Body confidence, a poem

If one is confident
In one’s body,
Why does one
Need to post it on Instagram?

You know the body confident
By how infrequently they talk about their bodies.

Once again, the context matters, from Nancy Jo Sales’s American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, an exchange between three teenagers being interviewed for the book:

“‘But sometimes I think girls post those kind of pictures because they’re proud of their bodies,’ Victoria countered. ‘Body-shaming is a big issue. A lot of people will do, like, the “confident body challenge.”‘

[. . .]

‘I remember one picture where people were a little bit alarmed by it,’ Victoria said. ‘It was a girl we know on Instagram, she had a bra on but she wasn’t wearing a shirt. She wrote in her caption how she was beginning to feel more confident about her body and learning to not care about what people think. I guess I did like the message. I’m happy she’s accepting herself–and she should, she’s pretty; and even if she isn’t pretty, she should still feel confident about herself. I don’t think anyone should feel ashamed of their body or posting a picture.’

Sophia scoffed. ‘Girls post pictures of their bodies and say they’re body positive and everyone’s like, You’re so beautiful,’ she said. ‘But they’re not body confident–they’re Photoshopping their bodies and editing their pictures. They say they’re confident in their bodies, which is totally ironic–if you have to post a picture of yourself on Instagram to feel confident, then you’re not.’

Victoria considered that a moment. ‘Well, it’s supposed to show you’re confident,’ she said. And then: ‘But actually it makes me feel less confident when I see those girls. I’m like, Oh, I’m not as skinny as that, oh my God, she’s so pretty. It makes me compare myself sometimes if it’s a really skinny girl. I wish I looked like her.’

‘It’s like, Oh, look at me, I love food, I’m body confident,’ Riley said, ‘and here I am eating this hamburger and I look really skinny doing it.’

They laughed.

‘I think it’s just so boys can look at it–it’s all for boys,’ Sophia said.

‘I don’t think it’s always consciously for guys,’ said Riley. ‘But if guys weren’t on Instagram I don’t think I’d care that much about it. A like from a guy is definitely bigger than a like from a girl.’

‘How you look is all anybody cares about anymore,’ Sophia insisted, becoming a bit agitated. ‘Being beautiful nowadays is seen as way better than being smart. It’s terrible. Like if you’re a supermodel on Instagram, everyone loves you. Like I do this, too, so I can’t judge: if I find a supermodel on Instagram, I’ll comment like, I love you so much. Even though they haven’t done anything to help the world and they’re literally just standing there looking pretty. People love them just ’cause they’re beautiful. And like, being smart–no one cares about that. If people aren’t pretty nowadays, they’re done with their life. Like, Oh my God, I’m not pretty, I can’t live life.” (p. 67-69).

You’re not going to become a Kardashian

To an older generation it’s bizarre to see a family become famous for no reason. Before now you actually needed a skill to be famous for.

To a younger generation this same thing is inspiring, because if the Kardashians can do it anyone can.

Except, they can’t. Almost nobody will become famous for nothing, even if a few do.

Your odds get better if you develop a skill. More here.

Hot or not

Isn’t it interesting to note that Facebook and YouTube, in their original forms, were some version of “Hot or not”, in which young, white, male college students used software to let their young, white, male friends vote on which girls were “hot” and which were not?

And isn’t it interesting to note that girls and young women use social media in precisely the same manner today, for the profit of the now slightly older white, male, Silicon Valley tech executives?


The context is important here, from Nancy Jo Sales’s American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers:

“You could start with the concept of ‘hot or not.’ ‘Hot or not’ is a prevailing social media conceit, first seen online in 2000, with the launch of the photo-rating site Hot or Not by two Silicon Valley-based software engineers and Berkeley graduates, James Hong and Jim Young. The site grew out of an argument the two were having about whether a certain woman was attractive, or ‘hot.’ Hong and Young created a way for strangers to look at a picture of a woman’s face and vote on how she measured up. The idea was also the basis of Facemash, the precursor to Facebook, a campus rating site created by Mark Zuckerberg in 2003, when he was still a Harvard sophomore. Two of the founders of YouTube, guy Silicon Valley software engineers who met at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, have said that Hot or Not was the inspiration for what they originally thought would be just a video version of the game, as well. Much of the culture of social media is, in a way, an ongoing expression of ‘hot or not,’ liking or rejecting people and things, and the physical appeal of women and girls.

