taylor swift and the digitization of female friendship
If your best friend isn’t the star of your Instagram, does she still exist? (Yes.)
When Taylor Swift made her foray into the fabulous world of female friendship, she did it like she does most things — with vigor. She frolicked in Hawaii with Haim. Exercised with Karlie. Counseled Tavi. Showed Selena Gomez tough love. The friended were forthcoming with their praise. Lena Dunham called her "the Betty Crocker of friendships." Demi Lovato says she's one of the few famous pals worth having. And we had to agree: We'd seen most of it first hand, after all.
Swift's allegiance to the sisterhood came at a time that was convenient for her image. Her preoccupation with boys had become a preoccupation for the media, and she wisely decided to divert their attention. But it also came at a perfect time in our culture, too, as ideas about feminism and, in turn, female friendship, have become more compelling than ever before — if for no other reason than conversations on platforms like Twitter have made their significance impossible to ignore.
Female friendships have, of course, always been a thing. They just tended to exist in the background. In the hyper-communicative culture of now, that is luckily no longer possible. Female friendships and the feminist cause are inextricably linked. Without the former, we have virtually no chance to advance the latter. The status quo benefits men, so women — especially the ones with power — need to want to help each other succeed.
But as female friendships become a focal point of the cultural conversation, there's also the danger of them being reduced to just another marketing tool in our bag of self-branding tricks. This applies not just to Swift and other famous people, but to anyone who spends time thinking about how they share their life online. It's territory that we find ourselves negotiating more and more: Is it worth interrupting this perfectly genuine moment to stop, snap a picture, filter it, and post it to let other people know that you and your friends are having a perfectly genuine moment? Hope so! Because if not, that moment will likely have passed by the time you press send.
There's a lot more to an authentic friendship than generating a highlight reel for your social media feed. But authenticity doesn't have much of a home on social media. It has, like, a shoebox studio with a shared bathroom in the hallway in the case of Instagram, if you are radically transparent. This is not all the collective Internet's fault. Your BFF probably would not "like" you snapping a photo of her while she cries over a shitty boyfriend, filter or not. Does advertising our friendships — only the shiny, happy portions of them — cheapen the relationship?
In Swift's case, it's clear that her friendships have done something very real for her — they've bolstered her confidence, expanded her horizons, and given her a network of successful women who can relate to the plights that are probably very specific to the life that she leads. "What works," Swift told The Guardian, of swapping boyfriends for best friends, "is having incredible girlfriends who I can trust and tell anything." We know this is true because those are the same things best friendships with women do for everyone else.
Part of the reason why sharing a friendship to the point of near-PSA hits such an odd note is because we all know that the meat of a deep friendship is intimacy. It's not that all of the exploits one might post online aren't part of the truth of the friendship, it's that they're not even close to the entire story. Scroll through your own Instagram and observe the gaps between photos, the moments that occurred before and after an image that alter your memory of it. What one person may observe as your reality, you know without a second thought to be a finely honed edit of what has really happened to you.
Girlfriendship deserves the entire story, even if that means you can't share it with as many people. The reason why it's so revelatory is because it consists of so many different moments, emotions, levels of highs and lows, laughter, totally inappropriate shit, and sometimes the truly pathetic take-it-to-the-grave breakdowns. Maybe that's why every now and then, when we come across a profile like photographer Petra Collins' or artist Claire Christerson's that could be glamorous and slick, but chooses not to be, it feels like a revelation.
Should you omit your friend from your feed because the whole thing is too meaningful to depict? Of course not. But it may be valuable to keep in mind as you peruse the coupling of others, that what makes the experience so rich isn't something we can glean from shiny 2-D snapshots displayed on tiny screens. The richest bits of friendship, for better or worse, are not very photogenic—if they can be captured in a photograph at all.
Text Mallory Rice
Image via @taylorswift