“I’m trying to get them into something that’s more internal,” she said in hushes and tears.
We stood at the front desk of the studio, speaking of, and for, yoga. Her 12-year old daughter carefully weaved through racks of clothes, bent forward to match her classmate’s shorter stature. They held up shirts and pants against their own bodies, the spandex limp and shrunken even against pre-teen forms.
“I feel like every generation says this—that it’s so much harder to raise kids now—but it is. There’s so much out there that tells them how to be and how to look.” Her eyes widened and she looked over at the girls as they giggled over a backless tank top.
“It’s hard enough to be 12,” I assured her. “I can’t imagine with all the social media.”
Like her daughter, I had started taking yoga at 12. But there were no racks of clothing to hold up as a standard. There were no mirrors in my class with seven women, all over the age of 35, in a ballet studio attic. We practiced on carpet squares. Yoga in 1993 was not the cool thing to do. It was barely a “thing” to do at all.
My first yoga teacher noticed how I perked up when she talked about anatomy, and gave me a handwritten breakdown of the psoas. Over the course of the summer, I collected a folder full of poses, pages of muscles and bones and Sanskrit. On Saturdays, I sat in my room, listening to Casey Kasem’s Top 40, studying the psoas and practicing backbends.
I don’t remember what I wore.
I didn’t take photos of myself.
No one other than me knows that this happened.
(Until now. Hello, Internet, nice to see you.)
Yoga, for me, has always been internal. But everything internal now is also external. If you do something and don’t tweet, Instagram or Facebook it, did it really happen? And if no one likes it, re-tweets it or comments on it, does it matter?
I joined Instagram in February as an experiment, and because I learn things by jumping in and doing them, I posted a photo once a day, every day, for 31 days. I had a few rules for myself:
1. No duck faces.
2. No body-shaming.
3. No deleting photos no matter how few “likes” they garner.
4. Try not to only post photos of feet.*
I kept to these rules.** I posted photos that make me happy. And in turn, they changed my own mood about my day since I focused on making a tiny flash of life prettier or funnier. Oddly, filtered photos were closer to how I had seen them in my brain before they transferred to digital life. The macro scope of the experiment gave me micro projects: each day had a singular visual representation and I was tasked to find it, to present it the way it seemed to me, to curate its import. Thus, each day had an intention.
But midway through the 31 days, as she and I talked, as the girls sifted through athletic clothing designed to show as much skin as possible, I wondered how much of this intentionality I could have taken on at 12. How we expect pre-teens to master patterns we haven’t even written yet. How we plunge 12-year olds into adulting.
At 12, it took me a few months to finish a roll of camera film. I brought it to Target to get it developed, picked it up a week later, hoped some of the 24 photos would be acceptable enough to show others. And if my hair looked weird, if I was standing all lopsided and lumpy, if I looked fatter than I envisioned? Well, those photos were taken a few months ago. Surely I didn’t look like that anymore. Surely those glimpses, those shiny, flat, 4×6 prizes, didn’t encompass what I actually presented to the world.
And while I wouldn’t recommend “delusion” as a way to deal with middle school, this time-lapse padded my self-awakening like bubble wrap. What happens when it’s instant? When all the retakes and all the filters in all the technology can’t fix you into the girl in the magazine? Or a “Yogi of Instagram?” Or simply a girl who smiles in a bathing suit?
What happens when it’s too fast to be intentional? When the external happens before the internal?
Because that, above all else, is the adulting, the flippant decision-making, the danger, into which we have plunged twelve-year olds. The clothes before the action. The mirror before the movement. The photo chosen before the day, and all its details, has finished.
“I’m trying to get them to be critical,” she continued. “I want them to ask why.”
Instagram can be just as intentional as a yoga practice. And yoga can be just as shallow as an Instagram photo. It depends on what you demand of it.
We watched the girls tread one last loop through the clothes. I pictured myself here at 12, too shy to approach them, these girls, who were the kind of skinny I so desperately wanted those Target-print photos to prove I was. Would I, had Instagram existed in 1993, posted photos of my back-bends on blue carpet? Would I have cropped it to my waist, filtered it to bland out my frizzy hair, hash tagged it to reflect cooler songs than my actual soundtrack? Would those altered memories have advantaged me toward a stronger self-identity, focused on my own positive qualities? Or would it have pigeon-holed me into a girl of a certain type, and ousted all my secret hobbies until nothing was not known, not famous? Would it have forced me to live a lie of my own imaginary perfection?
These girls: the taller one shrinking herself to match the shorter one, the shorter one straightening up to be bigger, not fully formed as humans yet and yet yearning to form themselves into something else, something other. We all do this. We are all eternally twelve. And seeing other people as twelve year olds, scrunching themselves down and inflating themselves up to match, makes other people eternally endearing. It makes Instagram endlessly more endearing to me, at least.
“I think the ‘why’ is the most important part of anything,” I said.
We were silent.
“We should all be able to see past just the external,” she said.
Even in an instant.
*I take an inordinate amount of feet photos—I don’t know why.
** Totals = Duck faces: 0; Body-shaming: 0; Deleted photos: 0; Feet photos: 4.
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Editorial Assistant: Leila Taylor Jankowski / Editor: Travis May, Bryonie Wise
Photos: Kim Tairi / flickr