In looking over how my online persona has evolved over time, I can’t help but notice a parallel with my real life self. We’ve both become veritable ‘jacks of all trades, masters of none’, got our ‘fingers in too many pies’, showcasing multiple interests but being known for nothing in particular.
In reading Smith and Watson (2014) the online persona today in general has entrepreneurial value, it’s a brand, an item for sale – and I’m feeling like a bag of mixed sweets, collecting dust and approaching my ‘best before’ date – no one is buying!
A woman I met in 2019, chose a niche years ago and stuck with it – even though she only had two dozen followers at the time. She’s a quirky nudist who makes naked cooking videos for YouTube. Today she has 197K followers and a strong brand.
The one thing I haven’t tried is presenting myself, sans clothing. And sometimes, I’ll confess, I do wonder (if only in jest) if this is where I am going wrong!
The famous Maya Angelou quote implores people to do what they love doing, “so well”, that people won’t be able to “take their eyes off of you”. Well nudity can certainly have that effect! Isn’t that simply a different means to the same end? Or is it missing the point completely?
There are multiple vegan activists getting a lot of attention wearing very little currently. There is definitely a well-established trend of attracting attention through the absence of clothing!
This leads me to Judith Butler’s controversial 1988 essay around the performative nature of sexuality and gender. If online identity is created through sequential performances, then perhaps it’s my journey of discovery itself, that’s the barrier. My performative ‘self’ is haphazard and experimental. Can I expect to create a ‘self’ I do not yet understand?
Our online personas and personal brands evolve over time, as we do. I joined Instagram when I discovered veganism and thought I could change the world. By the time I realised the delusion, I had also become quite disillusioned. This experience follows a well documented trend – Gartner’s “Hype Cycle” – where unrealistic expectations give way to disillusionment.
In 2002, Dr Phil released a book (whilst we’re on the subject!) with a concept that we could each trace who we’ve become, back to ’10 defining moments, 7 critical choices and 5 pivotal people’. I was instantly reminded of a feeling I had growing up that I was intrinsically unlikeable, and that I needed to figure out what to do/say/be in order to find acceptance.
I remember being 4 years old, and playing violin – of all things – to my fellow preschoolers, as one by one, they stood up and left to go outside and play. When I heard Dr Phil’s concept, I just knew this was one of my defining moments.
Now I probably wasn’t very good at violin at age 4 and kids can’t resist going outside to play, but when you inadvertently ‘learn’ something about yourself at that age, it tends to stick. Hence…well…a lot.
Perhaps this childhood theme still plays out, where I try and showcase everything I’m interested in, hoping to find what will keep those kids’ attention. Awww…..lol (Thinking of it in these terms, it’s probably best I keep my clothes on!).
I definitely went through a confessional stage – and still keep a private instagram account for those purposes. My largest following is on that account, that isn’t linked to any others. It serves one sole purpose – to connect with others around one shared experience. There is irony perhaps in that actual mystery cannot be used to cultivate an air of mystery, as it must remain private.
Social norms render sharing certain experiences, potentially detrimental to your real life. However I’ve found over time, that groups centred around a common interest or shared experience provide the most connection and allow for the most authenticity – especially when there’s a confessional dimension.
In writing this blog, thinking about selfie culture and the performative nature of online presentation I’m questioning if my use (or abuse) of the selfie has me simply trying to prove my self worth through these images also. I refer back to Maya Angelou’s wise words and would prefer to do what I love, really well, rather than just get the lighting right.
Overall, I’m trying to find myself and my niche, and it has been a long and winding journey – both online and in real life. But from researching and writing this blog, I now have a more clear understanding that the online ‘persona’ is to be constructed, performed into existence. The ‘self’ being performative, it will only truly exist, given the fullness of time.
Dr Phil Staff (2002) ‘Defining your external factors’, Self Matters, accessed 11 December 2021, https://www.drphil.com/advice/defining-your-external-factors/?fbclid=IwAR0ozGfSunIjH8o5RGSPPIkTO-FSA40cu8YpJ2CtW7JI0o-6QWIgF7dmtFE
Felluga D (2011) ‘Modules on Butler: On Gender and Sex’, Introductory Guide to Critical Theory, accessed 11 December 2021, https://cla.purdue.edu/academic/english/theory/genderandsex/modules/butlergendersex.html
Gartner (2021) Gartner Hype Cycle, Gartner, accessed 9 Decmber 2021, https://www.gartner.com/en/research/methodologies/gartner-hype-cycle
Moore C, Barbour, KJ and Lee M (2017) ‘Five Dimensions of online Persona’, Persona Studies, 3(1):1-11, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317558972_Five_Dimensions_of_Online_Persona
PerthNow (9 September 2021), ‘Notorious vegan activist Tash Peterson turns to OnlyFans in bid to save animals’, PerthNow, accessed 12 December 2021, https://www.perthnow.com.au/news/wa/notorious-vegan-activist-tash-peterson-turns-to-onlyfans-in-bid-to-save-animals-ng-b881999189z
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Smith and Watson (2014) ‘Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Presentation’, in Poletti A and Rak J (eds) Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Dun Laoghaire, Ireland.
Talvertie-Lamberg K (2014) ‘Confessions in Social Media – Performative, constrained, authentic and participatory self-representations in Vlogs’, [PhD Thesis], University of Helsinki, Helsinki, accessed 13 December 2021.