The Business of Narcissism

dog selfie

dog selfie

It’s a mantra many of us grew up with.

“What happens in these four walls, stays in these four walls.”

For some, it meant family secrets of abuse and alcoholism were never spoken of, outside the home. With my own family, it meant we didn’t brag about me having a key to our apartment at the age of 9, and I certainly never boasted about watching my 6 year old brother at that age. I was to tell exactly NO ONE.

It also meant that special outings, beach trips, and ER visits were never documented in pictures or in print for the world to see. No stranger in another country could peer into our lives. No one knew when we were laughing around the dinner table, nor when my mother had drank too much and was threatening us with the wooden spoon. No one knew if our shoes were brand new or hand me downs that year. No one knew that my frugal mother cleaned up a pair she’d found at the flea market for 35 cents, and how much I loved them anyway because they were just the right shade of pink.

I’ll never know if my mother felt the pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ because she never really gave a shit what the neighbours were doing. She was a proud woman and our home was always neat. She liked to garden in the spring and shovel in the winter. We didn’t have igloo brick makers or a Flexible Flyer Snowball Maker – we had hands inside mittens. We hung our soaking wet snow pants over the shower rail and let the drips get caught in the bathtub and the bathmat, depending on where they fell. We hung beach towels over the back railing, and no one ever complained online about the unsightly un-matchy-matchy laundry hanging on our balcony. The only rants we ever heard was a repeated one from our mother: clean up your rooms!

My mother made most of our birthday cakes from scratch, and we invited a modest number of kids – usually 3 or 4, to stay for a couple of hours, eat cake and go home with smiles on their faces and maybe a goodie bag if it was a good year. No one who didn’t get an invite to the party would remark, “Oh, I saw your cake on Facebook,” There wouldn’t be 189 Happy birthday messages written on our wall, from people we hadn’t seen in years. Writing on walls was graffiti!

Since the internet really blossomed around the late 90’s, moms everywhere have really been able to find and relate to each other in some of the most challenging years of their lives: parenting. In doing so, many positive things came of this development. Women with sore nipples, and bags under their eyes, could talk to each other about all the trials they were facing. I’m sure that truly helped some mothers get through it.

In turn, these connections came fraught with ranting and judgement. Cloth versus disposable, breast versus bottle, and before we knew what hit us – we were in serious competition to be the Best Mom, at any cost.

Cost it did: before long, moms everywhere watched as celebrities snapped up designer strollers and car seats, while paparazzi snapped up pictures of their babies, sometimes putting celebrity families in very real danger, in pursuit of very real dollars.

Soon the Mommy Wars turned on working women (again), stay-at-home-Moms (again), and the work-from-home-Mom was a growing population. The problem was, the rapidly growing business was The Business of Narcissism. In the world of blogging, the Moms with the best writing was quickly overshadowed by the Moms with (sadly) the biggest tragedy, the most flair for drama, or worse, the Mom who was most able to market her brand to companies willing to bargain for exposure to the mommy population; after all, they hold the purse strings. The good writers that were business savvy enough to pursue additional things did well for themselves, and some continue to write and reach out to loyal readers today in a modern Erma Bombeck kind of way.

Surprisingly, money hasn’t proven to be the priority motive overall. Now, Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram hosts a demographic in competition to be the Best Mom, the best cook, the best fitness inspiration, the best of the best, and even better than the best. Pinterest has grown into the proverbial white picket fence with two point five children and everything is so beautiful and perfect and guess what?

We can’t keep this up.

Heaven knows we all have those friends who post Avery’s every fart on Vine, little Ashlynn’s progress at using the potty (complete with Instagram pictures!), Grayson’s every slapshot, Bryndlynn’s every dance recital, and the $120 Ironman cupcake tower that Finn insisted on for his 1st birthday party.

I don’t know about you, but when I cruise the internet, I see a generation of children who are being raised in what seems like a magazine-perfect world. It’s a façade, I know. I’ve been guilty of trying to keep up. I’ve posted pictures of filter-laden, perfect-angled shots that I actually had to tell my kids to help me set up. Years ago, I absolutely blogged for attention. I’ve tweeted things that I’ve later deleted. I’ve been asked by my children on more than one occasion to, “not put that picture on Facebook.”

Once, I did it anyway. It was an adorable picture of my son up to bat. In that moment, he looked so perfect in my eyes (and with my Instagram Valencia filter,) that I threw his request in the dugout and posted it anyway.

We cannot keep this up.

What right do I have to go against my son’s very direct, very reasonable request?

I don’t.

Furthermore, Facebook can really eat away at any insecurity you might already be feeling.

Why didn’t I put my kid in that sport?

So-and-so’s kid got WHAT for Christmas? And she put it on Facebook? Tacky!

SHE got a cleaning lady??? 

These feelings are ugly and I’m exploring them because since that summer day I posted my son’s picture, I have felt remorse about it.

He is a sensible nine year old.

The internet is permanent.

He asked me not to post it.

My motive for doing it anyway was an ugly one – call it what you want: competition, jealousy, the need for validation.

Part of “what happens in these four walls, stays in these four walls,” should be a sense of security for our kids. Things happened to all of us as kids that would have been embarrassing as heck if someone had told the whole school.

Like when I was caught stealing at age 7. Instead of posting the story on the local grocery store bulletin board, my mother marched me right back to the drug store and made me return the gum I stole and apologize to the manager. She never told family members or her girlfriends, as far as I know – she dealt with it swiftly and that was the last of it.

The Business of Narcissism is ugly. Despite those Pinterest pictures, those cheese-deli gushings by a new mom, those angelic faces on your Instagram, there’s an ugliness behind it all that makes me very uncomfortable. I worry for the new generations of brides who dream of weddings beyond their budgets, starting their marriages off in debt and stressed out. I worry about new moms who are sacrificing sleep for perfection. I worry about the kids who are getting shushed so Mom can get the DIY video just right, or take 56 pictures of the food as she makes dinner.

One could argue that me posting my son’s picture is harmless, but I maintain that he has the right to say what I share. These are his four walls too and he deserves to be heard.


3 thoughts on “The Business of Narcissism

  1. Yes, yes. A thousand times yes. Although, now you’re making me feel bad for posting a cute story about something my 3 year old said.

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