Likes, Swipes, and Fast Food

Our generation is addicted to instant gratification. 

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Fast food companies have a finger on the pulse of culture like no one else.

It’s their job to know what we want to eat, what we should be feeling, and what we’ll want to eat next. In a very real way, porn, fast food, and Instagram are practically the same thing.

… Let’s rewind a bit.

My generation grew up experiencing and learning about sex in completely new ways than generations before. We were the first to have unfettered and free access to porn on a global scale, aptly earning us the accolade, the Porn Generation.”

Beyond erotic porn, Gen Z and millennials grew up in a world where, with (almost) everything we wanted, we could have it now.

At its core, porn takes the most arousing parts of a given interaction, namely sex, and puts those parts front and center. In that sense, McDonald’s is quite literally food porn — just the good stuff: greasy, salty, and sugary all on one tray, served piping hot and fast. Once you’ve gotten your fix, you move on with your day, though perhaps feeling slightly guilty about what you’ve just consumed, until you crave it again in a few hours.

This craving is your brain literally being rewired by the ingredients of your meal, and begging you for one more hit.My generation’s expectation for instant gratification in potentially unhealthy ways does not end there.

Think about how many young people perceive their lives nowadays as framed through social media. We spend hours curating ourselves around an artificial sense of perfection, and in turn, get rewarded with short-term signals: hearts, likes, comments. Then, we conflate these signals with real value and love.

Feeling down? Post that picture you took last week.

Is it cloudy today? A #TBT to last summer is sure to brighten your mood.

We seem to be stuck in a world of instant gratification from the moment we wake up: a constant hum of push notifications and low-level stress. We might think that we are multi-tasking, but in reality, it’s harder than ever to singularly focus. What this really is, in the words of Chamath Palihapitiya, is fake and brittle popularity. It’s short term, and like a drug, leaving you vacant as you conflate its side effects with #realfeelings. Our ways of seeing have been permanently altered by how we send and receive “love.”

Ask any modern couple that’s been in a long-term relationship, and they will tell you that part of the secret lies in a myriad of little, non-grandiose, unsexy actions. It involves frequent attention and awareness, discipline, effort, and being able truly to care for someone — the ability to sacrifice for them, over and over. Living in a bubble of instant gratification, we have convinced ourselves that hard things are easy.

We now find ourselves in an alternate universe, governed entirely by the quick hit: Tinder on the subway, Instagram in the elevator, a burger for lunch. Whatever we want, good or bad, is just one click away.

Whether we like it or not, we are the Porn Generation. So what is that doing to our ability to appreciate the mundane, day-in-day-out, facets of our lives? If we are constantly thinking of optimizing our primal needs for pleasure, we are more likely to act selfishly and think of ourselves first. How can we reconcile this, knowing that behaving in such ways can hurt us on a regular basis?

I honestly don’t know… I am just as guilty as anyone of falling into all of these traps. Although, they say the first step to fixing a problem is knowing there is one.

We are being robbed, rewired, and permanently changed by technology — are we cool with that?

 

Generation Of Validation

Numbers are taught in early years of elementary school to be the most accurate, objective measurement of essentially anything. Rulers measure length, graduated cylinders test volume, scales calculate weight. Numbers are concrete facts. It is easy to believe numbers are the purest way to measure anything– even human beings.

Every community has a set of standards and expectations for people, typically defined by identity. Social norms and cues can regulate these standards. People who follow expectations are often praised and accepted, while people who do not fulfill social standards can be instilled with shame. I have always felt social pressures to change who I am throughout my life, but never saw the benefit of conforming to other people’s expectations. But when I went away to college, I witnessed immediate gratification.

College culture gives easy access to external validation. Class appraises through grades. Organizations, especially Greek life, create exclusivity and therefore the feeling of privilege once accepted. Clubs boost up resumes along with leadership titles. On a non-academic level, having plans to go out at night meant popularity; which everyone would be aware of through social media. Binge drinking, especially on a school night, signified having it all together. How could one have the time to blackout if they were not getting by in school? Participating in hook-up culture meant one was attractive enough to participate in the realm of casual sex. Attendance at the gym exemplified caring about health (even if one took 7 shots of $10 vodka the night prior).

