The only difference between then and now? Social media.
While photographs once offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for memorialization, capturing a quick selfie with an earnest grin is something anyone can do at any time. If photography is for the masses, then the very idea of a smiling photo has been cheapened, and Leaney argues that Instagram formed the bridge between fashion runway behavior to personal posts.
“Humans are simple creatures; we are a product of our environment, and we are constantly exposed to hundreds of images, endlessly scrolling, each and every day,” she says. “So it’s no surprise we find ourselves trying to emulate what we stare at — anything for a higher cheekbone, bigger eye, or a fuller lip. We sell our personal brand as best we can, aligning with the behaviors and poses of our favorite models and celebrities.” For some, projecting such an image also means projecting glamour and wealth — a vehicle for transcending the class we were born into and injecting ourselves into the class we aspire to join, those that grace the covers and those who can afford not to smile.
Perhaps we’re forgetting that someone’s online representation of themselves is quite literally a product to be consumed, engaged with, interacted with, copied, shared, and disseminated, while the rest of us were told to hop online simply to share our favorite moments with our loved ones. But those two opposing perspectives and goals are now starting to merge. And we fail to remember that we know the beauty we see online — the beauty that is curated, posed, unsmiling — is a lie.
The Unsmiling Trend Followers
But normcore girls like me (those who follow trends rather than setting them) often do take our cues from what we see online. And if no one is smiling, and they happen to appear enigmatic and commanding while they’re at it, then — to hell with it — despite my very expensive orthodontic procedures, I’m not smiling either. I want to be like them. I want to look like the women who are being looked at…the women who are being seen. As cultural sociologist Syliva Holla points out, “The model’s job is, in essence, to be looked at.”
But Ali Weiss, the 28-year-old host of the “Tales of Taboo” podcast, says she often hides behind her online persona and doesn’t want to be looked at intimately in spite of the sultry photos she posts. Weiss is 5’10,” has self-proclaimed big eyebrows, and says she’s “angular and intense-looking,” which she believes has made her an easy target for trolls. So, she uses unsmiling photos as a shield for her own sanity and confidence.