The Aesthetics of Authenticity

I envy the joyful brightness of people on social media, their bubbly exteriors. Yes, I’ve heard it before: it is not always real. They might be hiding a desperately depressed self behind the scenes. Well then, I envy at least their ability to marshal their energies enough to put on that mask.

I don’t have such energies. The energy I do have I must reserve for deadlines, potential fires to put out, paid work, meetings and classes, to maintain a bare minimum semblance of order in my house.

I look at people sharing their days, their lives, and I wonder at their ability to make every little daily task look glamorous. They call it authenticity. Being yourself. Showing up without makeup, with your hair in a messy bun, sometimes even in your pajamas. But there is an aesthetic to it.

Perhaps they call it “authenticity” because it is self-curated aesthetic: you pick the bits to show, even if they supposedly are not your best. You sweating through your workout. You speaking your mind and “keeping it real”, even if some people “get offended”. You being silly as you lip sync to a song you love.

I have been told countless times that this is the way to make content in order to attract clients. I have been told that people will relate, that my message will “resonate”. This is how you build a brand: with silly unicorn filters and a meticulous recounting of how you brew your coffee. (Because no one brews coffee quite like you do.) Mix in a good dash of gratefulness and excitement about every bit of mundanity, and you might make it seem like you are living your best life. Your joy and unique, quirky personality will attract people who want what you have: carefree joy, boundless movement, endless energy, relentless discipline.

I understand the theory, but its application to daily life continues to elude me. There is something insidious and perverse in sharing yourself like this, doing this type of free, unpaid labor with the hope of accumulating social capital. One must employ all sorts of mental gymnastics to make this sustainable. I know because I have. I worked hard to dismiss my doubts and concerns as simple self-doubt and imposter syndrome. I pushed through sessions of content creation, coming up with ideas and putting together images on Canva, even when it was physically painful to do so. This is not what I signed up for when I said I wanted to do creative work all those years ago, before social media even existed.

I have also been told that I am overthinking it. That the point is to “help” people. You attract them to your community, and then you change their lives with your product. I have heard that before. For a while I used to do translations for a multi-level marketing company, and that is also what they say. “You are helping people by showing them a way to become free from full-time jobs.” “You are helping people lose weight.” “You are helping people cure their illnesses with essential oils.” Meanwhile, someone is making a lot of money off of your efforts, your diligence and your life essence.

It has been a long time since I’ve noticed this blurring of the lines between manipulative tactics and building a brand. Often there is an obfuscation of what one actually does in order to make it sound much grander and glamorous than what it actually is. It was one thing when corporations and businesses did it, but now we are to do it to ourselves, and to each other. And I always wonder what that does to one’s psyche, and to one’s ability to make meaningful art.

Perhaps some people do enjoy posting about their days on Instagram. I do get the occasional good laugh and warm feelings from seeing someone truly enjoy what they do. But claiming that it is what we all must do in order to further our art careers is troubling. Surely there must be other ways.

Translator, writer, dancer. I resist becoming a brand.

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