I Didn't Look At Myself Until I Was Eleven

The first time I looked at myself, it wasn’t through a mirror. I already knew I had brown, limp hair and eyes that seemed like they were about to burst into tears at any minute. The first time I really looked at myself was through a slow dial up connection, an internet browser, and a new friend: Tom.

Until I turned 11, I hadn’t considered that I had an identity beyond surface level. I knew I liked tank tops, that my voice was husky, and that Coco Pops was a superior breakfast cereal. But when I first typed in that URL and set up a Myspace profile, I entered a new world: within. I also learnt than not only did I have a world within, but I had a choice in how I communicated that, without.

 

Before I could dive (and scream) into the abyss, I was prompted to upload a display picture. I had no photos of me on the computer I shared with my older brother. We hadn’t yet bought the external webcam that would come later with MSN Messenger and talking to boys until 1am on a school night. What I did have was a mouse and perseverance. I googled a picture of a Care Bear. Upload. This was huge. It was the first time I represented myself to the world. Apparently, I was pink, fluffy, and psychotically cheery. 

 

Myspace allowed me to meticulously craft my personal brand for the first time. I grew up as a *shy* person, feeling like I didn’t have a space to safely exert my identity for fear it wouldn’t be heard. So, I slipped comfortably into a listener role without considering who I actually was; until this platform landed on my desktop. 

 

I would test and play with my different personas. I would answer questionnaires and forms that served no purpose other than self-indulgence. Have you had sex yet? Do you like corn? Have you had sex with corn? I was a girl, uninterrupted. I’d spend hours poring over the screen, shuffling songs to find the perfect tune that screamed *me* (SexyBack by Justin Timberlake). I would dabble in light coding to change my background colours, because god forbid somebody thought I was a lavender person when I was really, truly, a lilac girl.  

 

It was my bio was where I bloomed. As the first point of contact strangers would have with me, I needed to make a good first impression for these people I would never meet. I needlessly crafted words to show I was clever, funny, unique; even if nobody else read them. Spending hours debating comma placement, my vanity and obsession with how I represented myself began my career as a writer, as I realized the power of words to characterize and communicate personal narratives.

 

I was creating my first digital identity and footprint without realizing it; a version of myself that didn’t exist in real life, but that begun to develop my creative capital.

 

So, thanks Tom.

*A pitch to Man Repeller.

 

carly brand