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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 11/28/2012

What a Facebook profile picture says about you

I had a few extra hours the other night and wasted them playing around on Facebook. One of my accomplishments was to replace my two-year-old profile photo.


(Thierry Roge - Reuters)
I had no idea at the time that I was actually reclaiming my own identity. But two days later, I came across a recently published book and found out that that’s exactly what I had done.

You see, two years ago I snapped a shot of my daughters in the rain. I caught my youngest as she jumped into her first puddle, awestruck. I so loved the image that I chose it as my profile shot. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but thanks to Katie Roiphe’s new book, I have just learned that what I was really doing in posting that photo was surrendering my very self.

Roiphe’s collection of essays, “In Praise of Messy Lives” (The Dial Press), includes the claim that women who use photos of their children to represent themselves on Facebook are part of a trend of “ominous self-effacement.”

That, “The subliminal equation is clear: I am my children.”

Well, no.

Facebook is not my life. My profile picture on it is not my identity. In truth, I find the obviously flattering-beyond-reality face shots of many to suggest that they may a bit too worried about their own virtual identities. Who cares if some ghost of high school days gone past thinks I’ve aged well?

I would argue that subliminal equation to most Facebook photos is: “See what you missed by rejecting my prom proposal.”

I understand Roiphe’s point. It’s an argument she first made this past summer in an essay where she tried to coin the phrase “disappearing mothers.”

“The choice seems to constitute a retreat to an older form of identity, to a time when fresh-scrubbed Vassar girls were losing their minds amidst vacuum cleaners and sandboxes,” she wrote.

It’s also part of a well-trod argument that suggests we parents have become so absorbed in the act of “parenting” that we’ve lost ourselves. That we are overly concerned about our kids, that our very self-worth is wrapped up in our child’s accomplishments or lack thereof.

But this particular example of what may or may not be true about modern parenting is weak.

My knee-jerk explanation for posting a photo of my kids is that every time I called up Facebook to scroll through updates, I could rest my eyes on that lovely image.

I think it’s the same reason my husband uses a shot of our older daughter on his profile.

If I was forced to overthink my reasoning, I might add that I was also purposely avoiding the one-upsmanship of face shots. I find many of them to look a little desperate and a lot competitive. It’s a game I don’t want to play.

Given the societal demands on women to be attractive, I might even argue that using a representation of me other than my face is a more feminist approach than fluffing my hair and making eyes at my iPhone camera.

Of course, this may all sound like the excuses of a mother in denial to Roiphe, who is also a mother and in her book’s publicity shot looks rather alluring with her practiced eye lock and cascading hair.

Have you ever used a Facebook photo of kids as a profile shot or do you think this trend speaks to greater change in the way we parent today?

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By  |  07:00 AM ET, 11/28/2012

Tags:  Electronic media, Books

 
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