On Hipstamatic, Myspace angles and feeling goddamn fucking awful all the time

All right, I’m saying this not because anybody said anything, not that anyone even cares, even, but because I’m almost ashamed of myself.

I uploaded a new profile photo of myself yesterday to Facebook and Twitter.

I’m not sure if it’s myself or my Anxiety Cat counterpart speaking when, upon receiving some sort of comment on or acknowledgement of this new photo, I instantly think, “Fuck. They see me for the self-absorbed attention-seeker I really am.”

I mean, stepping back for a moment, trying to dissociate myself from what I know of the photograph’s subject (that’d be me, yo), I don’t think it’s a terrible photograph. I like the frilly, tissue-papery pink thing in my hair. Hey, I totally didn’t botch my eyeshadow the morning it was taken. I’m assured that wearing my hair in a bun doesn’t have to be matronly. I look like a wistful, babyfaced version of myself, like a manifestation of all the Lana Del Rey I’ve been listening to lately.

But I wonder if the self-posturing for the photograph shows. The thirty-plus shots I took in pursuit of the perfect angle. Do people look at it and wonder if I would really wear that headband in public? I never wear my hair like that. Instagram filters are so overused now. And hey, isn’t this the third hundredth photograph of myself that I’ve uploaded recently? Why are there ten times as many photographs of me on my Facebook page than there are of anything else? How can I possibly live with myself, being a wannabe hipster using self-taken Myspace portraits on the internet?

I don’t know if anyone ever thinks that, looking at my photographs, but I wonder.

I remember the glee with which hipster-haters retweeted this article on Twitter. “Nostalgia for the present,” says its author, is actually a “viewing of the present as increasingly a potentially documented past.” So Hipstamatic users are pretentious, then. Desperately living up to fantasies of having lives as coloured as their hippy parents’, and emulating with their photographs the love and sweat put into developing a documented memory of yesteryear, never mind that each carefully orchestrated photograph was merely a two-second snap on a smartphone.

Well, let me tell you that I’ve no such delusions. I take the photographs because I know that I am insignificant, and have no expectations of my life meaning something to anybody.

I immortalise myself as something pretty because I spend the rest of my time feeling goddamn fucking awful about myself.

I was not the pretty girl at high school. Friends would tell me that maybe I’d actually be pretty if I straightened my hair, or grew taller. A modelling agency called me fat. My mother asks me all the time if I actually like having freckles (“shouldn’t you cover them up?”), and still each time I see her, without fail, she will comment on my weight. I can be big one week and anorexic the next. Point is, I’m never perfect, and I’m never even okay just the way I am.

iPhone photography cushions me. In bed at night, before I fall asleep, I put the photographs through the filters. I watch my life take on different hues.

The Myspace angle conveniently diminishes or hides all but my face, which is usually sufficiently touched up with mascara or lip gloss. Instagram’s Valencia filter bleaches the flaws out of my skin, making all those dermatologist appointments I’ve endured worth the money I’ve spent. I used Infinicam to exotify, romanticise a photograph of palm trees by my father’s pool, taken last time (and probably the last time, ever) I was in Kuala Lumpur. Something about the green sky and the dying sun’s rays makes me forget, momentarily, how his new wife had turned on me, told him that she never wanted to see my face again, convinced him that their home wasn’t open to me should I ever return to Malaysia. I look at the photograph and see KL frozen, epitomising the place that was my home for so many years. I don’t have to think about the fact that it is a home to me no more.

I have a lot worth celebrating, I know. But as the days shift towards the end of my arts degree, I become more and more aware of the years I spent doing nothing but being depressed. I feel old and constantly exhausted. I can’t help feeling that there’s so much more I should have achieved by now, but I’ve learned that even if I fail, looks should be enough to get a girl by. Right?

So I upload these ridiculous self-centred photos, and will continue to do so. I don’t hope that my present will one day become a glamorous past that others will look back fondly on. I just want to feel okay. If I can document the few seconds in which I don’t look as miserable as I feel, maybe I can convince others that I’m okay, too. Maybe I’ll eventually even convince myself.

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15 thoughts on “On Hipstamatic, Myspace angles and feeling goddamn fucking awful all the time

  1. I realise you’re talking about a much larger problem than simply how you look but if I can offer anything to help, it’s this:

    You’re gorgeous and write really, really well.

