Recommended Soundtrack: The Distance by Cake, Stuck Here Again by L7, Walk by The Foo Fighters
I’ve been thinking a lot about social media & connection during the past month. The link between me, the writer, and you, the reader, and how these delicate tendrils of connection join us in this moment. It’s wondrous and powerful stuff in these times of social distance.
The song by Cake, about going the distance, sums up the past 11 months for me. There has been a serious lack of speed and connection.
I have written a lot about walking since August. It’s been a gift even as my partner, our dog, and I shuffle through the finite sets of loops from our house, feeling stuck here again.
Somewhere along the way it became a bit of a running joke that I’d try to take a selfie with my sweetheart and the dog. It started as a photojournal of the days so I could have a sense of time passing. It’s become so much more:
“After reading about your step goals I started a 30 minute a day goal…”
“I love seeing your walk pictures, it reminds me to go out…”
“Thank you for the laugh and the nudge that it’s not too cold out…”
The messages have been coming pretty regularly that a silly photo of us on a walk is a gentle reminder to my friends that:
-we all need movement
– there can be joy on the hardest days
– every step can connect us to our goals
It’s that bit of connection as we learn to walk in the winter again, finding our footing and each other over social media.
It’s not a hug or a shared meal but it is a subsistence trickle of connection based on a snapshot of a moment. I think part of it is the everyday, not-epic-at-all nature of the photo. When taken in context of a couple hundred days it is impactful.
I’m still here, you’re still there. Our time in this moment is fleeting. What will you do next to sustain your sense of connection?
I’ll probably call my mom or my sister. I’ll then go for a walk and post a picture about it.
As active women, many of us are familiar with being held up as an “Inspiration” by people in various circles, be they close, casual or virtual. There are a lot of ways I do not like being identified as an inspiration. The worst is because I’m thin. That has nothing to do with me or anything I’ve tried to accomplish. It’s just me. Nat has written about being a fat woman who is an “Inspiration” here. Women are told they are inspiring because they’ve lost lots of weight and because they look hot with those triceps (I do love a tight triceps, don’t get me wrong). But much of that kind of inspiring is whether we have met or are on our way to meet the normative beauty standards of our culture. In other words, they are only skin deep.
Just today, however, one of my friends who is a prolific Facebook poster tagged me as part of her “Power Squadron” who inspired her to start walking every day at lunch. It got me thinking about the influence of social connections and social media to inspire us positively to get out and move in the ways that are best for us and our bodies.
As I was mid think, another friend posted a run via her running app. She’s a self-identified feminist and big woman athlete. Running is something recent for her and she’s burning up the pavement by leaps and bounds. She will be running 10k before the end of the year I predict. I was excited for her and I said so. Last sentence of my comment was “Keep going and keep posting about it.” She responded with thanks and we got into a discussion around whether posting these things is good or annoying.
Complicating my contemplation was a recent article about personality traits in Facebook users and qualities of their correspondent Facebook updates:
In line with Hypothesis 7, narcissism was positively associated with updating about achievements and with using Facebook for validation. Moreover, the use of Facebook for validation and for communication predicted the frequency of updating about achievements over and above the control variables and traits (b = .14, p = .02 and b = .13,p = .04, respectively). The association of narcissism with updating about achievements was significantly mediated by the use of Facebook for validation (b = .04, p = .05 (CI: .006–.07)), consistent with narcissists’ tendency to boast in order to gain attention ( Buss & Chiodo, 1991). Also consistent with Hypothesis 7, narcissism was positively associated with updating about diet/exercise, but the use of Facebook for self-expression rather than validation was positively associated with updating about diet/exercise over and above the control variables and traits (b = .24, p < .01). Self-expression mediated the association of narcissism with updating about diet/exercise (b = .03, p = .03 (CI: .003–.04)), suggesting that narcissists may broadcast their diet and exercise routine to express the personal importance they place on physical appearance ( Vazire et al., 2008).
In other words, people who post a lot about achievements and specifically diet/exercise may be more likely to be narcissists. 1
Something about that felt wrong to me or perhaps, something about part of that felt wrong to me. I have been trying, as much as possible for a maybe-narcissist, to resolve what I feel is a positive behaviour that nets positive and valuable results among my friend circle with this idea that it is annoying and self-centred. I came up with a few thoughts.
First of all, women who are self-centred, or think about themselves and their needs at all are often perceived as selfish. So already I’m wondering about the bias here. Second, middle age women who start to walk, run, do endurance sports or generally make themselves physically more formidable may make some other people uncomfortable. Aren’t I supposed to go softly into my middle years, usher my children out of the nest, relinquish my active sexuality and stay quiet? Now obviously I think, “No freaking way”. Many of you think that too but I think we are outliers and that is the point. Finally, the study itself pairs diet/exercise sorts of posts for the purpose of their analysis. I think that’s a fatal flaw. My views on diet posts, calorie counting posts, weight watcher updates and “OMG I’m so FAT!” posts are vastly different than “OMG fastest ever 5k!” posts.
My running friend also eschews the calorie counting elements of posting. We have both researched whether our apps are posting calories and if they are, we try to hide that useless info. I remember when I first started to read this blog and follow some of the people associated with it. They inspired me to keep going, push harder and do more. Even better, they did that with thoughtful commentary and self awareness. They did it for these awesome affirming reasons and if they are secretly narcissists, I don’t care (secretly narcissist would be a perpetual state of oxy-moron anyway). Keep posting people and I’ll keep cheering.
