My name is Peyton Dix, and I am a target of cyberbullying.
Recently, I have been scrutinized by both friends and family for both my choice Instagram handle, as well as my posts, which are regarded as "too frequent" and "too flirtatious." But let’s back up. My Instagram hasn't always been the subject of so much discussion. I graduated from a simple "peytonld" to the very controversial "photo.slut," which has made me the target for both praise but mostly an outpouring of criticism with regards to my Internet persona.
photo.slut was birthed from a joking conversation with a friend of mine, whose Instagram handle is photo.slayer (shameless plug: follow her if you're interested in dope photos—some of which feature a mildly intoxicated me). The genesis of the name, contrary to popular belief, is not a reflection of my sexual escapades, but rather my uncanny ability to happen upon good lighting.
My aesthetic tends to include pictures of flowers I pretend were sent to me, blatant fake laughter in front of generic brick walls, and generally just me acting like my life is more interesting than it actually is. My profile is certainly a reflection of my humored and slightly cynical take on the world, but it is also a space where I get to feel like the hottest person in my life, for all intents and purposes. Although Instagram is a free site, it is a small space that I am able to "own” where I can take pride in myself and love myself first.
This is something that I find most of my peers, particularly women, struggle with: the inability to put oneself first. As someone recently single, I’ve started to notice how often I give into this notion, and found myself overtly preoccupied with preconceived notions of my character based on my appearance. It is exhausting trying to succumb to someone else’s social standards.This feeling isn’t limited to my relationships, but extends to my placement in the outside world. Women have this systematic tendency to belittle themselves, whether that be in the way we cross our legs on the subway while men spread theirs apart, or how commonly the word “sorry” is disposed before asking a question. We are too often taught accommodation, even in the “trivial” world of social media.
I often hear my friends engage in the sort of self-deprecating attitudes re: their online personas that women are often encouraged to participate in. They say things like "I can't Instagram that—I already posted a photo of myself last week," or dish out excuses like "I don't want to look self-absorbed." I'm here to say that there is never any reason to censor your selfie.
Why are we made to believe that pictures of ourselves are narcissistic instead of empowering? There are too many places in the world where it is not acceptable for women to own their space. This idea is perpetuated not just in the workforce and its wage gap of 22 percent, but in classrooms where, globally, two-thirds of the 774 million illiterate people in the world are female (UNESCO).
Emerson alum, Gaby Dunn, says it succinctly in an Autostraddle essay about female empowerment: "Fear is born of isolation and everything in the world is working to pit women against each other and keep us apart." Women are frequently shut down and made to believe that they are not worthy of the space they take up. We are taught to shrink instead of grow, which hinders our ability to maintain a level of self-care that is essential to sustaining a healthy self-esteem. The spaces we do own—be they our apartments or hometowns or Instagram accounts—must be the first spaces from which we fight that pressure to shrink by blooming outward.
The first step can simply be feeling comfortable posting a picture of yourself. That confidence can only grow into the way you feel stepping outside in a killer new outfit, and it will reflect in the way you feel that you can take up space as you walk down the street. It will grow into feeling confident raising your hand to speak about your opinions in class and to owning your interview for that internship you know you are completely qualified for. If that online space does not remain a sacred, supportive community of female empowerment where we cheer our friends on for feeling themselves instead of shaming them for breaking the one-selfie-every-six-pix rule, then those IRL bursts of confidence will be harder to come by.
So, yes. I am a "photo slut." My Instagram is a portfolio of my self-confidence and one that I can look back on to boost that confidence on days it isn't so high. In the same way women have been reclaiming the word "slut" with regard to women’s sexuality, we should also be reclaiming that allowance to be "photo sluts" and advocate for ourselves, our beauty, and our power in our space online.