"Have you ever taken a selfie in which you pretend you're about to bite into a perfect, pink-frosted doughnut only to abruptly toss it into the trash after the photo and go back to eating your boring salad?" writes Julianne Ross on PolicyMic. "Me neither." But apparently, some people do.
In a recently posting, Ross explores women's relationship to food via the growing trend of slender, willowy women posing with greasy, buttery, high calorie foods. "This trend of using food as an accessory is apparently a scourge of the fashion blogging industry," Ross writes, "and you did not eat that (henceforth YDNET) is out to stop the madness. The recently founded Instagram account reposts images of svelte women posing alongside calorie-laden foods that, given their physiques, they ostensibly didn't eat."
Moss goes on to discuss the fantasy of fit women eating luscious unhealthy snacks and our desire, as women, to pull off both things: stay slim but eat whatever the fuck we want.
The angle Ross is missing is the power of not just maintaining that dream privately but using things like social media to project your compliance with that dream.
It has been shown time and again that using Facebook correlates with depression. Why? Because we're in a constant state of comparison. Had a great weekend? That's lovely. A hundred people had an even better one and it will be proven to you in pictures. Problem is, no one always has the best weekend ever, or does the most unique, exciting thing. But we always want others to think we are. Wherein lies the power of selection and curation: a.k.a. our online selves.
We practice online identity curation daily, whether it's choosing to Tweet about a particular subject, Instagram a photo of the cookies you've baked, write a blog post about your unbelievable trip to the orchards last weekend, or update your status to share a must-read article. Each of those actions is perfecting the image of your online self. Maybe you want to be perceived as original, unique, with a slight nerdy bent. Or you want to be the cutting edge person, who knows about the latest trends before anyone else. Or you want others to know you've read every important book ever.
And with the rising trend of foodieism, food is playing a role in online identity more than ever before. Heck, it's playing a role in online and offline identity creation like never before. Restaurants have become an "I've been there, done that" social marker. Eating wacky or unique foods is a token of pride. Cooking a meal from scratch is showmanship for crafts. Pics on a farm ooze with hipsterdom and perhaps, just maybe, actual concern about a care for sustainability.
And images of women eating gargantuan plates of mac n' cheese or stuffing themselves with frosted Dominic Ansel creations is just one more step along the way.
Sometimes, yes, there are many things in life you would do or eat or say, whether it was posted or not, but what Ross is getting at is the incredible desire to showcase yourself leading to, not just a curation of posts, but a false creation of posts. It's no longer about only highlighting certain aspects of yourself, but generating content to fit that desired identity.
The YouDidNotEatThat Instagram account is attempting to call 'bullshit.' But on the immensely long page of posts the account has accumulated, you see the blatant hopes and goals of its subjects: to appear easy-going, fun-loving, and unconcerned with the issues that plague most women (i.e. weight, body image, etc), and doing that by posing with food.
What does all this mean? I'm not quite sure yet. Except I hope that by looking at YouDidNotEatThat and thinking a bit about identity curation, we can start to regulate ourselves a bit: think more about what you're doing and eating and saying as it relates to your life, not your profile page. Make who you want to be online a bit more of who you actually are, and then maybe, just maybe, we won't have to try so hard.