Thinking About: Socality Barbie & the meme of authenticity

Socality Barbie

If you’re on social media, there’s a high chance you’ve come across news of the Socality Barbie Instagram account. And if not, well, it probably looks familiar anyway.

A quick recap: The account is a very funny, very clever satirization of the way certain Instagram feeds—focused on living authentic lives in overly composed ways—have come to feel homogenous (plastic, if you will). Tired of seeing nearly identical pictures of beautiful adventurers staring off into the same landscapes captioned with the same overly sincere platitudes, a wedding photographer in Portland, Oregon, decided to recreate the images for some social commentary: she remade Barbie in the image of a Pacific Northwestener who travels with an on-trend Filson backpack and a pair of thick-rimmed glasses and placed her in those same scenarios. Socality Barbie occasionally drapes herself in a Pendleton blanket; takes photos of the designs in her lattes; poses for selfies amid foliage or in the wake of a colored smoke-bomb; and she captions her images with hashtags like #Blessed, #Authentic, and of course, #Kinfolk.

In an interview with Wired magazine, the photographer says “People were all taking the same pictures in the same places and using the same captions. … [I]t’s so overdone that it’s becoming boring.”

The images and captions are so spot on and hilarious, and the account has exploded: it’s as if there was a collective eye-roll just waiting to happen.

It’s not the first time that these particular homogenous tropes have been mocked. The tumblr called The Kinspiracy comes first to mind: there someone creates grids from real people’s Instagram accounts using nearly identical images of coffee foam, American flags, issues of Kinfolk, and ice cream cones under the caption “Kinfolk magazine: making white people feel artistic since 2011.”

Being as imbued in social media as I am, my first instinct was to quickly scroll through my feed to see how guilty I was of the same sort of compositions or captions! (Not too, I hope. I think?) My second was to wonder how much other people were doing the same.

I think the way that people use Instagram—in particular—is completely fascinating! Everyone seems to believe that there are some implicit rules about how one should handle or curate her feed, but precisely because they’re implicit, no one knows whether anyone looking at her feed holds the same standards. Filters—yes or no? Selfies—yes or no? How many? Do the images have to be in real time? Same day? How many images from the same event can one share in a row? How many images can you post of your kid? your cat? your dog? How often should you collage? share video? Do you post iPhone only? What divides aspirational from inspirational content? And are there rules at all? (Someone at Vogue thought so.)

Someone once told me that teenagers are more likely to expect one’s Instagram feed to be a reflection of one’s personality at a particular moment. For example, you wouldn’t have a photo of Harry Styles anywhere on your feed if you didn’t like One Direction anymore. It makes no difference that you were obsessed with them last year. (Is that true?! So interesting.) By contrast, most adults I know think of their Instagram accounts as a valuable record. They never go back and delete old photos!

Is Instagram a space for creativity? curation? or documentation? How much truth and authenticity is it fair to expect from select snapshots of a life on social media? And how much should one worry about what a follower wants to see? (I’m sure plenty of you choose to have private feeds.) Whose album is this anyway?

Does Socality Barbie so humorously resonate because it’s a critique of sameness? Or is it the critique of falsehood that strikes a chord? How do you use Instagram? What are the rules?

P.S. More topics one might be “Thinking About.”

[Photos in top grid via Socality Barbie]

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