The Vapidity of Self-Love as Championed on Social Media

I know, I know, the title is inflammatory, but I couldn't help myself. My actual point isn't as aggressive as the title may suggest, but still might ruffle a few feathers.


Operationally Defining Self Love

Before launching into any kind of actual argument, it is important that the reader understand exactly what I am referring to when I mention self love. Several of the terms I will use are nebulous, and thus I will define them here to avoid any confusion.

Self love- A positive mental attitude towards oneself for whatever reason. Self Love can be separated into two main subcategories
    • Trait Dependent Self Love- Loving yourself because of a certain trait. This can be futher subdivided into two other categories
      • Controllable Trait Dependent Self Love- Loving oneself because of controllable traits, like fitness, education, or relationship status
      • Exogenous Trait Dependent Self Love- Loving oneself because of a trait out of ones control
    • Trait Independent Self Love- Loving yourself independent of any traits, seeing inherent value to your existence in and of itself
Examples of demonstrating these on social media are as follows
    • Controllable Trait Dependent Self Love- "Thick Girl Twitter", the classic butt on the sink bathroom shot, men posting shirtless pictures that emphasize their abs
    • Exogenous Trait Dependent Self Love- "Black Girl Twitter", queer self love campaigns, etc...
    • Trait Independent Self Love- There is no way to demonstrate this on social media, as will be explained later
And now, without further ado...

 Self Love Culture, Vapidity, and The Value of Empowerment

To dispel any worries right off the bat, this will not be a Fox News style rant about millennials and how they're so vapid for posting their selfies on Instagram. I have no problem with people posting about themselves constantly on social media(vapid and tacky as it may be). No, my problem is with those who claim that by "loving themselves," they are somehow empowering themselves or others, or worse, that loving themselves is a revolutionary act in and of itself.

I do not have a problem with anyone, anywhere feeling any kind of self love. I myself feel all three. What I do have a problem with are those on social media who think professing how much they love themselves actually benefits anyone in any way. I am not radical enough to claim any kind of self love is massively detrimental when expressed. Merely that expressing self love on social media is a vapid and often slightly detrimental act. It hardly tears at the fabric of society, but it does, in my eyes, hurt others(in its own small way).

Therefore, in this essay I will go through all 3 kinds of self loved outlined above and illustrate how neither kind of trait dependent self love can be helpful or empowering to those who see it. I will not attempt to argue the same for trait independent self love. However, will show that it is categorically impossible to demonstrate this kind of self love through social media, thus the point is moot.

Controllable, trait dependent self love

At face value, it should be instantly obvious why controllable, trait dependent self love is a bad thing. If your love for yourself is contingent on your intellect, physical fitness, level, etc... then consequently, you will cease to value yourself if you lose that trait. Doubly important is the fact that, since this kind of self love is controllable, often times it leads to self doubt and/or hatred over the fact that you don't have "enough" of a given trait.

The above paragraph outlines personal issues, but why would any of that actually be a problem for society at large? Why does it particularly matter if people love themselves in the "wrong" way? At face value it seems that espousing this kind of love on social media doesn't have any actual negative effects.

Before progressing further, we must first establish one thing as axiomatic: beauty is a zero sum game. Put bluntly, not everyone can be beautiful, and to say otherwise is nonsensical. Many of you may disagree, but since this particular point is taken as axiom, I would encourage you to seek an argument elsewhere. There are plenty of places online that outline exactly why this is. As a simple summary, beauty in people is(by definition) the degree to which society deems them sexually attractive. Because it is nonsensical to say that everyone is equally sexually attractive, it is equally nonsensical to say everyone is equally beautiful.

Back to the main argument at hand. If beauty is a zero sum game, then by posting a picture saying "I love myself because of (controllable trait x)", one is implicitly saying "trait x is beautiful". A corollary of "trait x is beautiful" is that people without trait x are less beautiful(because, as we've established, beauty is a zero sum game). Therefore, by espousing trait dependent self love on social media, often one is unintentionally propagating beauty standards. For instance, I see plenty of pictures of men with abs on social media, and women with large butts. Ostensibly, these pictures are meant to show how much these people love their bodies and how they think they are beautiful because of these traits. But a corollary of that is saying that others are less beautiful because they lack these traits. 

Exogenous Trait Dependent Self Love

At face value, the same critique could be leveled at exogenous trait dependent self love as controllable trait dependent self love(wow that's a mouthful!) However, upon reflection, this doesn't seem to be true. Usually when people are espousing "black is beautiful" the intent is less to focus on literal beauty, and more on how people have been socially conditioned to see black as less beautiful. By saying "black is beautiful" they are actively combating oppressive, bigoted beauty standards that arbitrarily declare white skin to be the most beautiful. These kinds of arguments are ones I wholeheartedly support. However, I only really support them in the case of beauty standards, the reasons for which we will see momentarily. As an aside, from here on out I will abandon specific examples for clarity, as too much focus on one trait could suggest that I am targeting that trait rather than a concept as a whole.

The problem comes when people begin making claims about their exogenous traits that put themselves above others. If we extrapolate out from the statement "I love myself because of (exogenous trait)", then we end up with the statement "I would love myself less if I did not have (exogenous trait)". So far, so uncontroversial. But if we imagine that there is a you with exogenous trait 1, and without exogenous trait 1, then by saying you love yourself more because of trait 1 you are functionally saying that you without trait 1 is lesser. And therefore functionally saying that those without your particular exogenous trait are lesser in some way.

To reintroduce a specific example, someone saying they love themselves because of their heritage is implicitly saying they'd love themselves less without their heritage, and therefore those without a heritage are somehow lesser. 

These kinds of thoughts are probably(?) ok to have personally, but broadcasting them on social media is something I find a bit presumptuous.

I will note I have way less of a problem with marginalized groups espousing this kind of rhetoric, as to me it is similar to a woman saying she hates men. The labeling of a marginalized group as more beautiful or deserving of love makes sense when seen in a historical context. Sort of like a cultural, beauty standard reparations kind of thing. Saying it is 100% appropriate though is not something I'm comfortable with.

To use the women example again, it is relatively un-problematic for a woman to say she hates men, but it would be generally preferable for said woman to not hate men in the first place. 

Trait Independent Self Love

As previously established, trait independent self love is about loving oneself independent of any specific traits. It is saying that your value as a person is not contingent on anything, and by virtue of being born, you have the same inherent value as anyone else who has ever been born. From Napolean to Obama, we all have the same value by virtue of being human. 

Short of saying something like that, how can one espouse this kind of self love? On social media you are necessarily putting some kind of trait out with every post. Be it wit, anger, love, or fear, you are putting a trait into every single tweet and instagram. So how can you espouse this kind of self love on social media? 

The answer is, you can't. Or at least, near as I can figure you can't. So if you figure out how, lemme know.

In Sum

Self love can be put in 3 categories, controllable trait dependent self love, exogenous trait dependent self love, and trait independent self love. Controllable trait dependent self love shouldn't be expressed on social media because it unintentionally shifts beauty standards. Exogenous trait dependent self love shouldn't be expressed on social media because it implies that others are lesser for not having a trait that they cannot control. Trait independent self love cannot be expressed on social media, thus should be discarded.

Therefore, making the statement "I love myself because..." on any kind of public platform is self indulgent, vapid, and damaging to others. Although I, personally, still won't stop doing it

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