In 2012, I stepped foot into the dark, uncharted underworld of Tumblr.com — or what I like to call the black market of social media.
Fresh-faced, 13-year-old me had effortlessly bypassed Tumblr’s Terms & Conditions webpage, and (unbeknownst to me at the time) plunged head-first into content that A) a 13-year-old should be barred from seeing, and B) should probably be tipped off to authorities.
I hadn’t yet received the euphemistic “the-stork-delivers-the-baby” analogy from my parents at the time, but after only a few months on Tumblr, I had become knowledgeable on the consensual agreements required prior to establishing an ethically sound Dominant and Submissive BDSM relationship — talk about kids growing up too fast, eh? (Don’t worry I will, that’s what this essay is about.)
Now, don’t get it twisted HATERS, this is not me kink-shaming. This is me considering the possibility that maybe, just maybe there are some things that a prepubescent child should not be subjected to. Especially given that our teens are formative years, where we’re at the peak of our naiveté. This period of time in our lives is supposed to set the foundation for the way we perceive the world around us, so it’s safe to say that I got a very… questionable head start.
What ensued after Tumblr’s unwarranted sexual awakening was a spark of curiosity that quickly tumbled over into extensive research on the different paraphilias and “means” of reproduction. I dipped my toes into the quicksand of adulthood and ended up getting my leg swallowed whole.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have immersed myself in the theoretical aspects of looooove makin’ that soon, but there was no way I was going to be able to suppress that curiosity when everything I wanted to know was a few keyboard taps (and “Yes, I am 18” buttons) away. No one could’ve anticipated I would be onto such things so prematurely, and they were never going to find out either — incognito mode is a hell of a drug.
After the realization that I inadvertently stole my own childhood, I went fishing for some more repressed coming-of-age memories exclusively for this blog post.
(Ugh, my bravery. Unparalleled.)
An instance that has reluctantly come to mind is how drastically (and inappropriately) my priorities on Facebook changed. I started off very innocently; my sole reason for signing up being to access their selection of games. A few years later, I — still a 13-year-old — was aboard the insidious (mega)trend of using social media as and for self-promotion and validation.
Naturally, sexually charged portraits yielded the most engagement. Women whose photos flaunted sex appeal were showered with compliments, while those who preferred to share pictures of them sniffing petunias in botanical gardens were in a slight attention drought.
Noticing this pattern as a teen, under no friggin’ circumstance was I willing to be part of the losing team — I had standards for myself, you see. I wanted to bathe in corrosive levels of superficial confidence. I longed to surf waves of abundant digital admiration; buoyed by a king carrier of likes and comments. This need of mine, however, meant I’d have to stop photographing myself vacuuming petals with my nostrils, and instead try emulating grown women’s alluring photographic presence.
All I needed was a confidence boost to propel me to internet success.
That boost came when I did a complete 180 and switched up my unibrow for two distinguishable entities. I felt unstoppable after uncovering the sheer force of tweezers, and was ready to conquer the interwebs. So I marched straight to my mother’s vanity drawer.
Digging through stacks of make-up and piles of face creams, I cherry-picked a concealer that was precisely what I was looking for: thick, pore-suffocating, and the wrong shade. I put that to the side, and continued digging for some more goodies that would age me beyond my years, namely a black eyeliner and red lipstick — which I did not have the skills to apply.
After slapping on my concealer, dragging the eyeliner across my lash line (creating sparks of friction), and carefully tracing my fun-sized lips with my (mom’s) red weapon of seduction, I glanced over at the mirror for the final reveal. The chorus to Sean Kingston’s “Beautiful Girl” began echoing in my mind. That’s when I knew I was ready to show PhotoBooth what I was made of.
The outcome? See for yourself.
I loved this picture — I was in absolute awe at the beauty bestowed upon me. I thought I exuded an air of sensuality and sophistication that not many my age were able to muster and imitate.
My dry puckered lips? Sexy.
The vixen-like squint into my Macbook’s camera? Irresistible.
The close-up, in-your-face shot of my tender facial features? Unprece-fucking-dented.
This was it. This was my peak. And I posted it online for all my Facebook friends to see, admire, and aspire to. All that arduous manual labour for what, you may ask? Fourteen hard-earned likes. Just enough to trigger a dopamine high, but not enough to have me feeling secure for longer than two days.
The next image I was going to reveal online had to top the previous post –how was I going to do it? How was I going to leech admiration from more than fourteen people? This was in no way shape or form a one-person mission. So I dragged my older sister into it. She ought to have been my stylist, creative director, and photographer.
To take things yet another step further (in order to achieve that fifteen-like hallmark), I was to switch it up and give the public something they hadn’t seen before: a full body picture of me reclining against my balcony wall, romantically eyeing my backdrop’s granulated texture (see third photo).
I even captioned it with a mysterious, femme-fatale quote which read, “I’m only responsible for what I say, not for what you understand.” Truth be told, my vocabulary was too limited to allow for misinterpretations or double entendres. I figured such a quote would give this otherwise bland picture an edge.
The overwhelming positive feedback received on this picture (42 likes and THREE comments!) kick-started my obsession with maintaining an enticing online presence. From then onwards, I had to continuously outdo myself. Whether it was feeling the need to prove myself to others or wanting a little ego boost, posting online became a hobby that I am still trying to shake off today.
But it’s quite difficult.
The thing with social media is that it traps you when you’re young and susceptible. It grooms you, making itself an integral part of your daily life. Because well, you need it. All of your friends are on there! That one ex you’d occasionally lurk on — yet wouldn’t be caught dead messaging — is conveniently there at your viewing disposition. Acquaintances and temporary holiday friends you’d only passively check-in on are right there, too! The larger your online social circle, the more added value these platforms have to you; hence, the gradual establishment of long-term loyalty to said platform(s).
The collateral damages of social media consumption aren’t necessarily caused by a platform’s owners (although their ravenous money-hungry demeanor does not sit well with me!), but rather by how people make use of the platform, and for what reasons. Capitalism’s gruesome wrath has not only taken ahold of social media creators, but it’s extended its grip onto users as well. Now that this godawful era of “influencers” (and companies who are willing to entertain their supposed importance) has emerged, it’s even harder to discern a genuine portrayal of identity from a paid, inauthentic one.
Over the last few years, the cost of using social media has doubled, escalating from the initial issue of users being force-fed unrealistic beauty standards at a young age (as per my situation) to perpetuating that these beauty standards can only be reached through the purchase of products endorsed by (uninspiring, poisonous, often-times problematic) influencers.
Although there’s speculation on the the future of social media (e.g. having to pay for a premium social media experience, regulation, chatbots, VR integration), the long term effects of social media consumption are still unknown.
Will advertisers begin to groom even younger, more impressionable tweens into buying their products? Will we have to pay for privacy? Will platforms’ algorithms change to further promote business exposure rather than interpersonal relationships? Will social media usage eventually dwindle once newer research cements its detrimental psychological impact… or will it require government intervention once it hits unethical extremes?
What do you think? Post about it on Instagram and tag me!
All photos provided by Derya Yildirim.