Broken Images

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I love photography. With each snap, I feel like I’m able to unleash a mini canvas to save memories I see around me. The Internet and advent of technology have made it so easy for me, as well as other more professional photographers, to share their perspectives with the world. Although photography has become more accessible and easier than before (and its value in society has risen through the years) there also is a very visible devaluing… namely in the way photos are scrutinized to live up to another person’s “standards.”

One of the weirder – and sometimes upsetting – consequences of this shift in perspective are the things said to others that would never be said face-to-face. What you are about to read are snippets or paraphrases of messages I have received before – usually in a private domain such as my Facebook inbox – based off of the photos I have posted of myself or the world around me. As a reference, I do not have any photos that could be categorized as “provocative” or “racy.”
Some of these messages seem normal, others not so much.
You be the judge of their undertones.

– You’re such a good photographer, maybe you should buy a better camera and you can do a photoshoot of me!

–  Mmmmmmmm 😉
This one can be replaced by many other creepy messages. Be creative. I have and continue to receive creepy messages, even if I have posted a picture of a cake.

– I usually think you’re pretty but your new photo makes you look old/fat/ugly/insert other word that doesn’t fit to this person’s standards.

– I really think you should fix your gapped teeth / get a new hairdo / wear a different style / show more skin / other unsolicited comment that reflects my personal choices.

– Hi (repeat this message indefinitely until I respond with “hi”).
This is then followed by sup? / why didn’t you reply? / you’re hot / nice pic.

– Why didn’t you invite me to (insert event or restaurant)?

– We should go out to (location) because I like (insert what person liked about my photo).

– Why do you take pictures of buildings/food? Where was this picture taken? How can I get to this location?

As you can see, some are harmless, yet others could have serious implications. I’m a strong enough personality to have most of the criticism and creepiness roll off my back, but I can imagine what could happen – what insecurities could form, how these harsh judgements could make a person lose confidence… the list goes on.

What creeps me out the most are the unsolicited “suggestive” comments that are sometimes sent from the most innocent of images. I received a creepy message from posting a photo of coffee once. What sort of logic is behind that? (Maybe I could classify this as non-logic?!)

I will never stop taking photos and sharing them because of these factors. Nevertheless, it makes me wonder what sorts of other things have been said to people. It makes me question how others place or remove value based on what another person might photograph. Is the modern era that promotes body shaming and Photoshop modification to the point that the natural form is lost a true paradigm? Has it made us better people because of it? Do we always have to be beautiful enough, in shape enough, and sexy enough to be validated? Do we have to stop taking photos of things we find interesting, beautiful, or tasty because we might somehow get solicited from them?

I don’t think so.

Do you have a personal story or comment related to this? Share it in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Memories of a Dewdrop

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One night I had a very strangely beautiful dream; the kind that stays with you forever. It came back as I was daydreaming today, so I thought I’d share it. First off, the majority of my dreams are like recreations of Salvador Dali paintings in motion – they’re vivid, full of vibrant hues, and sometimes can be surrealist interpretations of the world around me. Other nights, my dreams mimic things that happened or could happen in my everyday life.

It was a humid, rainy summer night, the kind that awakens the soil’s earthy musk with each drop. I had my window open, and the soft, balmy air kissed my cheek as I drifted off to sleep. My dreams carried me to the top of a tree. I was suspended in a raindrop, hanging in the glint of the summer sun, the rays creating a prism-like cocoon. Suddenly, the wind pushed the branches of the tree, and I fell with the drop, softly into a field. The raindrop burst, and I wiped my eyes to see a field of flowers – with all of the colours removed. It was like I had landed in the middle of a colour-by-number game. I looked around me and saw that the scattered droplets from the prism-raindrop had retained their lustrous shades, so I began to pick them up one by one and drop the colours onto the flowers until I had decorated the majority of the field around me. It was beautifully still, save for the sound of the cicadas crackling in the distance.

I climbed back up the tree to see my work, smiling with pride at what I had done. The beauty of the world was in my hands, and I had shared it to make something better. I hung with one hand from the tree, and fell into a bed of dandelions past their prime, their puffy parachutes landing all around me. This is the moment I woke up. The pillows surrounding me in bed had me duped into thinking I still was in that field when I was half-awake. I remember spending the entire day afterwards making sense of the beauty I had experienced overnight.

I drew the conclusion that my subconscious was telling me to make my mark on the world and paint it how I felt. The most satisfying part of life is expressing yourself through your own palette while appreciating others’ contributions to the mural of life.

The Importance of Solitude

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It’s almost impossible to avoid being contacted no matter where you are at any given point during the day. We’ve all been in the very awkward situation of having our phone ring when we don’t want it to, or having text after text distract us from something we were doing beforehand. In many ways, our world is becoming even more of a community than ever. But at some point, we need to take a step back from this interconnectedness and take time to get to know someone new… ourselves.