  2. Jesus fuck Katie.

    This was brutal to read. Brutal because it’s never been anything like obvious to me (and daresay anyone else) just what you’ve been feeling, thinking, experiencing.

    I have no pithy words of wisdom. No pleasant aphorism to clear the skies and open the heavens to rain down pleasant thoughts and happy days.

    But I’m here, I guess, and for what it’s worth, i’m listening too.

  3. The fact of the matter is that the hipster critique is just a ham-fisted way for people to show how aware of current trends they are, and thus establish their own self-reflexive hipness.

    At the same time, the symbol of the hipster is the negative which obliquely suggests (by indicating that some people are inauthentic bandwagon jumpers) that the normal state of affairs is for people to adopt trends because they’re somehow deeply authentic.

    These are both, in a sense, lies to cover up the fact that all the disparagements people apply to hipsters (whatever group they perceive that to be, really) tend to just apply generally to society at large—people wear clothes they think make them look good, they tend to like music and movies their friends and social group also like, they’re heavily influenced by marketing and they don’t simply invent every aspect of themselves from a font of deep, personal identity.

    So people will try to shoot you down over these things often simply as a form of self-validation. Women in particular make for great targets because one can apply all sorts of ready-made, bigoted stereotypes about shallowness, concern for appearances, etc.

    Try not to let people drag you down into their personal complexes. Wanting to look OK even when you feel kind of like shit? Pretty normal for everyone. Putting a vintage filter on a picture? Actually also pretty standard nowadays. Filters are fun. If someone finds a photo filter personally offensive, it’s because they’re similarly terrified of ‘being found out’ regarding, well… basically the same things—the normal shit that everyone does.

  4. I can relate to being self-conscious of photos about myself. I just don’t find it interesting. I know myself, I know what I look like. Everyone else is more fascinating. It’s hard to imagine that others would find interest in my image, because I don’t.

    So, back onto the topic of your self-photography. From this outsiders perspective, I think your photos are fascinating. You’ve convinced me that you’re OK, and you know what, you may come to realise it’s probably true.

  5. It’s said that the people who know the most are the ones least confident in their knowledge, perhaps because they are more aware of how much there is that they don’t yet know. Reading some of your entries makes me wonder if that kind of blindness carries over to other areas- for instance, does your obvious thoughtfulness and ability to convey depth in writing mean you are less confident of your skills than you would otherwise be? Does being Quirky-pretty make you more insecure about your appearance than would otherwise be the case? I’m not sure, but I’ll leave you with these thoughts:

    This is the first website I check every day, ever since I followed a link to your entry about Boone in Fallout, New Vegas. I remember having in my head the ongoing argument Roger Ebert had put forth that video games were not art, and thinking to myself “This is a far more eloquent rebuttal than anyone else has come up with by far”. So I started coming back- tentative at first, but as time went by and entries would sporadically appear, each time amusing, or insightful, or challenging (or all that and other things as well). Now I am acutely aware of how little time I have to devote to reading about video games, and because I am very busy, I guard my time zealously. But every day I come to see if there is a new entry, and every time there is, I read it right then- and every time I feel like it’s worth it. So when you begin to doubt your ability or insight, think to yourself: How many people just like me come here every day, silent because we don’t have the time to give thoughtful input or perhaps just because you’ve already said what needs to be said but here nonetheless.And then maybe give yourself a break.

    Oh, and before you get to thinking I’m all intellect and nothing else, I’ll spill a particularly shallow secret: The day I found the link to this was a slow day, so I was bored and had plenty of time to browse idly, and I had recently been playing Fallout: New Vegas, so my interest was somewhat roused, but not enough to make me click. You know what sold me? I wondered what the pretty girl in the thumbnail had to do with anything. Shallow, yes , but it turned out to be a good choice to follow that picture of you to this blog.

    Anyway, go easy on yourself, and whatever you do, keep writing about it.

    • As to the confidence/knowledge part, I definitely believe that’s how it usually works. After some 27 years of programming, a black belt and a home built race car, I’ve realized that the more you learn, the more aware you become of the fact that you’re really just scratching the surface. Also, if that’s not the general attitude you have, that’s pretty much the end of your development right there: Why keep going if you believe you’ve reached perfection?

