focus on their intrinsic value – qualities like conscientiousness, determination, kindness, wit, wisdom. In short, the qualities I wish the world valued more in women rather than their Kylie Jenner-esque lips or ass.
Anyone can look at a person and tell them, “You’re so pretty/hot/sexy/cute.” But not everyone gets the opportunity to look past that.
And yet why do I do it to ‘almost strangers’?
Probably because it’s the easiest way to connect with people. Give them a shallow compliment that strokes their ego. They feel good because they’ve received a compliment. I feel good because I made a connection.
It’s a lot harder to say, “Wow you’re really conscientious!” to an almost-stranger. If I couldn’t praise them on their looks, I probably wouldn’t be able to say anything.
But maybe that’s the point. I see so often in the comment section of photos women calling each other pretty over and over again. The shallow stream of ‘You’re so pretty/no you’re so pretty” on Instagram is damaging to young women because it trains their minds to seek out such praise. You are pretty. You are goals af. You are ugh perfection.
Ok, but what else are you?
“Is she pretty on the inside?”
Is now a question I ask myself daily when I find myself admiring someone for their looks. When I scroll past an almost friend’s post, if I can’t find something other than ‘pretty’ to comment, I just don’t comment. It’s a small change in my life and probably imperceptible to others, but to me, it’s a daily remainder that there is so much more to people than their exterior.