These Boots Are Made For ‘Grammin’
A woman stopped me in the subway to compliment my boots. I smiled, thanked her and went across the platform to wait for my train. A moment later, I felt a tap on my shoulder; the same woman holding her phone up to my face with a photo of my boots on her Instagram feed. “See,” she said holding the phone closer, “look at how great they look.” I nodded and smiled, somewhat perplexed by this whole interaction. Did this woman want me to compliment her photo of my boots? Was she looking for permission to claim ownership of her photo? As the train pulled up, I didn’t obtain any further information, but felt mildly violated. Our interaction left me wondering if the phone stunt was some weird attempt to provide me with evidence to prove the validity of her compliment.
It later dawned on me that this woman was seeking digital approval, but through face-to-face contact, as though my verbal affirmation would trigger a virtual heart on her Instagram photo. Not by owning the boots, or wearing the boots, but merely through transference of a photo, this woman was able to claim fashion expertise. In the way that everyone using Instagram can act as if they’re experts in decorating, travel, fashion or cooking simply by seizing an image briefly on a screen, this commuter’s obtrusive show and tell was her IRL attempt to gain outsider approval of her aesthetic knowledge.
Not that I felt that this photo captured my soul in the primitive sense, but I couldn’t help but feel like this stranger somehow did take a piece of my identity for her gain. But what claim do I have to the identity that I think these boots convey about me? After all, wasn’t I also inspired by some photo to go out and purchase them? This interaction was just another instance of the way Instagram and our consumer economy plays into our desires to share and receive confirmation about the identities we choose to create. Once on the train, I quickly forgot about the boots, lost in my own tangled strands of identities ever shifting among my phone’s flashing feed of ads, images and text.