      Anyway, Katie, I’ll basically have to go “me too” here, as my story is virtually identical. I have to admit that it was one of those pictures that caught my attention – and well, honestly, that sort of thing nearly always ends with me concluding that I’ve once again been betrayed by my instincts, hopelessly romantic ideas or whatever it is, and essentially just wasted valuable time.

      However, in your case, I’m so glad I “fell” for it, as in a matter of one or two paragraphs, it was clear to me that this was one of the rare cases where what glitters actually IS gold. Not being a native English speaker, there are probably fine nuances that are lost on me occasionally, but even so, I cannot fail to notice that your writing is in a different league than most of what I see around the net – and this from a true gamer and all! Oh, and cats – always a good sign. ;-)

      So, I really don’t see a problem with those pictures. There’s no false advertising going on here, at least – which is, to be blunt, pretty much what it is most of the time.

      • Just wanted to point out that there was something seriously weird going on with my Gravatar there… Fixed now, but the blog is obviously not updating that live.

        Either way, I’m still totally convinced that you’re absolutely beautiful and irresistibly pretty. Pictures may be pictures, but each one still holds a few pieces of the puzzle that is the actual real life impression.

  6. Things that are overrated:
    – Height.
    – Straightened hair.

    Things that are underrated:
    – Freckles. They’re cute. Promise.

    Opinions that are never right:
    – Modelling agencies.

    Here’s the thing: you’re genuinely cute. I don’t know how frequently you take pictures of yourself, but I for one don’t see a problem with people who look good in pictures posting pictures of themselves every week or so. (More than *that* and you do start to look vain.)

    And if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right; there’s nothing wrong with taking thirty shots to find the one perfect one.

    We’re all self-absorbed attention seekers. Most of us just can’t bring ourselves to go through the motions.

    Time spent being depressed is time spent learning how to overcome it. That is NOT time wasted, especially if you trucked through it enough for graduation to be on the horizon.

    As for your father: Some people aren’t worth the pain, even if by rights they should be.

  7. I feel almost guilty for reading this entry, but it’s good writing.

    FWIW, as a 30something, it does get better, trust me. The thoughts persist, but it becoms easier to turn down the volume to a manageable level.

    In closing, the mighty Zep:

  8. Fat? With all due respect, from the pictures I’ve seen, that’s simply crazy.

    I’ve been ugly in my life, and I’ve been handsome. I remember, as a teenage, a random girl screaming “ugly!” at me in the street. Lucky for her she was moving fast on a bike, and lucky for me, too, I guess.

    What you don’t have, you might as well hate, so I disdained looks. Then, later, I became “handsome” and people treated me well, and I had such contempt for them. Since then, my looks have varied, but I’ve come to (mostly) peace with it. There’s nothing wrong with looking good, and nothing wrong with wanting to look good. There’s nothing wrong with beauty. There’s nothing wrong with putting one’s best face forward, as you’ve tried to do.

    What I will say is wrong is judging people on their looks. What is wrong is being cruel to someone because of their looks.

    Judging yourself on your looks, being cruel to yourself based on your looks, is something I would discourage. I won’t say it doesn’t matter, looks clearly matter, because people treat you differently based on how you look. But you are far more than your looks, which is good, because even the most beautiful people eventually lose their beauty. People are often shallow, and so it is.

    I will suggest that what you have to offer the world is your eye, and your writing. You have a way of seeing the world which is quite rare, and more than that, you are able to show other people what you see through your writing, which is extraordinarily rare. Believe in that talent, and write, write, write.

    That writing will touch others, will show them worlds they wouldn’t have known without it, without you. That writing gives meaning, paints the world in your colours. “Look”, you say, pointing, and heads turn, and something is seen which wouldn’t have been if you hadn’t shown it to people. And as they see it, they are changed, and your passing leaves traces on other people. They come to see the world, just a little, as you do—whether in beauty, or terror, or sadness, or joy; whether in shades of gray or stark white against black, or a glittering rainbow. They see, maybe, possibilities they wouldn’t have seen without you.

    Write, and write upon people’s minds and souls.

    You have the talent, the gift. It is given to few.