I quickly craved doing it all, not because I wanted to, but because of the reward, I would receive by doing those things. I was always taught that doing well in school, participating in extracurricular activities, being accepted by peers, and being physically fit would make me a well-rounded person. Now, I had an explicit method to prove to everyone, and myself, that I was the genuine, hard-working, dedicated person I always believed I was. The grades I got in class, the number of activities I was involved with, my social life, the number of guys I slept with, my weight— they all became measurements of my worth and happiness.

I was able to hold it all together at first. I made the dean’s list. I joined a sorority. I took part in clubs and organizations where I held titles and positions. I would drink 3-5 times a week while averaging about 150 likes per Instagram post when I would go out. I was single but seeing multiple guys, while playing the persona as the detached cool girl. I trained and ran a half marathon.I did everything I believed would make me a well-rounded, successful, happy person.

It felt fulfilling in the moment. I was proud of everything: my work, my involvement, my social life. But in the dead of sober nights, I felt my accomplishments stripped from me. Nothingness started to culture inside of me. Who was I? What was I worth if I wasn’t being measured by external things? At first, I thought this meant I wasn’t trying hard enough, so I pushed myself to escape the emptiness. Pressuring myself then developed into unhealthy habits: staying in the library until the 2am closing, volunteering to do more than I had time for, running the extra mile even when my body was aching, taking the extra shot, sleeping with guys I was disinterested in, calculating calories so I could maintain a deficit of 1,200 per day (including alcoholic calories). It all caught up to me in waves of anxiety and depression.

We wonder why mental health is an epidemic on college campuses, but don’t see the toxic culture that is in place. College culture teaches students to be exceptional humans through external validation. Classes are about getting good grades, not learning. Greek life is focused on reputation. Binge drinking and fitness are an ongoing conflicting battle. Social media allows for 24/7 validation and is used to portray acceptance and happiness. Party culture and hooking up becomes a numbers game.

An involved college community can be positive and powerful. But somewhere along the way, It starts to become personal. We are taught that our successes on campus make us better people, thus more happy and worthy people. We start evaluating people based on the surface. We start to believe that people are only as good as the recognition they receive.

The problem with external validation is that it never adds up. It is passing. It is never enough. The desire to be validated becomes stronger and stronger until we start to do things because of the immediate gratification we receive in return instead of doing them because we want to. It becomes mindless and robotic.

I don’t think the need for validation is exclusive in college culture. I think it is only a taste of reality; a preview of how the rest of society is structured. Numbers accurately measure concepts and objects. The one thing numbers cannot precisely measure are human beings. The complexity of humans cannot be compared and contrasted. Lived experiences cannot be calculated. Humans grow and evolve in too many ways to be classified in a single, linear path. Why do we insist that the things outside of ourselves make us better people?
External validation convinced me that my most vulnerable self-was dark and ugly. That I was nothing without everything around me. For a while, I feared the person I was when I was stripped of my achievements. But now, in the middle of the night, when there is no one around or nothing is going on, I reflect on the person I am. Seeing myself with nothing- as nothing- has made me realize there is so much more to me than what is sitting on the surface.

Filtered Reality

Someone said something to me the other day that gave me serious pause.

“I really wish I could be you!”

I know it was meant to be a compliment of sorts – that for whatever reason this girl thinks my life is so glamorous and easy that she wants it as her own. Instead it left me with a furrowed brow and sense of uneasiness.

This comment boggled my mind because I have spent the past few months wishing I could be anyone but myself. Despite trying to put my best foot forward when in public, I often trip and fall on my face when in private. The vision of confidence and happiness that I want others to see is not always what my insides are lined with and a lot of the time my exterior is in complete contrast with my interior. We live in a world where image and competition are being forced to the forefront of our priorities. This desire to appear “picture perfect” becomes an all-consuming necessity. However, sometimes if you look more closely at this picture, you will see that the lines are blurred and that the ink is faded to the point of colorless.We can’t believe everything that we see.

“You walk around like a snob.”

