“Click, Click, Click”
The rattling of myriad tiny camera shutters opening and closing seems unnaturally loud, like machine gun fire thundering in the air. I’m focussed, I walk upright, every muscle in my body tensed, adrenalin pumping through my veins. A salvo of flashlights rips through my perception, and for a moment nothing else exists but white light. There’s only me and the cameras.
Fashion Week. First Berlin, then Copenhagen, New York, London, Milan, and then, eventually, Paris. The same cycle plays out every season, a ritual and fixture in the life of every fashionista. But it is the first time in two years that I am covering more than half of these events.
I have disappeared from you. I was tired and weary – but now I am back. In a way it felt like I was attending Fashion Week for the first time. So much has happened in the past two years. The fashion world has continued to spin, and apart from the succession of cities that host the events, nothing is like it used to be. New locations, new brands, and, first and foremost, new faces.
The carousel is spinning faster, is reaching a dizzying speed, and I’m still finding out how I feel about it. The scene has new stars, among the designers but also among the attendants. It’s undeniable now: the editors of established fashion magazines no longer rule this world, the reign has passed to the online-faces, and tidings of their dominance are sent out into the world by street-style photographers at the rate of 50 frames per second. Every step and every frame is waiting to be judged. Your worth is measured in likes in this world.
Click, Click, Click.
More than ever before, I feel this valuation, this judgement. My looks, the price of my outfit, my number of followers, my projects. If I’m not active, if I don’t play the game, if I don’t conform, my worth as human value seems to decrease in this bubble of superficiality. And social media has raised the bar enormously.
How am I to compete with these overly perfect women that have taken over my feed? They are in (seemingly) happy relationships, have a kid, or ideally a bunch of them, a steep career. They exist in a state of perpetual, full bloom, and they flaunt their beauty to their thousands of Instagram followers every single day. They go on holiday to the most beautiful spots on the planet, and show up at Fashion Week events proudly, busily. Their bodies are trim, fueled by occasional Acai bowls, sculpted by the exercise they squeeze in at some point between midnight and the first show. And they make it all seem so easy, as if all that was falling into their laps, as if their only vice, which they happily admit to, of course, is that they are coffee junkies and that they nibble on a tiny piece of dark chocolate every once in a while.
I’m exaggerating, you think? I’m tempted to name names, but the point of this post is not to pillory anyone here. Quite on the contrary. I admire the lightness and ease with which these women seem to pull their lives off. But the problem, as so often with social media, is that the gap between reality and presentation is so wide, and this tension gives rise to a distorted perspective of reality in us.
If you get a chance to see these often enormously successful Instagrammers in real life, the facade pales very quickly. In real life, you are confronted with women with blemished skin, with unfortunate angles and exhaustion in their eyes. They have searched for happiness and fortune in the fashion world, worked towards fulfilling their dreams, fought for their wishes, but found a big empty whole at the center at the glittering circus. The smile flashes on demand, but it looks more and more like a grimace.
“I love the stress of it all. It makes me feel alive.”
These women are hostages in a pink world that leaves no room for unhappiness. The feed, this distorting mirror, does not reflect imperfections. I am part of this world and I should know better, but I am still so susceptible to this craziness, and I still find myself believing the lies all too often. The crux is: no matter how much I achieve, in the end it doesn’t feel enough.
Is this what waits for all of us, at the end of the algorithm?
I think that the closer you are to reaching your #instagramgoals, the farther you have moved away from real happiness. Imagine that you have achieved everything the Instagram society has made you believe you need to be happy: beauty, career, followers, frequent confirmation that you’re hot shit. And still, you realize that you’re not happy. That something crucial, something real is missing. Where are you going to look for that, though, now that your life looks perfect to everyone else? How do you deal with not feeling perfect behind the image of perfection?
The moment I am describing is the moment when you realize that happiness is not a checklist, and likes are no measure for the depth of life.
6 weeks in, the cracks in the surface reveal truth. The stress of the Fashion Weeks is starting to show. The eyes are empty, and so are the conversations. As every season, deep inside everyone is asking themselves the same question:
Where will this kind of life lead me?
The truth is simple. Happiness is one attendant you won’t meet at Fashion Week. You may meet her at the fringes, between the lines, or inside yourself though. Maybe she’ll join you and your friends for a glass of wine in a bar in Paris, or for a round of homemade pasta in a small restaurant in Milan. Maybe you’ll feel her embrace when you meet old friends, or return to beloved places. You are likely to find her in circles where social responsibility is lived, and whenever anyone manages to take their thoughts of themselves and does something for someone else for a change. You won’t find it in the feed, nor in the story, but you may feel her presence in the small moments between the frames, in the moments no camera can capture.
To find happiness, we need to step out of the hamster wheel, and dare to be different, to live differently.
The revolution need not be one of huge gestures, either. It could be as simple as having a real, deep conversation at Fashion Week. How about that, for a start?
This post is also available in German