1-Narcissism as a personality trait and the corresponding personality disorder, is associated with an exaggerated positive self-expression that covers over a highly fragmented and worthless sense of self. It is also associated with a profound lack of empathy with others and an inability to see past one’s own need to maintain the false front. It’s not nice. Full disclosure, I’ve contemplated my own Narcissism before here so. . .maybe it’s a thing.
This article quotes Catherine Weingarten, the author of the petition, as saying:
When Facebook users set their status to “feeling fat,” they are making fun of people who consider themselves to be overweight, which can include many people with eating disorders. That is not ok. Join me in asking Facebook to remove the “fat” emoji from their status options.
And when it decided to do the right thing, Facebook said:
“We’ve heard from our community that listing ‘feeling fat’ as an option for status updates could reinforce negative body image, particularly for people struggling with eating disorders,” Facebook (FB, Tech30) said in a statement.
But media is just about sound bytes (as I myself discovered in a TV interview that I’ll post below), and neither of these get to the full picture.
First of all, it’s not just about people with eating disorders and it’s not just about making fun of people. No doubt, Catherine Weingarten said a lot more than that. I’m almost certain of that because the Endangered Bodies offers a more nuanced set of reasons for what the problem is. The petition talks about fat-shaming, body hatred, and Facebook’s influence and reach as a significant social media platform:
Fat is a substance that every body has and needs. Fat is also an adjective – a descriptive word about a physical attribute. Just like tall, short, black or white, it should not be misused to shame oneself or others. However, the fashion, beauty and diet industries have an interest in making us feel insecure about our own bodies and over time “fat” has become a negative word, not a simple statement of size. There is nothing neutral about it. The stigma and criticism of fat and the elevation of thin make them stand-ins for other kinds of words, feelings and moods.
Endangered Bodies sees this fear of fat and idealisation of thinness throughout society as a form of weight stigma, which can have a serious impact on the millions of people dealing with negative body image. Body-shaming and weight stigma are associated with lower self-esteem and disordered eating, an issue that Facebook – being a social platform – needs to take seriously.
I myself blogged about “feeling fat” a long time ago, when the blog was just a month old. There, I talked about the difference between feeling fit and feeling fat. Most especially, we need to be aware that feeling fat has nothing to do with body weight. It has to do with the assumption that fat is bad. When we feel bad about ourselves, that self-loathing can express itself in feeling fat:
It’s a strange and complicated thing, feeling fat is. It can settle in overnight, or even through the course of a day. Clothes that fit just fine when I put them on in the morning might by lunch time start to feel like they’re pinching and snug, especially if I had a bad morning. Even the red silk scarf, not a body-hugging item, might not look right when just yesterday it accessorized perfectly. And a general feeling of unworthiness accompanies feeling fat. It’s astonishing and sad that internalized cultural stigma against weight and body type can feed so powerfully into these negative attitudes about oneself.
Remember, feeling fat is amazingly unconnected to actual body size and even percentage of fat. But it is also, for many women I know, the “go-to” feeling when they are unhappy with themselves about something…about anything. This says a lot about the hold that our culture’s attitudes about weight and body size has on us. Even those of us who are explicitly and consciously attentive to the irrational and unfair social stigma, even working to challenge it, latch onto fatness (real or imagined) as a personal deficiency. It then spirals into an energy-sucking, self-defeating stick that might make a person feel motivated to get active (but for all the wrong reasons) or thoroughly hopeless about exercise because it doesn’t “work” (as if its only purpose is to lose or control one’s weight).
When we can use feeling fat to articulate low self-esteem, as a stick to beat ourselves with, then it’s not funny. It’s sad. One thing I believe is that when we feel fat it’s a good sign that something else is going on with us. And that’s probably not the time to invoke a glib emoticon that announces to the world: “I hate myself right now.”
The social meaning of feeling fat ensures that it’s not simply self-abusive. Not at all. A purely individualistic explanation of why it’s harmful to include it among “impatient, amused, better, discouraged” doesn’t capture the social harm. It’s fat-phobic and fat-shaming. Even if lots of the people who feel fat don’t appear to others to be fat, they’ve internalized the message that fat is loathsome to such a degree that it’s what they latch onto when they want to express how much they despise themselves in that moment (because, and this is one thing it has in common with actual feelings, it can pass as quickly as it set in). That’s a pretty awful thing for people who others actually do think of as fat.
We live in a fat-phobic, fat-shaming world. In providing that emoticon, Facebook is perpetuating an oppressive social attitude. The local news came to see me about this today. I said a lot of stuff that was more interesting than what they chose, but if you’re interested, here’s a link to the clip. They will make you watch an ad first and for that I apologize.
And from the Endangered Bodies’ Fat Is Not a Feeling campaign:
With social influence, power, and reach comes social responsibility. It’s good to see that Facebook can respond appropriately at least some of the time even if they don’t have a very nuanced public presentation of their reasons.
It’s not, as the other person interviewed in my clip said, that they can’t afford not to be “politically correct.” Why do people always talk about “political correctness” as if there is something wrong with simply choosing a socially responsible course of action? That charge that mega-corporations are always having to bow to political correctness is a simplistic and dismissive response to genuine concern about real social harms.
And to those who think that in removing this choice FB has somehow done us a disservice, it’s not some God-given right that everything we experience needs to be expressible in a canned status with a matching emoticon. I’m glad they took it down and I will be happier still when we stop using “feeling fat” as a form of self-abuse and a socially acceptable way of body-shaming in a fat-phobic culture.