[. . .]

For many girls, the pressure to be considered ‘hot’ is felt on a nearly continual basis online. The sites with which they most commonly interact encourage them to post images of themselves, and employ the ‘liking’ feature, with which users can judge their appearance and, in effect, rate them. When girls post their pictures on Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook, they know they will be judged on their ‘hotness,’ and in a quantifiable way, with numbers of likes. Social media, which gave us selfies, seems to encourage an undue focus on appearance for everyone, but for girls, this focus is combined with a pervasive sexualization of girls in the wider culture, an overarching trend which is already having serious consequences.

A landmark 2007 report by the American Psychological Association (APA) found girls being sexualized–or treated as ‘objects of sexual desire. . . as things rather than as people with legitimate sexual feelings of their own’–in virtually every form of media . . . The APA surveyed multiple studies which found links between the sexualization of girls and a wide range of mental health issues, including low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, cutting, even cognitive dysfunction. Apparently, thinking about being hot makes it hard to think: ‘Chronic attention to physical appearance leaves fewer cognitive resources available for other mental and physical activities,’ said the APA report.” (p. 13-14).

It’s called “Sacrifice” because you don’t want to do it

And all the pop culture icons suggesting you ought to do exactly as you please are not only wrong, they’re actively dangerous.

Sacrifice: from sacer (“sacred, holy”) + facio (“do, make”). There is an entire dimension of human existence we miss when we forget to make it holy, when we get lost in our personal obsessions, when we fail to realize that the most profound moments occur when we lose ourselves in something greater than ourselves.

Christian iconography is a powerful antidote here: Jesus on the cross as a reminder that love is embedded in sacrifice, not in personal choice.


Perhaps you’ve noticed that most of us, rather than listening, are waiting to speak.

To listen means we suspend our internal monologue to hear what someone else is saying. If we’ve heard them, not only can we recite their words back to them, but we can also understand why they’re saying them: we read between the lines to detect ulterior motives, biases, or beliefs hidden from the speaker. Listening is a generous act in this respect: we hear, then probe the speaker to help her become aware of what’s hidden in her mind. At the very least, we can develop empathy for her. Here is an example I recently encountered with a student:

Me: Hi, Lucy. How was your summer?

Lucy: It was good. I worked the whole time at my internship. They offered me a job, though. 

Me: That’s great, but you don’t sound excited. Why’s that?

Lucy: Well, I look at the number of years people have worked there: thirty years, forty years, and I think, “Is this what the rest of my life’s going to be?

Me: Do you think you’d be okay with that?

Lucy: Well, the company is worth billions of dollars; my supervisor said I could suggest my own salary; it’s in a good location; my boyfriend will probably end up working for the company too. 

Me: That sounds great. Why haven’t you said “yes” yet?

Lucy: My dad got me the internship. My parents pay for my school, my phone, my clothes; they suggested where I should go to college and that I should major in computer science. I feel like my parents have done everything for me, and if I take this job I might be there for the rest of my life, and I’m scared I’ll look back and realize I never did anything for myself, that I never did what I actually wanted to do. 

Lucy didn’t say the last sentence; I did. It’s what I read between the lines from this conversation, combined with many previous conversations. A poor listener would hear Lucy’s words; a good listener would help Lucy detect a fear many students share: that soon they’ll have to become independent. A poor listener might also try to suggest what Lucy ought to do; a good listener probes to reveal the problem, knowing only the speaker can choose.

The Everything Boyfriend

Can you ask your significant other to be at once lover, best friend, spiritual adviser, guidance counselor, trauma therapist, and, also, really good in bed?

What happens if you break up with him? Because you most likely will, given the odds of relationship and martial success.

More here.

“I need to go home or I’ll die!”

