On a gorgeous summer day, I was enjoying the great fortune of our heated rooftop pool, overlooking the Manhattan skyline, just beyond the George Washington Bridge. By the end of summer, I have become a bit desensitized to this glorious view, but my guest-de-jour always gushes and breaks out the camera. (Of course, by “camera,” I mean phone.)
This day was no exception. As I finally settled into the pool chair and closed my eyes to the sun, my guest says, “Ooh, before I forget, I absolutely have to take a picture so I can make everyone else jealous!”
My 40-something mom friend, accompanied by her 7-year-old daughter is inseparable from her iPhone, documenting her daughter’s every mundane move. She forces her to pause mid-backstroke so she can flash her painfully fake smile, with embarrassing swimming cap, at the camera. This behavior is no aberration to the rule; my friend is just a participant in our society’s white noise.
The word, jealous, just lingered in the air, like a foul smell, as she walked away. But as quickly as I judged her behavior, I thought, “Am I any better?”
In fact, arguably, my true self can attest that I am MORE vain than her. She doesn’t have photo posting restrictions; she fills her page with blurry memories – and too many at that. No one needs to see 131 fuzzy pictures from the circus, not even a clown’s wife.
I do believe you should put your prettiest face forward. Does that mean I’m giving you a photo as an accurate representation of my life? Nope. Few photos can accomplish that – and those are the ones you savor just for yourself. Photos are moments we choose to freeze. That one second of posed elation immortalized into pixels, and eternally reflected upon. But rather than focus on the transience of the moment, we tend to project an entire life story based on a photo. We engage in a modern version of Keeping Up with the Joneses, only it’s selfies and we’re Keeping up with the Kardashians.
But I’m not such an aberration; a simple Google search of my name brings you 12 pages of me. You’ll first notice me as a Superhero for Marvel, but that’s just because my friend is a comic book writer who used my name (and maybe my body) for inspiration for a Russian version of Ironman. Jealous yet?
But back to my photo posting intentions. Do I post pictures to make people jealous? No, definitely not. Russians (or is it Russian-Jews) are scared of jealousy. We go to great lengths to avoid it, wearing both hidden safety pins on our clothes and red bracelets around our wrists. I don’t want you to be jealous of me; I’m happy for you to be the richer one, the prettier one, the one with more friends. I’m happy to be sitting here quietly with 10 likes.
Just like my pool guest, I am guilty of posting my pictures, as trophies, on my Facebook page. As a family, we travel on road trips, state-to-state, pursuing my husband’s photographic journey to capture all 50. We’re jumping in front of the Capitol building or indulging in the local artisan ice cream as our 12-year-old lovingly hugs his 4-year-old sister. But pictures don’t show you how I cried on that road trip and yelled at my kids more than I needed to (maybe) and wrote curses in my notebook, all the while feeling guilty that I was not grateful enough.
But those are not the photos I hold up to the world.