tear_net and the value of the crying selfies
Inside the Instagram project celebrating your despair and narcissism. We promise it’s less depressing than it sounds.
In recent years, a new wave of podcasts, zines and art shows have emerged, dedicated to the cult of crying. While always a central part of our lives, public displays of red-faced, puffy-eyed emotion have found a special place in our hearts. When self-confessed crier and exhibitionist Cassidy Kean found her camera roll clogged with her own weeping face, she wondered what to do with her accidental study of sadness. Then she came across a quote in Maggie Nelson's book Bluets. "Eventually I confess to a friend some details about my weeping — its intensity, its frequency. She says (kindly) that she thinks we sometimes weep in front of a mirror not to inflame self-pity, but because we want to feel witnessed in our despair."
The passage ultimately inspired her Instagram profile and community project @tear_net, a place to share solitary tears. With a website on the way and dreams of @tear_net becoming an international public archive, i-D caught up with Cassidy to discuss the exhibitionism of emotion, and learned that narcissism isn't always that bad.
Tell us about tear_net. What is it all about and why did you start it?
I've been thinking about it for a long time. I was scrolling through my camera roll and thought, "I have too many crying pictures, I should do something with this." I've been pretty much documenting my tears since I got a phone, even back in high school on my Nokia. I wondered how many people actually do this, like, am I the only one that takes a picture when they're crying? It's an intimate process that you can reflect on, you know later why you were crying and how you overcame that, or not. I approached a few girlfriends of mine and said "Hey, I have this idea and I want to make a forum for it, maybe an Instagram profile." They all thought it was a really good idea and sent me their own crying selfies from months or weeks ago. So I started off with those photos.
Over the past few years the conversation surrounding crying has developed into a full blown culture. Why do you think this has suddenly become a thing?
Specifically on social media, I feel like usually people's profiles are just a lot of daily life or funny pictures about something a bit shallow — not shallow, but not necessarily thought provoking. I guess there is this mentality when you're posting online to not really reveal emotional vulnerability. So what I want tear_net to say, and what crying culture in general wants to say, is to be more transparent. Let crying be something as equal as being happy, because it's just another human emotion. At the end of the day, it's about being transparent over deep.
Why do you think people want to feel "witnessed in their despair"?
Because those emotions are so internal and it's hard to communicate them. You cry to release stress, it means your body and your mind can't handle all the stress that you're feeling so your brain produces tears. It's hard to communicate exactly what you're feeling so crying becomes this instant gratification and communication of how you're feeling. To be seen that way, there's a certain understanding with someone looking at you and looking back at yourself, there's a gratification. It makes it understood without too many words, which I think is really beautiful.
Our generation is perceived to be narcissistic and this has a lot to do with the rise of the selfie. But, in the case of tear_net, selfies take on a brave and positive light. Is this proof that narcissism isn't always bad?
Narcissism isn't always bad because it's who we are fundamentally. I think everyone is a little bit narcissistic and egocentric, it's just a part of living as a human being, it's part of the process. Emotions are so condemned by society if they're not bright or happy. Narcissism is just as equal as any emotion; people need to know that, not to be afraid of it, not to be so hidden all of the time.
What's the biggest factor threatening this kind of open emotional expression?
I really do think about why we hide our emotions, and it's because people don't want to be seen as vulnerable — as much of a trite word as that is. Society around the world only seems to be keen on strength, success, and for some reason being vulnerable doesn't mean that you can be happy or successful. Most of my submissions are from women, there are few from men, which I think is super interesting. We're told that women are more emotional than men, but I don't think that's really the case. That's what society teaches you to be. I'm sure men have more of a tendency to hold back their tears because it's not masculine. So I always really love when I get submissions from men. Honestly it's like, cry! Please!
Text Hilary Bourke
Images via @tear_net