When I’m folding laundry or packing suitcases, I like to flip on TED talks in the background. I recently watched/listened to one given by 22-year-old Catherine Pawley, who captured her audience’s attention with her story of a lengthy battle with anorexia nervosa.
Whenever I flip them on, some talks I hear bits & pieces of, others draw me in so much that I drop the task at hand (usually, sorting socks) to watch. This TED talk was the latter. Partway through, the cameras cut away to show a captivated audience, and I felt just like they did.
Catherine spoke about how, as a matter of fact, most anorexics love food. But what do they love more than that? Being in control.
When every other aspect of her life overwhelmed her, she turned to the one thing she knew that she and she alone could have a handle on: food intake. She spoke of layers and layers of self-imposed rules. Abide by them and the desired effect, in her case, was achieved: weight loss. She knew she was slowly killing her body, she knew her illness was tearing her family apart, but the desire for controlled outcomes overrode all other emotions and impulses, and she kept on in a downward spiral.
In Catherine’s mind, recovery was risky, not her illness.
Why? It would cause her to have to break all of her rules and commit to an unknown future. What would happen if she abandoned those anorexic constructs in her mind that made up her identity? She didn’t know… and that was scary. Scary enough that the expected misery of the illness was a more comforting outcome than what would happen if she embarked on the road to recovery.
It’s why we stay in unfulfilling relationships far longer than we should. It’s why so many people punch a clock for 40 hours a week doing something that they abhor, except for seeing that bi-weekly deposit into the bank. We may not like what’s going on, but when we own our choices to put up with whatever mediocre situations we find ourselves in, we’re safe. We know what we’re doing, whether it’s good for us or not. We’re in control.
Insta Turned Latergram
In addition to the TED talk, in the past week I’ve seen a handful of usually super-positive influencers on Instagram share in their Stories that they’ve been having a day of insecurity and self-doubt here and there, just like the rest of us do. While I don’t take joy in others’ misery, it has been a relief to see.
Instagram was once a place where you could whip out your phone on the fly, snap a pic, slap on a filter, post it, and continue on with your day. If 10 people liked it? LOOK AT ME THAT POST WAS FIRE, Y’ALL. Now? 100 likes is the new 10.
There was no ability to crop to the perfect proportion, tweak 20 different options before getting it *just right*. Nobody was walking around with Lightroom on their phone. Don’t get me started on the tedium that is hashtag strategy. While these tools are meant to (and can) help with your end product and expand your reach across the platform, that shit takes time.
Above: My most popular IG post, original photo vs final product.
You can no longer do it in the time it takes on the corner waiting for the ‘WALK’ sign to illuminate. There’s probably a note saved on your phone with your most commonly used hashtags, so you don’t constantly have to type the same ones over and over again.
A social media profile has transformed into this weird, algorithmically-charged series of hoops that we all willingly jump through in hopes that we may connect with people like us, not just another bot-generated thumbs up emoji in the comments section.
I love to play with Insta Stories, because they are quick, fun, and uncalculated. They’re a way to show the personality behind those carefully curated photos. But, as the Story became the next outlet for instant content, the concept of a profile morphed from ‘instant’ into a series of meticulously edited photos and videos, commonly known as “latergrams”.
Editing takes TIME. So much time… and what is editing, really? Exercising CONTROL over your content. There’s that word again!
The Hobbyist’s Toy Box
The photography industry at the prosumer level must be laughing all the way to the bank, thanks to the rapid growth of social media in the last 10-15 years. Smartphones are easy to use, and most everyone has one. For that reason, people begin looking toward more specialized equipment to capture photos that hopefully stand out among the daily technicolor deluge. GoPros excel for travel, sports and the elements, a DSLR levels up your game in staged/studio environments. I am 100% guilty of this.
Specialty cameras are gateway drugs. Once you get the camera, then you need the extra batteries. A tripod. How about another lens? A clamp here, a mount there, a fancy grip you carry 24/7. Also, remotes! Memory Cards! Cloud storage, because you want access to your content from any and everywhere. Shoot, this video software seems to be making my MacBook run hot… should I be looking at buying a faster computer? (No, Katy. You don’t need a new laptop.)
In case you don’t have an instagram boyfriend to take your photo every time you go out for coffee, then that’s another logistical annoyance. The fact that ‘instagram boyfriend’ is even a commonly-known term? Oy.
There’s whole host of gear that lends a hand in so many environments so that you can capture the shot you want, without having constantly bother your friends/family/random strangers to snap ‘just’ the right pic. Just because you’re solo in a picturesque environment doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to have a few fun photos with yourself in them to commemorate the fact that yeah, you were there too.
While pro bloggers generally hire someone else to take professional photos for them, hobbyists like me are 95% DIY. In the last 6 months of my instagram feed, there is only ONE photo that I didn’t take myself, and only happened because a coworker coincidentally walked past and whipped out his smartphone on his own as I was playing in that US Open booth on my lunch break one day.
Every Moment Has Its Process
DIY is not only a time suck, it can be a self-esteem suck when you just can’t seem to get the settings right. For instance… check out this photo of a mug I recently shared on 5 Faves & a Dud. It’s a picture of me holding a travel mug. Pretty simple, right?
Want to know what the process of getting that ONE PHOTO really looked like?
YUP. Kind of comical, but slightly embarrassing in a sense. All that for a photo of a cup. That pause in the middle when I walked out of the room? I ran to change my gold jewelry out for silver and give my nails a quick coat of color, because I figured it would match the mug better.
That blank backdrop in my staged review photos? A small portion of my jack-of-all trades extra bedroom… which also serves as an office, closet, photo studio, clothesline, workout space and storage unit.
I did a calisthenic WOD at home recently, and flipped on my light kit and GoPro in hopes of catching an action shot or two for the ‘gram. At the end, I should have been happy I squished a quick 20-minute sweat session in during an otherwise crazy week. But you know what I was? Pissed.
I spent 45+ minutes afterward importing media, combing through for a few fun stills, and 99.9% ended up grainy and unusable. I was mad at myself for not choosing the right settings. I spent another 30 minutes combing through media from earlier this summer that I *did* like, right clicking for info and checking what settings THOSE photos and videos were shot at, so I would know for next time. In retrospect, what a fucking waste of time.
Why Am I Even Writing This?
After that whole travel mug & workout production on Monday night (literally), I woke up super early on Tuesday morning to pack my suitcase before leaving town again. I should have spent my time packing Monday evening and media managing later, but that’s not how this whole ‘instant gratification’ thing works.
I woke up feeling strange, guilty and disturbed by my own behavior the night before. The bulk of this post was a cathartic stream of consciousness that spilled out into an iPhone notepad somewhere at 35,000 feet. As soon as I got it all out, I walked off that plane in Detroit and immediately felt better.
I understand that some may read this post and call it hypocritical the next time I share another staged photo online, but my point is not that I (or anyone with a social account) should stop, unless it really starts interfering with your quality of life. If doing the work makes you happy, keep on doing you. In my day job, I deal with the technical part of TV, so I use this blog as a fun platform to exercise my own attempts at creativity. I’m simply sharing this to let you know that a lot more goes on behind the lens than necessarily meets the screen.
Next time you find yourself scrolling through social media and catch yourself comparing your own daily life to yet another perfectly posed, lit and happy-go-lucky shot of someone that seems to be “in control” of everything they’ve got going on… they probably are. But think about what that truly means.
It’s called a highlight ‘reel’ for a reason. It’s no highlight REAL.