From a philosophical standpoint, social media is a fascinating phenomenon — and I say that knowing how pretentious it sounds. Social media is a great way to stroke our already overindulged egos, but it also reveals something innate about ourselves: Our desire to control how others see us and how we carefully construct our identities. I had a philosophy professor who used to talk about this all the time. He would say things like, “when you look at your own page, you occupy a third person perspective and enact this ritual where you pretend to be another person admiring or condemning whatever YouTube video or status update you’ve got up there.” I’m paraphrasing, but trust me, at 9:30 in the morning it was the deepest thing I’d ever heard.
Regardless, in a culture saturated with social media, the existential crisis to define who we are has become as routine as a Venti coffee and dining-hall-induced indigestion. And although it may be a terrifying prospect for some people, sites like Facebook, OkCupid, Tumblr and Weight Watchers Online are godsends to fat guys.
The reason for this is that fat people have always been more conscious about constructing an image for themselves than skinny people have. We were doing the whole “third-person perspective” thing way before AOL ever said “You’ve Got Mail.” How’s it feel trying to catch up to us, skinny people?
Not to worry. I’m here to help.
First, you have to become comfortable with the fact that people are judging you in the same way that you’re judging them. The people you sit next to in class, the people who ride the T and the people who work at Panera and know you’re not really on a diet all have an opinion of you — and it took them all of 12 seconds to form it. Because ultimately how you look, what you’re wearing and how you are standing says a lot about who you are. Little details like these go into forming your identity — at least the one you want others to see.
How you look, what you listen to, what kind of clothes you wear, what you say, is part of your “package.” Like a packet from college admissions, it’s trying to tell people who you are and who you are not. When you put on an expensive shirt, or listen to the Black Keys as opposed to Maroon 5, you’re sending a message. You may not know you’re doing it, but you are. You’re saying, “I want everyone to know I like this band instead of this one because I like the assumptions people will make about me based on my musical tastes.” So when you’re getting ready to leave your house in the morning, what you’re really doing is making decisions that will influence the opinions of those around you.
Before the Internet, we fat people had a hard time influencing how others viewed us, because generally the first thing people see when we walk down the street is that we’re fat. Who could blame you? We do stand out, after all. But that means we had to think of ways to make ourselves appealing while distracting people from focusing on our weight, which was a lot easier said than done. I mean, how am I supposed to talk about the time I met George Clooney in a casual conversation? I’ll sound crazy if I just blurt it out. Unless, of course, I make it my status on Facebook — a random fact becomes socially acceptable Tourette’s.
What’s great about Facebook and other social media sites is that they allow us to have a dictatorial amount of control over how people see us. We can emphasize all the cool and interesting things about ourselves. “Sandor listens to Miles Davis and his favorite book is Ham on Rye by Bukowski. Sandor also plays golf and has been to fourteen countries in Europe.” Everyone wants to hang out with that Sandor — that Sandor would look good in the background of a Kanye video.
But the other Sandor, the Sandor we don’t see, won the hot dog eating contest during the fifth grade pool party. This Sandor makes everyone sad and he is nowhere near my Facebook page. But that’s the other great thing about social media: It allows us to hide all the embarrassing things we wish we could erase about ourselves, especially when it comes to physical appearance.
Being able to control which pictures are on your page and which aren’t makes social media sites a godsend to fat guys. Any fat guy will tell you that they hate looking “too fat” in their picture. A little double chin, or maybe the outline of a potbelly underneath a coat is alright. But that picture where my face looks bloated from four shots of Svedka will be untagged sooner than I get out of breath when climbing stairs. Facebook allows people to see only the good parts about you, all at once. You get to be confident, self-possessed and interesting without ever leaving the house. No wonder the inventor of Facebook was a socially inept sociopath who couldn’t get a BU girl to sleep with him.
Sandor Mark is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, and a weekly columnist for the Daily Free Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org