This post on Women’s Web and a comment that linked to this article got me thinking about the sexual politics of Facebook profile pictures.

The Women’s Web post is about women using their husband’s Facebook accounts instead of their own* and the article linked to in the comment is about women using photographs of their children as their Facebook profile photo.

I have always found the idea of using my child’s photograph as my profile picture fairly nauseating. It seemed to me to quite clearly declare that my child had taken over my identity. For the same reason, although I’m married, I’ve never have had a Facebook photo with my husband. I wanted my Facebook identity to be just me. V never used a picture of both of us as his profile photo either – he has used the same one of himself since the beginning.

But when I began looking through my earlier profile photos, I realised I did once have a baby replacing my image as the profile photo. That was when my sister’s baby was born. I was so overcome with emotion that day, I think the birth of that child was the biggest thing that had ever happened to me in my life. I’ve never had my own child up as my Facebook photo, though, ironically. But since Benji was born, almost all my profile photos have been with him with the exception of one, in which I’m with my niece.

What’s in a Facebook photo anyway? Well, it’s now generally accepted that Facebook is where we not only interact socially online but also where we project a certain image of ourselves. What we put up on Facebook – photos, status messages, links, wall posts – are a specially curated image of ourselves, what’s we’d like other people to think we are and possibly what we end up believing we are in some cases. Hence, often when people take a photo of you these days and it turns out nicely they go “oh Facebook photo”. Generally, this is a particular kind of image – one in which one looks good, of course, but also one in which one looks like one is having fun, part of the vibrant, hip, fun Facebook world. Hence, a lot of people’s Facebook photos (apart from the nostalgic/horrendous days-gone-by ones) are of them out and about, doing interesting stuff, partying etc.

So what do my Facebook profile photos say about me? Clearly that since my child was born, he’s a big part of my life. He occupies at least half of a space (the profile picture box) that was earlier devoted to exclusively me. This might reflect that he has taken over half my life.

And what do the profile photos of women who use their baby’s image instead of their own say about them? That their baby has taken over their entire life maybe. That they equate their whole identity with that of their child, just like it seems like I equate at least half of my identity with that of my child.

This seems to turn off a lot of people, and I admit I was one of them. But when I think about it – so what? So what if at this point in my life, I have allowed my child to take over half of my life? It is a fact that right now I am half mother and half everything-else. And I am happy this way. The thing that gives me a great deal of joy is my son just as that summer my niece captivated me and one year a reunion at a friends wedding in Goa inspired a whole group of us to post a very similar image of our group of girlies partying it up.

There are many people whose Facebook photos almost entirely consist of images of them living it up, partying etc. Somehow this doesn’t seem to elicit much comment. It is kind of understood that these are the kind of photos to be posted on Facebook. What conclusions might one draw about these people? That their lives are exclusively dedicated to partying? Why is that more palatable than a woman whose life seems to be dedicated to her child?

In a similar vein, why the lamentation about women who talk only about their children? Again, I’m one of those that was and is probably still bored by too much talk about children. I am careful not to do this myself. But a lot of people drone on about a lot of other things – how much they drank last night, for example. This doesn’t seem to draw the same amount of aversion.

Maybe because the feminist in us balks at the idea of women going back to those days when their lives had to be dedicated to their children. But I think we’ve come far along enough since then to not panic anymore.

First, not every woman is replacing their self-image with that of their babies. So if some women are doing it, just as some seem to exclusively post images of themselves drunk or in bikinis, that’s okay, right?

Just because a woman seems to be saying her identity has fused with that of her child, now, doesn’t mean it will be so for all eternity. It may be a phase they are going through – generally in new motherhood – and maybe five or 10 years down the line, they’ll begin posting the drunken photos that seem so much in demand again or something else entirely.

Moreover, the Facebook image is a selective one. I don’t believe that those people who exclusively post images of themselves partying are actually only about partying. Neither is it true that just because I never have my husband in my profile photos he is not an important part of my life. So why assume that a woman’s Facebook image is all she is just because she has a lot of baby photos there? Our actual lives may be very different from the ones we project on Facebook.

What’s interesting to me is why we project the selves we do on Facebook. Why do certain people want to project themselves as the party type? Why do I want to stress that I’m me, even though I’m married – avoiding a profile photo with my husband at all costs but ok with profile photos with other people (my baby, niece, friends etc.)? Why am I less defensive about my image being co-opted with that of my baby but not that of my husband?

For me, this is more interesting that saying – oh dear, another woman obsessed with her baby.

*I probably more eeked out by the idea of women using their husband’s FB account rather than getting one for themselves. Though maybe they’re just not that into FB or don’t want to create an account for practical reasons (one of my colleagues had a stalker, for example). I am even more eeked out by people who start sending you combined Christmas greetings from them and their boyfriend almost as soon as they start dating and people who create a joint email account as soon as they get married and then only get that one. I mean, really, why? What if I want to send you an email that I don’t want your husband to read?

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