The Problem with Social Media Announcements

Beyonce pregnant photos man repeller 5

This piece was originally published on February 3, 2017.

Update: On Thursday, when I saw Beyonce’s pregnancy announcement, I had the same guttural reaction I’ve had to every pregnancy announcement as my struggle with fertility has mounted: I saw it in the context of myself and the suffering I’ve incurred. Inadvertently, I also revealed ignorance and a stunning absence of perspective.

Many of you called me out — and you’re right. The piece lacked awareness, which was particularly evident in using imagery of Beyonce’s announcement within the story, and the way that it was framed on social media. I’m embarrassed that I exploited my personal upset for the sake of a shitty, misinformed think piece. I fucked up and I’m sorry.

The purpose of Man Repeller is to celebrate all women. To inspire and encourage, to think, to discuss — to make this place feel safe. That I could have detracted from that kills me. Learning publicly is tough, but I thank everyone who took the time to comment or respond with feedback. I’m taking it to heart.

Wednesday had all the makings of a pretty good day. I woke up, made a coffee-cocktail of beans, cacao and cayenne pepper and as I drank it, I filed copy for not one but two stories that weren’t due until Friday. Mind you this was all before 8 a.m., which is when production for a Man Repeller video commenced. During a two-hour lunch break midday, I shot another story for next week and filed copy for that, too. I felt like Bradley Cooper in Limitless. 

But then I checked Instagram (which is always when bad stuff happens) to learn that a very pregnant Beyoncé was posing among various floral arrangements on a backdrop that resembled a blue sky.

Amelia called it the news (and photo spread) that could save us all in 2017. That is probably true for a lot of people but for me, it was a curiously annoying reminder that I’m not pregnant.

Curiously annoying because it is ludicrous that I should feel compelled to compare myself to Beyoncé. She is arguably immortal and has an accented letter in her name — some people have all the luck. But her photos perfectly underline the problem with social media announcements: you never know who you’re hurting.

That sounds dramatic, and frankly, it is. How could any person possibly think that their overwhelming joy could contribute to the depression of another person? As a matter of fact, you might argue that my plight is self-inflicted. I don’t have to follow Beyoncé. I don’t have to follow any of the women who are pregnant in my feed (of the 492 who I follow, I estimate that about 101 are pregnant, but who’s counting!). But then again, the act of unfollowing is contentious; it can make you feel like you’re burning a bridge, even if you don’t mean to. Even if you’re just trying to protect yourself.

The timing of this announcement is particularly fortuitous given that Valentine’s Day is around the corner and there is a 0% chance that the holiday will not be punctuated by a frustrating deluge of relationship photos on Instagram. This is likely painful for a lot of people much in the same way that Facebook celebrating Mother’s or Father’s Day can be a brutal reminder of one’s mortality.

I don’t want to promote the notion that you should feel uncomfortable sharing your joy. That’s stupid. Be happy for yourself! You deserve it! Why wouldn’t you? Yet on the other hand I wonder, hasn’t social media totally turned on its head one of the most important tenets we learned as youths: to be humble? As a matter of fact, and this is an observation independent of Beyoncé — we’ve taken this principle (humbleness) and turned it into another bragging right. Humble used to literally define the feeling of inferiority or insignificance but today, it’s just another way to prove how great you are. (See: “I’m so humbled that Oprah called me personally to tell me she loves how my knees look when I walk.”)

I know that when I feel my best, when I am at my happiest, my inclination is to spread it, but spreading (community event) is different from sharing (unilateral activity).

I went on an unfollow spree in December. It seemed like every photo in my feed was boasting about another pregnancy that wasn’t mine, and I took it very personally even though I know it had nothing to do with me. All these “normal” women with “normal” bodies that were doing what they were supposed to do reminded me that I was empty, dejected and couldn’t complete what I have heretofore considered a basic female right. I thought so much about people who lose partners, parents, children; people who experience depression — anyone who’s suffering, really; and how social media, long considered a respite, must make climbing out of the dark hole that much harder.

But it is impossible that you will be able to predict the triggers that might set someone off. It’s overwhelming to even try. I’m not actually mad at Beyonce. That would be insane. None of this actually has anything to do with her, and who knows what she went through to get here, pregnant with twins! — how hard she tried, how much she suffered and possibly even resisted the very act of posting (she had to for team morale, team being the entire female population of America). Even if none of this is true, even if it was a walk in the park, you have to assume that there wasn’t an iota of bad intention tethered to the sharing of what is probably one of the greatest announcements of her personal life.

Overall, I’m conflicted. I vowed after my loss that I wouldn’t turn my feed into a shrine for my yet-to-be-born baby upon eventual pregnancy because who knows who’s suffering and how my account could or could not contribute to their anguish? But then again, when I was really in the pits, I toyed with terminating social media entirely. Now I think it’s dramatic that I even thought of doing that. I can see how a successful pregnancy would ignite my wanting to put stuff out there for the same reason I do that now — because I get so excited. So as a poster, where’s the line that separates sensitivity from straight-up paralysis? Should we be thinking harder about we do or don’t post? I’m genuinely asking.

Photos via Beyoncé.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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