My mother said this to me one day as we exited Chipotle and I stared at her wide-eyed in disbelief. I have always taken pride in my appearance (sometimes to the point of vanity) and try to walk around with a sense of confidence, but according to my mother, I was coming across like an egomaniac. I am often reserved and will usually keep to myself, but this stems from a place of uncertainty rather than one of superiority. I’ll never start a conversation but rather will wait for others to approach me, not because I think I’m above making the first move, but because I’m too afraid to do so. I’ve posted a stream of bathroom selfies showcasing crop tops and long red nails, but this is the same bathroom where I have spent countless hours scrutinizing every inch of my appearance. Guys I have dated have mentioned how much they love my confidence but they don’t know that I spent the majority of these relationships feeling like I needed to look and act perfect in order to maintain their interest. I will “#tbt” to an old modeling picture, but won’t post how little I ate that same day because I thought I was fat. The fabric of my life wouldn’t be so beautiful if it was turned inside-out.

“You get asked out more than anyone I know!”

I’ve heard this from at least half of my friends. Yes, I have the tendency to attract very forward, confident and sometimes arrogant (this is not a good thing) men, however none of this has equated to the “happily ever after” so many of us seek. I have often tried to explain to the friends who envy my dating life that I would trade all of it in to avoid some of the experiences I have had, but for the most part this falls upon deaf ears. Attention doesn’t make someone immune to heartbreak and while I’ve had my fair share of compliments I have had my fair share of hurt too. A few years ago I went to a warehouse party in Brooklyn with a guy I was dating – our relationship was on its way out but we were foolishly attempting to resuscitate it. That night, as the boy I loved became a stranger, guys lined up to try to buy me a drink to the point where another girl took notice and remarked to her friend “she thinks she’s so great, doesn’t she?” To this random girl it appeared like I was having a great time and why wouldn’t it? I spent the night forcing laughter and dancing in a pink spandex American Apparel dress, surrounded by endless company – I was a vision of happiness. However, inside I knew that my relationship was ending and so I felt more lonely and insecure than ever. While it appeared that I would be going to go to bed that night wrapped up in my own ego, the reality of it is that I cried myself to sleep.

We no longer apply filters only to our photos, but to our entire lives – painting our friendships, relationships and even our self-image as something impossibly perfect without flaws or mishaps. We highlight the positive and cast shadows on the negative so that all that is left is what we want others to see. Yet sometimes it is still difficult to sleep at night because while we have mastered the exterior, the interior is falling apart at the seams. We can’t cast the Valencia filter on our minds and hearts, on our thoughts and feelings, and at the end of the day this is really what we are left with.

I have friends get into fights with boyfriends only to post a couple selfie ten minutes later with #love and #myoneandonly in the captions. I know guys who post endless photos of themselves with their girlfriends – meeting the parents, kissing on vacation, going out to dinner on Valentine’s day – only to check my phone and see that these same guys have texted me asking if I want to meet up. The only life whose truth we know is our own, and that is the life we should be focusing on.

On the reverse side, rather than tailoring our own lives to be the envy of everyone’s conversations and social media streams, we need to focus on what we see in ourselves and how it makes us feel. Who cares if a selfie gets 100 likes if the person who took it looks in the mirror and criticizes what they see? Who cares if a relationship gets deemed #couplegoals if one half of that couple is cheating and hurting the other half? We should seek to be authentic in our feelings and experiences – to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.

Taking Control

Save an Uber, Ride a Cowboy is a column exploring queer millennial sex culture. The stories presented here are based on true events. Identities have been changed to protect the privacy and reputation of those involved. 

 

Travis was a 17-year-old person living in Towson, Maryland doing what 17-year-old people in Maryland do best (well, at least the gay ones): scrolling through Grindr.

Of course, Travis had completely fell into the stigma of signing up for the app prematurely, but in a small town, all you really want to do is see who else around you is like you. That’s how it started, anyway, but then it spiraled into them feeling wanted by older men in the way people their age wouldn’t and seemingly couldn’t reciprocate.  