Notice that thought appear in your mind. It is only a thought, with no other basis in reality.

Note the accompanying feelings in your body: the heat in your belly; the tightness in your throat; and notice if those feelings create yet more thoughts, like “I need to go home or I’ll die!”, or “I cannot survive on my own here.”

Notice that, when observed, the thoughts and feelings pass away, like all things do, leaving only the prior state of consciousness.

Now, do you still need to go home? And are you really going to die if you don’t?

Help your coach

Robert Greene’s First Law of Power: “Never Outshine The Master.”

The only smart way to behave is to help the person in power, making her look as good as possible while taking none of the credit.

A rather silly way to behave is in attempting to outshine the person in power, seeking to gain status over her by complaining, bad-mouthing, or otherwise spreading negativity. You can pinpoint these people because they play the victim, hiding from the fact that they’re struggling with their role in the status hierarchy.


Have you noticed that tech companies measure their success by how many “active monthly users” they have?

Couldn’t you hear a drug cartel using precisely the same language?


I think attention is the most important skill one can develop, for it is the foundation on which all other skills are built. Attention is just as it sounds: a focus on one thing to the exclusion of others. It’s simple to define, but difficult to hone. 

Did you notice your attention went somewhere else as you were reading the last paragraph, that you started thinking about what you were going to do an hour from now? You didn’t choose to let it wander, but it did, and it distracted you from what you were doing. Anyone who seeks to do anything is inevitably slain by a wandering attention, which is why William James, the pioneer of American psychology, said, “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. . . An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”

I imagine at every moment in human history people have lamented the new modes that flounder attention. It was once books and magazines; then radio, television, and video games; then the internet and smartphones; tomorrow it will be virtual reality. I’m tempted to say we’re more distracted today than ever before, but it’s more likely we just have more to pick from. We can only put our attention on one thing at a time.

That said, modern corporations have all but declared war for your attention, and their weapons are lethal: push notifications, email blasts, product placements, pop-up ads, social media boosts, paid “influencers”, sponsored ads on shopping websites. Every company’s shareholders are incentivized to get your attention: more attention means more sales, which means more profit for shareholders. Individuals want your attention because attention equals status. In this worldview, a tweet that gets retweeted thousands of times is a permission slip to feel good about oneself.

You have a computer in your pocket right now that buzzes whenever someone wants you, or when there’s a bombing in Spain, or when J. Cole writes a controversial lyric. You know immediately, as if it were all happening in the building next door, as though it were all relevant to your life. One social media company has taken your friendships, turned them into a cartoon characters, and put them on a map for you to look at, not with your well-being in mind, but for their profit. 

I look cynically upon the hoards of attention-seekers. They’re not evil, but they act immorally when they engineer their products for maximum attention, then claim you have the freedom to choose what you do with your attention (In fact, they might be evil).

There is a new internet company called “Freedom”, and its product description perfectly explains our predicament: “Social media, shopping, videos, games…​these apps and websites are scienti­fically engineered to keep you hooked and coming back. The cost to your productivity, ability to focus, and general well-being can be staggering. Freedom gives you control.” Yes, we now need software to free us from software.

You could subscribe to “Freedom” to take back your freedom, but regardless it’s worth thinking hard about how you’ll guard your attention:

Maria Popova, the prolific curator of Brain Pickings, meditates for twenty minutes each morning. Rather than wasted time, Popova credits her meditation practice with allowing her to get so much done.

Jocko Willink, the retired Navy SEAL turned writer and podcaster, says he lifts weights every morning because it directs his attention internally, forcing him to focus on what he’s doing. I doubt he checks his phone during his workout.

Haruki Murakami, the prolific fiction writer, runs marathons, forcing him to stay present to something difficult.

I use a meditation app called “Waking Up” for ten minutes each morning; I don’t allow push notifications, social media apps, or email on my phone, and I often put it on “Do not disturb” or “Airplane mode”; I read and write for long periods of time, bringing back a wandering attention over and over again.

I do this because I never want to run the risk of getting a lot done, without any of it being important. I don’t want to miss out on my life.