the girl the internet made me
From Glitch Feminism:
“The oblique romance of Internet-as-utopia, against this backdrop reality, should not be dismissed as naïve. Imbuing digital material with fantasy today is not a retro act of mythologizing; it continues as a survival mechanism. Using the Internet to play, perform, explore still has potential. Giving ourselves this space to experiment perhaps brings us closer to a projection of a “sustainable future.”
I watched Belle last night. I liked it because it’s a movie about the (sort-of) utopian internet, which is so rare—as we all know, it’s easier to write about dystopias than about utopias. It’s also a movie about a mousy schoolgirl, a genre I harbor a real softness for because I was a mousy schoolgirl.
I remember being 12 or 13, going on Pinterest back when Pinterest was a thing teenage girls loved and seeing a lot of white women with hair extensions and thigh-high boots in style photos that have now become cheugy but at the time seemed aspirational. I didn’t think anything about myself was right—not my face, not my body, not the clothes I wore, not the things I said. I was haunted by a strong sense of my own wrongness.
In Belle the main character, Suzu, solves her own sense of inadequacy by becoming someone else in the metaverse (it’s called U). In U, she looks more like her beautiful classmate Ruka than herself, has flowing pink hair, and is able to sing again, something that she has been unable to do since her mother’s death. It’s explained to the audience that U’s technology scans your body and brings out qualities within you that are important but not necessarily visible in everyday life. I think that’s a great metaphor for our internet, too: things that might not be valuable in real life have currency in the online world.
I used the Internet to become someone else, like so many girls do. I thought femininity was a code to be cracked and I resolved to study hard like the good student I was. I was lucky in that I’ve always been a talented consumer, an obsessive consumer. I swear my whole childhood was just lists—100 best books of the 20th century. 50 greatest movies of the past 50 years. I learned how to be a girl on the internet from Facebook and Omegle and porn. I read Singaporean beauty blogs and watching Youtube videos about first date makeup before I ever went on a date.
I love Safy-Hallan Farah’s essay about the grand unified theory of aesthetic vlogging, which explores the capital that young women can accrue on the Internet if they’re sufficiently attractive and bookish and canny:
But can we blame her, when it’s no longer enough to be pretty and rich? Now, there’s pressure to be interesting, too, if she wants to keep up with booktubers, aesthetic vloggers, Tavi Gevinson, Kaia Gerber, Emily Ratajkowski, Emma Roberts and countless other stylish, loquacious, bookish young women.
The necessity of an interesting performance of self, of demonstrating one’s ability to stylishly cut through an infinite and rambling internet freighted with big ideas is a remarkable thing. It turns this abundance of information into something generative rather than overwhelming. And yet its small details — organized pixels, hex codes, fonts, still and moving images, etc. — inform our perception of the aesthetic beauty it contains.
That’s what the Internet taught me: that there was a correct way to consume. I was reading some Pitchfork article about how the teens on Euphoria are really into 90s rap (like, Tupac’s Hit ‘Em Up), because the creator of the show is a 37-year-old dude. That’s what being on the Internet feels like: you should dress like an 23-year-old actress on Euphoria, but also have the cultural vocabulary of a middle-aged director. A Verso book-reading Maryam Nassir Zadeh-wearing anti-woke e-girl.