Soon Travis realized they were being fetishized and shamed for almost everything. Being the younger one in the relationships, it made their partners feel as though they could say whatever they wanted. Treating Travis like a child, these men would tell them how to live their life, wanting them to change for their dick or ass. Adorning them with nicknames such as “tigger” because of their stretch marks, “overgrown twink” because of their weight, and even “my Darkie” as if it wasn’t downright racist because they used it as a term of endearment. Travis hated these men; although, they didn’t know it at the time. They would laugh at their bigoted jokes and took their degrading comments without objection.

There were men like Tom, the smug type. Tom was 32 when Travis met him, but that only made him all the more enticing. He’s not that much older than me, Travis thought, maybe it won’t just be sex, maybe he can be my forever. No matter how MTV circa 2003 that sounded, that’s was what Travis truly wanted.

Tom had an athletic build that excited Travis, with biceps that bulged as thick as his head, but it was still obvious he enjoyed a few beers a day.

He’d pick Travis up in his truck, and the pair would drive with the windows down on summer nights, often past midnight (the only time Tom was willing to see them). The sex was average, to say the least. An average guy with an average dick and an average personality — only abnormal thing was the size of Tom’s ego. However, Travis put Tom on a pedestal and worshipped him because they didn’t want this average man, his car rides, and mediocre love to vanish with the night’s warm breeze.

Travis had been through the ringer with men like this before, both older and younger. However, Tom was the cherry on top of all the vain and inconsiderate cunts.

Everything Travis would do was questioned, their insecurities always on the table, and their skin pigment always a kink. “Oh, fuck yeah, you like my big white cock in your chocolate ass baby?” Tom would say. “I love seeing my red throbbing cock disappear into your black darkness,” or the reoccurring, “Do I have the biggest dick of any white guy you’ve been with?” Constantly telling Travis they were too fat, how their folds belonged to him, that nobody else would ever want them. So of course Travis stayed… because at least Tom wanted them, right?

That was before Jo came along. Jo was a beautiful, confident, intelligent, sexy person. Jo was the first person Travis had ever met that used they/them pronouns, and they just blew everything they thought they knew away.

It started off as just another hookup, however it was imminent how different this was going to be despite the age gap of only three years. After their first time being with each other, Travis just laid there looking at them with all the admiration in world: their rich toffee skin tone, the makeup they donned on their eyes, the slight stubble at their chin. Jo was beautiful and so sure of themselves. Jo introduced Travis to new things like their sense of style. Travis had always worn clothes that didn’t conform to gender roles, but now they wore them with pride. Jo was an unapologetic colored person, and they helped Travis feel beautiful about their own dark complexion, reaffirming who they were to not only to themselves, but the people around them. 


Something that Travis never forgot was the sex. Jo opened their mind to a world of sexuality that they had never experienced before. 

“Ever fucked someone?” Jo asked.

“No, I’m a total bottom.”

Jo looked at them with a screwed brow and softly chuckled, “You know, your dick is important too, beautiful.” That was the first time Travis topped and when they realized they deserved to feel liberated in the bedroom just as much as anywhere else.


With the discovery of all these new found traits in themself, Travis cut off all ties with the toxic men they were seeing. Travis would never let anyone make them feel wrong, impure, or like a stranger in their body as long as they lived. It gave them the confidence to move to New York and be the person they always wanted to be. It inspired them to advocate for anyone who is oppressed within the tight chains of society.

Along this journey, Travis realized the LGBTQIA+ community had a million problems. Cisgender white men still rule and still step on any and everybody else. Other than their gayness, these individuals benefit from all the societal standards and systematic privileges given to cisgender white men everywhere. That shit didn’t fly with Travis, because the queer community is so much more than a bunch of white cisgender twinks (who seem to be the spokesman for queers in every form of media). It’s trans people, bisexual people, people of color, trans people of color; it’s the colors of a rainbow for a reason. 

Just because gays have been granted the right to marry, people believe that everything is fine within the queer community — it’s not. As a community that claims to accept people for who they are, they need to start actually doing that. Travis has come to terms that queer people can be whatever they want, but until they start taking control of their community, the community isn’t going to start advocating for all its members’ rights.

And as for Jo, Travis could never thank them enough for what they did for them, their body, their mind, their spirit. They have learned that they can be a voice and force to be reckoned with in a world of unjust principles — now that Travis has gained control of their own body.

