The Double Life: Social Media Personas and “Having Your Shit Together”

Holy Instagram filter, Batman!
Holy Instagram filter, Batman!

This week I changed my profile picture on Facebook. I put up a photo my friend took of me on the staged red carpet at Tumblr’s Year in Review Party, in which I look sleek and confident and, dare I say it, pretty attractive. The ‘likes’ poured in, and then a friend commented, “You look like the definition of success tbh.” I immediately felt validated, and then a little embarrassed.

As a new media professional (also known as a pretentious social media intern), I think a lot about my presence on the Internet. My Twitter feed might be full of curse words, but for the most part I post on platforms with intention. It’s all part of this weird Ella Dawson brand that I’m cultivating, a more transparent version of the identity wrangling other post-grads are doing too. While some folks go on job interviews, update their LinkedIn profiles, and have depression-riddled existential crises (which I checked off my list while marooned in Berkeley), I negotiate how I want the world to see me by cultivating Ella 2.0 on the Internet. Social media is my résumé, my portfolio of humble brags, and my opportunity to figure out who I want to be.

It helps that both of the fields I’m interested in—social media management and sex writing—require checking my Twitter mentions constantly to survive. The secret of my writing success so far has been connecting with other authors, favoriting their tweets and sharing their content. And, of course, mercilessly self-promoting. Humility and shyness get you nowhere if you want people to read your work, and for someone who is surprisingly introverted in person, the Internet is a godsend for me. I’m great at making friends through the intermediary of a screen, but approaching strangers at a book event is actually quite terrifying. My laptop and iPhone are my opportunity-makers, and I’ve embraced them fiercely.

My first Brooklyn warehouse party.

But my online self and my offline self clash a lot, especially recently. A few weeks ago I finally hung out with a fellow Wes alum who I had known on campus but only become friends with online after we graduated. He seemed surprised I was so nervous and tongue-tied for the first half hour of our conversation. After all, this was the girl who had been freely and verbosely sharing all of the wacky anecdotes of her life over text message for the past month. On occasion when I’m self-conscious I even stutter, words getting mixed up in my mouth and coming out in the wrong order. I commonly forget to ask my co-workers how they’re doing, how their weekend was, because I’m so preoccupied trying to figure out how to answer their original question in the first place. For someone with such a loud voice on the Internet, it can take me a long time to find my voice in a new environment.

So when people compliment me on how well I seem to be doing this soon after graduation, I tend to instead remember those moments when I absolutely fail at small talk and the daily realities of being a human being. It’s like I have two lives: the life people see on my Facebook with exciting career updates and perfect makeup in my selfies, and the life where I’m falling asleep on Metro North at 7pm and really just want to watch reality TV with my mom instead of going out for drinks. I don’t know if either of these lives is any less real than the other. I just know that one gets a lot more press time.

As I write this, my fingers are wrapped in Band Aids because the holidays make me anxious and I’ve been chewing the skin around my nails again. Last night I became one of those people who sleeps under a pile of their own clothes because I was too tired to clear off my bed when I got home from work. And just now, I spilled my Diet Coke in the bath tub for the fourth time this winter. Success is truly a relative concept.

Tumblr dashboard/food truck combo.
Tumblr dashboard/food truck combo.

But let me go back to that profile picture. Because here’s the thing about that picture: it is everything I have ever wanted to be. That picture is sass, is sex appeal, is talent. That picture is knowing I was invited to this party. That picture is having a great job that gets me to trendy and only slightly corporate events at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar, and a flattering dress I forgot I still owned. That picture is for once having the confidence to ask hey can I take my picture against the backdrop? That picture is having my shit together. That picture is also not having my shit together but understanding I’m doing better than I expected to be doing at twenty-two, and certainly better than I was doing three months ago. That picture is understanding the heart wants what it wants and even if I pine every so often on the train for the other halves I have halved away, I am whole. That picture is things have a way of working out. That picture is having events, places, people to look forward to. That picture is having my whole future to look forward to. That picture is saying screw doubt, I will self-promote because I am so damn proud of who I’m becoming. I am so excited to be standing here. I am so ready to stop undermining my own success.

I’ve been a tumblr user for six years now, and attending that party felt like being invited to sit with the cool kids in the cafeteria, who aren’t even that cool but seem cool because you admire them so much. But more than that, it was one of the first nights I felt like both the Ella killing it on the internet and the Ella whose umbrella collapsed on the walk to the venue. I love that picture because it doesn’t feel like a lie. That picture is me—a well-filtered me but still representative of where I’ve been and where I’m going. And it’s evidence of a moment when I stopped thinking about who was looking at me, this random intern who snuck onto the red carpet, and just smiled because I was at a great party, and I was happy. And that’s all you really want at twenty-two.

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

3 thoughts on “The Double Life: Social Media Personas and “Having Your Shit Together”

  1. Ella, I love this post. All of us in this game have something of a split personality, a double identity. Whether we use a pen name online or not, whether we try to “be ourselves” online or not, most of us probably act somewhat differently, consciously or not, when we are online vs “offline.”

    I have to say, I love the picture, too. You *do* look attractive, sexy, successful, confident, accomplished, the cool girl who has her shit together. And you know what? No matter how tongue-tied you may feel offline, you *are* attractive, sexy, successful, confident, accomplished, and a cool girl who has her shit together.

    Even if you are also someone who sleeps under a pile of clothes. 😉

    You also write some seriously good fiction. So, as far as I’m concerned, that red carpet was put there for you.

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