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on not being the main character
i am the orb in the hotel room flashing a smile at the mirror
I wrote this after spending the night at a hotel on Valentine’s Day somewhere on the border between Ohio and Pennsylvania. I was taking pictures of myself in the mirror with the flash on, my cell phone’s camera flash obfuscating my face, my half-dressed body still intact. The poem-I hesitate to say I write poems because I rarely do-lives on my website and has appeared in a zine. I come back to it often, thinking of my flattened, anonymized image inside of my phone. I’ve never uploaded those particular photos anywhere; I’d probably have a hard time locating them now, but if I were to upload them, I would be tossing them onto the pile of nearly identical photos of orb girls online.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these orb girls, how they capture this flattening that happens when we post our images online. It’s interesting that there’s so much discussion around being the “main character” or romanticizing one’s life when ultimately everything we post is cast out into a sea of identical images. The older I get, the more I lean into this: becoming a girl in the phone. I’m not being myself, I’m joining the others.
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time on Pinterest. I’ve been working on various image-based projects and using the website as a way to gather my thoughts, and also research the types of images that proliferate certain girl spaces online. I type a search term into Pinterest and I am met with endless images nearly identical in form and content. When I click on a specific image, I’m met with even more interchangeable content. When I save an image, my Pinterest homepage suggests more of those same types of photos. Obviously, this is how algorithms work. I love to reinforce them to give me more of what I want, but it’s interesting just how much Pinterest functions as stock photography at this point.
I started collecting orb girls on Pinterest, saving them to a board titled GIRL IN THE PHONE. When I get obsessed with something-an image, a concept, whatever-I have to gather it, save it, and start working with it, whether it “fails” or not, to make sense of it. I decided to print the images I had gathered on transparency paper and began to arrange them onto a full-length mirror hanging on the back of my closet. 36 orb images form a grid on the mirror; the transparency combined with the mirror makes them appear like negatives. The flash is so blown out that it prints clear, letting the viewer fill the face inside the orb that once obscured up someone else’s face with their own. Ideally, these would be printed directly onto a mirror, but transparency paper is what I had available. This is just the beginning of a much larger exploration!
In 2018, I read the essay “Selfie Communism” by Jodi Dean. In it she writes,
“Selfies, though, should be understood as a common form, a form that, insofar as it is inseparable from the practice of sharing selfies, has a collective subject. The subject is the many participating in the common practice, the many imitating each other. The figure in the photo is incidental.”
This essay inspired my piece #NewProfilePic. Sexy .gifs of women are overlaid on my body as I take mirror selfies with my phone. My selfies aren’t in direct conversation with just selfies, but with broader renderings of women online. I’d go as far as to say that the image of the girl online, selfie or not, becomes more like these sexy .gifs the further it travels through the internet. Someone may see a selfie of mine on Instagram and understand that it is me, and they might have some sort of relationship to me that aids in whatever image they have of me, but once I upload something, I also understand that the image will be decontextualized. I become a sexy .gif or a reference for a haircut or buried on someone’s hard drive.
I’ve started attempting to dress more nondescript in my images. Playfully wearing office attire-clothing that can’t totally be placed or registered. I’m not a trend forecaster by any means, but I do think there will be some sort of movement toward more anonymous, or dare I say “NPC” style clothing (not exactly normcore but something else) in response to the maximalist, “main character” outfits that have been proliferating the internet for the past few years. There’s probably something about the recession in there too, but I’m not the person to articulate that. So, today I’ll leave you with two parting gifts: girlsofebay.tumblr.com and a little TikTok I made at the grocery store.