Chronicles Of Receiving An Unsolicited Nude

8:42pm : I sink into my usual seat in the library. For some reason the idea of forcing myself to work tonight is especially exhausting.

8:50pm :  M playfully kicks my chair and reminds me to focus. When she turns around I visit my ex’s Instagram instead.

8:55pm : I finally crack open my Chinese book.

9:15pm : Some girls enter the room gossiping about the weekend’s events. Apparently everyone knows something that I don’t.

9:17pm : I see my phone light up. C sent me a Snapchat.

9:28pm : My unwillingness to translate modern Chinese prose provokes an unnecessary study break.

9:28:30pm : My left thumb instinctively unlocks my phone.

9:29pm : Remembering how aggressively C texted me two years ago when was packing at the end of the year makes me roll my eyes. I must have said no at least 5 times.

9:30pm : Fuck it. I open the Snapchat. Believing that this will be innocent feels like community service.

9:30:30pm : It’s a dick pic. No caption. No warning. No respect.

9:33pm : I’m immobile. I’m in shock. Consumed by anger I shake my head and think “You should have expected less from him”.

9:35pm : “Should I really have expected less from him? Shouldn’t I hold all people to a basic level of respect, consideration, and awareness?”

9:36pm :  M emphasizes how important it is to finish my Chinese homework. The girls nearby sound like ducks arguing over stale bread.

9:38pm : “There’s nothing sexy or attractive about this at all; C is trying to exert power over me”.

9:40pm : “The worst part about this is that there was no consent involved. The second worst part is how uncomfortable I feel”.

9:42pm : I know if I told him all of this he’d respond: “So if I can’t ask for them and I can’t send them when I want, what the fuck am I supposed to do?”

9:44pm : C sends another Snapchat. I delete the conversation and try to forget about it.

9:46pm : M tells me that I should have screenshotted them but I disagree. It’s not about revenge or putting someone else in a compromising position. I should not disrespect someone else as a request for my own respect.

9:50pm : I plan to demand an apology from him the next time I see him. This will not happen again. I did not ask for this.

9:51pm : Chinese homework clearly isn’t getting done tonight.

9:53pm : I continue to reflect on the situation. Sending explicit photos of oneself feels empowering because one is permitting themselves to be viewed in a vulnerable way. But if it’s not consensual then the act is a digital form of sexual violence.

9:54pm : “There is a reason that flashing people in public is a crime. Just because C’s acts are electronic does not make them any less serious, offensive, or dangerous.”

9:57pm : I take a snack break. A bottle of water and a funfetti cupcake costs $4 in the library café.

10:00pm : “Experiencing constant unwarranted, vulgar sexual advances from men in my vicinity and the media is exhausting. Especially as a black woman.”

10:04pm : Third attempt at finishing my Chinese homework.

10:23pm : “Where did he get the idea that this was okay? Porn? My body is not estranged from my character.”

10:25pm : The girls leave. The dramatic decrease in noise still does not ease my anxiety.

10:26pm : “My support for people’s exception of their bodies is strong, but this is sexual violence. I am not validating C’s behavior”.

10:28pm : I resolve to finish my Chinese homework by the end of the night. I will not let him affect my academic experience or mental health.

11:13pm : Chinese homework is done.

A Letter To Our Readers

Dear Readers,

We are so excited to be back up and live. Our lack of updating might be confusing, seeing as we had been down for months only to recently return. We would like to make it known that the majority of our small team at Killerandasweetthang, will be marching with the thousands of women in Washington DC tomorrow.

Due to this, our week of posting has been slow but we will be right back where we left off early next week. We encourage everyone who reads this site to have some part of activism in tomorrow as it is a monumental moment for not only this country, but everyone all over the world. It is an expression of democracy and protecting human rights. We are marching for EQUALITY: social, economic, and political. We march because we can and we will.

Even if you cannot be present in DC tomorrow, we hope you will follow it across media platforms, share it, march in your cities or towns. This is a much larger issue than you or me, it is for life and the future. So with much love, we will see you soon with reports from the front lines.

Love,

Killerandasweetthang Team

*Illustration by Louisa Cannell for Refinery29 and the Women’s March