I’ve taken a great amount of inspiration from Michel de Montaigne, a French Renaissance philosopher and author who recognized that solitude was one of the most powerful things anyone can practice. Spending time in solitude gives us the opportunity to digest our day, to think deeper and clearer, and to prepare us for experiences in our everyday lives. For many people, finding alone time can be very difficult given family obligations or work schedules, and so we become more and more disconnected from our own interests and necessities –  and that truly is a modern tragedy.

Try to set aside at least 10 minutes to yourself every day. Years ago, I promised myself that I would give myself at least half an hour of alone time each day. Some days I pop in my headphones and listen to music, other days I take a walk in nature, and still other days I sit and read, drink a coffee, or just lay down and meditate. Disconnect yourself from emails and texts, if only for a bit. Treat yourself to lunch alone even – what better company could you have than yourself? It’s a very liberating feeling to ask for a table for one.

I’ve matured and grown more in these moments of aloneness than through any other experiences. You’d be surprised at how much you can learn about yourself when you spend enough time with yourself. It’s thanks to these moments that I’ve built self-confidence, too. Being alone gives you an idea of what you can do, and it makes you realize just how powerful you actually are. It makes you realize all of the values and all of the nuances of your personality, so that when you get into a situation where someone might try to devalue you, you’re already prepared and know what you have in your toolbox.

Spending time alone in public is equally of great value. You begin to perceive more than you ever would had you been surrounded by others. As a person, it’s made me much more empathetic when I get to observe others. I’ve learned so much about different personalities just by watching or overhearing conversations in cafés. In the long run, it’s made me much more conscious of others’ feelings and reactions.

You might be saying to yourself right now “but being alone can feel so lonely.” This is the best example I can give of the disconnect between yourself and your world. Modern society is so interconnected that when we are alone, society casts a judgemental eye. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a pitiable glance in a café or restaurant when I was enjoying time on my own. And believe me when I say, I received many a shocked expression when I told others that I had travelled on my own to France last year.

Don’t be afraid of spending time alone. Loneliness is the exact opposite of solitude. I have felt lonely in crowds, but when I’m enjoying time on my own, I’ve never felt that way. Unravelling your own enigma can provide more support than anything else or anyone else can provide to you.

Swipe left, swipe right: The Advent of Consumerist Dating

“He wasn’t that attractive,” said a well-groomed woman to a friend sitting with her at a table a few seats over from mine. Being all alone and sipping on my latte, it was hard not to tune out of the conversation. “What was he wearing? Sweats?” joked her friend from across the table. “No, he just didn’t look as good as any of the pictures he had up online.”

Overhearing this short exchange was a revelation for me.

Want a new book? Buy it on Amazon. Tired of your wardrobe? Find it on any clothier’s website with little effort. Want to find a partner – or even a fling? There’s an app for that… and the selection process has become more commercialized than anyone could have imagined a few decades ago.

There are obviously positives and negatives to this new trend. On the one hand, people less likely to find time outside of their jobs or who wish to avoid the bar scene have an easier time than ever to connect with potential matches. Some apps and websites ask you to answer some of the most personal questions out there in regards to sexual tendencies, romantic history, and whether or not you think you’re smarter than the general population. These questions are equally answered by other matches. The higher you agree with each other, the more compatible you are… or at least, so it seems. (I don’t think I’d like to date an exact replica of myself in any event).

Some websites and apps are helpful for people who wish to find matrimonial candidates based on religion, such as Christian Mingle or Shaadi. Others are intended for people who specifically want to date to marry, such as eVow or eHarmony. The gay community has Grindr, an app that locates other potential matches based on distance. Tinder is notorious for its swipe left for no, swipe right for yes choice system, which makes dating – and flings – a very visual process.

All of these options, regardless of their general established “purpose,” have created a very similar environment to the likes of even eBay; in short, users have to “market” themselves like a product.

This can be both very efficient and equally very troubling. Many that I know have had very beautiful relationships blossom from these websites and apps, whereas others have found them discouraging. “I don’t like being seen like this,” one friend mentioned to me while chatting. “I’m just viewed for my photos. It’s annoying because I know I’d get along so well with some of my matches if they met me in person. They say no because I don’t meet their physical standards. It’s superficial.”

For those who receive no response, a general copy and paste message is sent out sometimes hundreds of times per day. Conversations fizzle out after simple introductions. Accounts close because of boredom, and reopen for the same reason.

Are we at the point where everything – relationships included – can be grouped as a commodity? It almost seems that way. Psychologically speaking, the average person is bombarded with advertisements and paradigms of beauty no matter where one goes. These subconsciously embed themselves into our minds, and we form checklists for what we desire just the same way as we remind ourselves of the consumer goods we dream about.

To a certain extent, preferences are natural and have always been. For example, I have always had a predilection for men with darker hair and eyes. Does that rule out the possibility that I would date someone with blond hair and blue eyes? Absolutely not. But for many it would, and the websites have made it very easy to do so. Included in many search options, a prepackaged mate can be chosen based on height, race, education level, and more. It’s almost like buying a new sweater. If it doesn’t fit, send it back and search again.

More than ever, it seems like technology has acted as Pandora’s box, providing a wealth of options and opportunities, but erasing the key components of natural connection, whose signal is weakening day by day.

