Facebook post coverHave you shared your first Facebook profile picture yet? This trend has prompted Rachel to ponder how innocent we all used to be in the days before self-promotion on social media was the norm. Is interacting on Facebook just about keeping up with friends, or has it become more than that: have we become our own online marketing executives for Brand Me?

There’s a Facebook trend at the minute that many of you will have either already taken part in, been nominated to do, or may well be asked to do very soon… Changing (or sharing) your current profile picture to your first ever one.

Mine was a (stolen) image of a Sindy doll with a rather snazzy orange lamé jumpsuit. Why did I think this weird image would represent me well online? Well, I didn’t really think about it, and that’s the point. My friends’ profile pictures, interestingly, were a variety of either funny, stolen images online or sketches of themselves – not one sultry, sexy or pouty profile pic amongst them. This got us all discussing why that was. I think that we would have ripped the piss out of each other if we’d posted a picture of ourselves looking gorgeous – because that’s what we did. We’re English, and we rip the piss if you even slightly come across like you think you’re ‘IT’. My, how things have changed!

This ‘first profile pic’ trend soon started to go viral and now pretty much half of my Facebook friends have changed or shared their first online pic. Many people just had a holiday snap from the mid 2000s that showed them in a nice light; their hair was good on that day, or they were in an interesting location. Compared to today’s much more considered and ‘glossy’ profile pics, these were endearingly naive and innocent looking.

My overwhelming response to most people’s first online profile pics has been “Awww!”. Most were taken around 2007, 8 years ago, and therefore everyone was a bit more fresh faced. Because of my age (35) many of the early shots show friends pre kids, in their 20s, looking fresh faced and, well, a bit ‘back in the day’, at a party or looking like they’d just stumbled from one.

But the most obvious change, given the context of the photo comparison, is how we represent ourselves online. The early profile pictures are a virtual reminder of a time NOT THAT LONG AGO where we didn’t think about how we looked online; what came up when people Googled us; hell, we didn’t even know what a selfie was.

I miss those times, don’t you?

Have we all become our own marketing executive? Tweaking and updating versions of ourselves to communicate what Brand ME is all about?

My current personal Facebook photo is also the one that I use on Still You and my food blog Well Worn Whisk. It was taken by Adam one Autumn evening as we were heading out to dinner. I had lots of make up on and my hair was kind of great for once so I asked him to take a few snaps, knowing that if I liked them I would use them as my profile pics. It was a CONCERTED EFFORT to take glossy pics for my profile. I’m an example, you could say, of someone whose job it is to have an online profile – my personal and professional worlds DO crossover as I’m a blogger (that’s my ‘work’). In that sense it’s to be expected that I have to ‘market myself’ on social media a certain way.

But everyone else is doing the same thing too, not just people whose job is to have an online profile; it’s become the norm. Not just our profile pictures, but our whole social media persona is a version of ourself that we craft to say certain things to the rest of the world. Even if you have a jokey profile picture, that is saying something in itself: I’m cool, I don’t take myself too seriously, I’ve got a sense of humour. A picture of your baby says: I’m a mum, and I’m proud. A pouty, seductive selfie type profile pic says: I’m single, I’m sexy. We have become our own promotional agents.

What’s wrong with that? Well, it’s harmless enough unless your real self is different to your online self. If you become too wrapped up in crafting an online persona that it actually makes you depressed to be YOU! I’m guilty of living out a ‘dream life online’ sometimes. My Pinterest addiction has calmed nowadays as I realised that, as great as the site is for a bit of ‘inspo’, it can slowly drive you mad as you compare, for example, your own crap, untidy kitchen with the dream rustic chic Farmhouse one you just pinned – to the effect that you are constantly striving to achieve that dream, to be that person, instead of the living the life you have now, in your little crap kitchen.

We ALL post the best version of ourselves online, and that’s understandable. But we should be aware that we are humans interacting with other humans, not brands trying to attract sales. That crossover, when people start acting like brands, has already happened in the world of bloggers. But in the non-blogging world it’s happening too. Is social media the first step towards the human race’s complete submission to consumerism? Heavy shit, I know.

The other concern I have is that kids who have grown up with Facebook, who have literally never know life without it, are SO marketing slick now that they have lost an innocence that we enjoyed as kids. My friend says she saw a nice group of young teen girls hanging out chatting the other day, quite normally. The next minute one whips out a phone to take a group selfie, and in a split second they went from innocent young women to pouting, hair tossing sexpots! Selfie taken, they slipped easily back into their default ‘normal girls’ mode again. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve done the odd pouty selfie too in the name of drunken fun, but it is a bit worrying that girls think they have to act like this when being depicted online. I also saw a documentary recently featuring a boy who was so addicted to taking selfies that he had to go into rehab!

When we were teenagers (now I am starting to sound like an old fart, I know) we looked in the mirror once or twice a day and got on with being teenagers: stealing fags from our Dads, listening to Nirvana and generally perfecting the art of being harmless tearaways. Nowadays the pressure to look sexy, thin, cool – as a picture of you can and probably will be snapped and posted online at least once a day – must be UNBEARABLE. I genuinely dread the day when my kids get a phone for themselves.

Without wanting to sound like a sensationalist maniac, harking back longingly to a time when social media didn’t exist (as I don’t feel like this), I think it would be prudent as mums – as humans – to be mindful of how much effort we put into maintaining our online image. Maybe also as parents we should all talk to our kids (when old enough) about online representations of self not being everything – and that they are not real.

My husband doesn’t use Facebook, and I am so glad. I love people who don’t do social media; they’re so refreshing. I envy them, to be free of that extra ‘job’ of updating all the time must be wonderful. He always tells me to put my phone away. This weekend I might just listen to him, and not use my phone for social media at all. Well, once I’ve posted and Tweeted and Facebooked this post, obviously…

2 comments on “Has Facebook turned us all into marketing execs for ourselves?”

  1. This is one of my fave SY posts. I almost wrote a similier paragraph to yours (on FB ironically) when you talk about being a teenager back in the day and it being more about fags and music as opposed to pursuing the image of being completely and utterly sexy. It seems like being sexy is so important to young adults it’s central to their online personas despite how they are in ‘real life’. And I can’t help wondering what the role of highly accessible internet porn plays in this…
    Could talk about this for hours! X

    • Ahh thanks! It is fascinating. But I am the first to admit that I have a ‘glossy’ profile pic. Even though mine is the same one I use for my blogging persona, I’m still guilty of what I’m criticising. Well, really I’m not criticising the phenomenon of managing your online persona, just observing that we used to be naive to that type of concern only 8 years ago. But I think our generation will always have a healthy perspective on it as we didn’t grow up with it. Today’s teenagers may not – and the porn aesthetic definitely plays a role… X

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