It is hard to conceive of life without social media. Sure it exists, but it seems as though living without social media is almost akin to living without running water. Yes, you can manage it, but why would you want to? To say “we are all connected” is stating the obvious. I use social media like many people do – to stay in touch with friends, look at ridiculously cute animal pictures, and to shop. Of course in between those paths from productivity I use social media to communicate. One of my favorites is Instagram due to the visual nature of the medium. However, I find that whatever the medium, certain cultural concepts (positive or negative) seem to continually pop up like a game of Internet whack-a-mole.
One of those concepts is the idea of humans as objects. Before you consider clicking away to read something else, please know this is not going to be a rant about women being forced to shave their legs. This is merely an account of what I personally have observed with my own eyes. I have noticed a disturbing trend in social media beyond the basic narcissism of the “selfie.” It seems to be based more in women but it is present with men as well. Here is where we go back to the humans as objects thing.
I followed a few alternative clothing merchants on Instagram, and by alternative I mean vendors that sell clothing you won’t find in Target or Talbot’s. The common fare is lots of tight black stuff with lots of straps, t-shirts with potentially risqué slogans, exotic jewelry, and sometimes shoes, lingerie or vintage gear. I love a sale as much as anyone so following on Instagram is a great tool. While I may not care for all the merchandise, I want to save a few bucks on something I may like.
As a marketing tool, Instagram is pretty genius, because anyone donning the merchandise can tag the vendor. The vendor gets noticed, and in turn, the vendor can notice the wearer. Many clothing sites ask for hashtags if you post a photo of yourself wearing their garb, and thus the cycle begins. The individual has incentive to post a photo because the vendor may select it to repost on their own page. Competition is then born and thousands of individuals are then looking to be selected by someone for a “shout-out.” If we do the math, we see that there are as many people posting pictures of themselves as there are vendors, at least.
Let’s feel technical and apply that to alternative clothing vendors that sell pasties and matching thong bikini bottoms. We have a clothing website posting customer selfies on Instagram of willing 18+ girls in pasties and matching thong bikini bottoms, hoping for a “shout-out.” In no way am I promoting censorship, and I believe EVERYONE has a right to his or her body, NO EXCEPTIONS. If young women want to promote themselves in such a fashion, I certainly won’t stand in their way. So what is the big deal, right?
In a nutshell, the big deal is we are all connected. The butterfly effect, the Internet, collective consciousness – whatever you choose to call it – is a connection. When a young woman poses in her parents’ bathroom mirror with bandages covering her breasts and a piece of thick elastic serving as panties, it affects us all. It isn’t just one young girl, it is thousands, perhaps millions, and that “standard” of viewing becomes, well, standard. How does that trickle down to something that affects me? It affects me because if that girl and thousands like her present themselves as objects, it sends a message that it is okay and perhaps expected. When that expectation is turned on me, it causes a big problem. When it is turned on any woman who does not want to be an object, it is a big problem. As far as I know there is no way to determine from appearances who likes to be an object and who does not, so as a race of people we’ve kind of hit a snag.
It is not safe to objectify people for so many reasons, and that is just the practical view. Morally speaking, objectification is not too far from slavery on the spectrum of poor human behavior. That may be a comparison that is shocking, and unfortunately I mean it that way. In reality, being viewed by another human being as an object to be obtained is dangerous thinking. We are all multifaceted, like brilliant gems, and so much more than the sum of our parts. To view another as an object is a disservice to both parties, as it reduces us to “things” and robs us of our necessary and beautiful humanity. It denies the inherent worth each one of us has. I don’t want to do that. I want to recognize that we are all worthy, and that means you, too.