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

Fear. The power behind the definition of this four-letter word has stopped even the most tenacious in their tracks. We fear the unknown, the lack of acceptance by our peers, any threat to the security of our daily lives, and most of all, we fear death.

We are very aware of how we are perceived, and an end result of that is that most people wish to be seen as a paradigm of social perfection, emulating either what is perceived to be ‘right’ or fashionable. Governments are equally faced with this fear of how they are perceived. To evade many issues and uprisings, the general public is fed with comfort food for the ears – vague statements that help to stall decisions and provide ephemeral placation. This fear has complicated government to a point where process has degraded into procedure and progress has become appeasement.

As was famously penned by the eighteenth-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the opening line of his The Social Contract: “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Human nature hasn’t changed very much since. We are creatures that like to stratify and organize all parts of our lives while simultaneously climbing the social ladder, all the while in fear of defeat and criticism. Included in the organization of our world are all of the values and traditions that weave together to create our personal identity – our nationality, our religion or lack thereof, our sexual orientation, our political affiliations, our educational background, our job specialization, our likes and dislikes. Yet, though these aspects represent the fingerprints of our uniqueness within the collective, they are also areas that sometimes foster fear and conflict, particularly in two domains: 1) the fear of an attack on our personal identity and 2) the fear of the judgement or conflicts between others who do not share in the same identities. This is where we begin to place ourselves “in chains.”

It has become a trend to think that by simply passing legislation one can fix all of the world’s ills, almost as if we were prescribing a remedy for our fears. That unfortunately is not the case. The process that has been set into place to make governments function was intended to provide a catalyst for general responsibility. The process provided by government is only one means to an end. When we start to take into account the variety represented by individual rights, we start to realize the mammoth undertaking it would be to address each issue. These individual and social rights therefore can be interpreted as self-executing rights – ones that are not necessarily explicitly covered by federal law, but still hold validity.

One very important self-executing right has recently come into the spotlight in light of the recent Charlie Hebdo tragedy in France – that of the freedom of expression. Never before have I seen such a vast array of responses from different news sources or personal connections in reaction to an incident. Some responses were filled with messages of solidarity and hope for the French people during the tragedy. Others had posted online that one ‘reaps what one sews’ and were ‘not surprised.’ Many reactions were in direct target to Islam, either for or against. Armchair activists that had only days before never heard of or read the publication began to chastise the authors and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo for hateful publications. The hashtag #JesuisCharlie has become a worldwide mark of support. #JenesuispasCharlie has also appeared, as well as #JesuisAhmed – representing the fallen Muslim police officer.

There are several important points that can be taken away in wake of these despicable acts of terror committed, particularly in relation to the right to freedom of expression.

Firstly, if one takes a look at the history of Charlie Hebdo, one will see that this is not the first time that the publication had been involved in legal or social skirmishes due to its content. In 2006 for example, Charlie Hebdo was taken to court for its publication of several cartoons that related to Islam. France, along with many other countries, have laws that limit the mass publication of what can be defined as hateful speech. (One can refer to these laws for further reading and analysis: Loi du 29 juillet 1881 sur la liberté de la presse, article 24; La loi n° 90-615 du 13 juillet 1990 (Loi Gaysot); Code pénal – Article R624-3, link here).
The court’s holding found that the cartoons and publications were protected under the law, as they “mocked fundamentalists, not Islam or Muslims.” (Viscusi, Bloomberg Online, 2007). Therefore, it was their fundamental right to be able to publish their opinions.

This leads to the second point – what exactly can be identified as hateful? Does everyone agree? The difficulty with enforcing such laws deals with the fact that what is considered ‘hate’ is usually a relative concept. Some will agree, some will disagree. Furthermore, by denying certain ‘controversial’ groups their right to participate or to express themselves in the public forum is a surefire way to breed conditions under which a suppressed subject might force its way to the surface in more violent ways than writing or drawing. In grade school, it was common for the teacher to ask students to express their feelings to resolve issues, rather than bottling them up. The same goes for adults, too.

Let’s return to the idea of the organization of our world. Freedom of expression is liberating because it allows us to address our individual needs in a way that enables others to understand and respond to them, making our lives more stable and fulfilling. What becomes frustrating for some is when they encounter the product of another person’s expression – be it a cartoon, a film, a novel, or a political speech. When these creations are in diametric opposition to one’s personal values, the creation becomes offensive, frustrating, demeaning, and controversial. In many cases, some people are even afraid of facing anything that even remotely challenges or goes against their status quo.

Is there an easy solution to this situation? Absolutely not. Since the issue is so relative and is mainly based at the individual level rather than the collective, the best we can do is to take the advice of another eighteenth-century philosopher – that of Voltaire. He wisely articulated that “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” We will never entirely agree with what other people will say or think. There is no law that can ever change or will ever change that. What will move us forward towards a more open forum of respect, responsibility, and free discussion is to always have an open mind, particularly to those who hold a differing viewpoint.

Face your fears.