  9. Wow! That was really candid and refreshing. Thank you for daring to be real. It can be extremely difficult not to worry about what others might think. I mean, not everyone is that way, but I know I can relate. Sometimes I even worry about what the cashier at the grocery store will think about me based on the food I’m buying.

    It’s horrible that your mom criticizes you the way she does. I wonder if she has any idea about how it makes you feel. My dad criticized me throughout my childhood for anything from the way I was sitting to the music I was listening to. That kind of thing is haunting for me sometimes, in the way that it makes it feel like the whole world is watching me. I hope you don’t feel that way.

    I wouldn’t take that article you referenced about faux-vintage photos seriously. Why do people eat bananas? Because every banana eaten forces us to view ourselves as potential stereotypical monkeys. See? I can do it too.

    The thing about the author’s argument is that it can be applied to so many other things (in a more serious way.) For example, on the widespread use of desktop backgrounds, we could say that desktop backgrounds force us to view our desktop as always a potential gateway into another world. And then I could go on about escapism and write a bunch of fancy sounding, useless paragraphs, when all that really can be said is that people have custom desktop backgrounds because they like the way it looks. Faux-vintage photos? Visually appealing. That’s it. If I was living my present as a potentially documented past, I would be doing entirely different things (like actually being productive.)

    About you: I have to sincerely echo the kind and entirely truthful sentiments of the previous commenters. The insane amount of junk information that swarms through the internet kind of frightens me, and I’m careful to protect my brain when I’m online. Your blog, however, is one of my only favorites that I visit frequently. Despite your sentiment about feeling old, your writing exudes a very youthful sense of wonder and appreciation for the world around you. And as far as I’m qualified to say, you are a great writer. Your way with words make them seem as if they are just for me, like you’re alive on the page. Of course, I know they’re not just for me, but I love when a writer can create that illusion.

    And yes, you are super cute. Maybe your mom is jealous. Maybe your friends were too. i know that your appearance isn’t the real root of your awful feelings (it’s probably more the way people have treated you) but I think it should be noted that you are fundamentally beautiful. That means that even in some crazy parallel universe where there might be a chance of you actually being anything other than slender, you would still be pretty. You always will be.

    • Well, thank you, Michael. It does mean a lot to me.

      Oh, and cashiers do judge ;) I worked briefly in a supermarket, years ago, where the cashiers would bitch about customers. “Fatty” and “cheapskate” were words often used in relation to people’s food choices. I get a little bit Anxiety Cat about buying food myself, now.

      People are awesome :/

  10. Hi Katie,

    I enjoy reading your blog, because I also love playing games (these days on PS3) but also because you write very well! Anyway it came as a surprise to read that you lived for many years in KL. I’m just wondering what are your thoughts and memories of my home city :)

    • I had to grow to love the city, but I’m now incredibly grateful that KL is where I grew up. It’s a lot kinder than Melbourne is (in terms of living costs) and sometimes still wonder if it’d be feasible to move back. It has its downs, of course – corruption, terrible drivers, the smell of durian – but I still actually find all of them fascinating.

      Worst thing about having lived there so long is that now I’m back in Australia, nobody understands why I find food here so bland, or why I freeze in temperatures less than 25 Celsius. :)

  11. I just wanted to say that there is something powerful in documentation. Whether you take a picture of yourself, or write some list of what you had for lunch for a week, or any number of things. Keep documenting. No one else, sadly, is going to do it for you. Whether or not there is a significant other in someone’s life, or family, or friends, none of them can quite hang onto exactly what is important for YOU to keep track of. I used to wait for those people to come around, to be the ones who found value and caught it and organized it, who wanted to take my picture or remember all the things I love. I have good people around me, who care about me, but nothing else is so empowering as documenting these things yourself. Hang onto all those pictures in facebook, in your phone, in your digital camera. It doesn’t matter whether they are “good” or what others see or even you see. What matters is the act of having done it.

    Final thought: An awful feeling is still a feeling no matter how difficult it is to even admit to having one, or many. Document it. Gain understanding. Take pictures of it, write about it, lock it in, get it down. Awful feelings are awful. We avoid them, we are embarrassed of them, by nature they make us uncomfortable, and awful. They have power. Why? They are our monsters in the dark, and if we can catch them, maybe they won’t be so monstrous. Or maybe they will. But at least you’ll have nailed it to the wall.

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