The pressure on girls to take sexy selfies today comes out of a culture that routinely equates modesty with shame, instead of recognizing it for what it really is: an impulse that protects what is precious and intimate. Teenage girls need to know that when boys ask them for naked pictures, they can—and should—say no. It’s not merely that “sexted” pictures can find their way onto social media (even without the aid of hackers, they seem to have a way of slipping their iPhone collars and circulating with astonishing ease). A better reason to say no is that, having set a higher standard, maybe someone will write a love song for you instead.
And if he doesn’t, who cares? Modesty is, at its essence, having an internal sense of self, not needing others’ approval of how you look (naked or otherwise) to know that you have a unique purpose in this world, and certainly not needing all your friends to “like” your Facebook post in order to know that you’re great….
And yet, social media is filled with videos of parents scaring their toddlers or filming their tearful reactions when told that mommy ate all their Halloween candy. I seem to be nearly the only person who doesn’t find these videos funny, nor do I think that the appropriate reaction to a child’s tantrum is to film it and commiserate on Facebook about how hilarious it was. To me, these parents have fallen off a different cliff, albeit an imperceptible one; they’re breaking a private trust in order to feed the public’s appetite.
I can’t prove it, but I feel that the collapse of the public/private distinction has dialed down our capacity for empathy. Real empathy requires a private, intimate space, and of course, a time when you’re not on Facebook. Last Saturday, my 3-year-old daughter fell asleep in her Sabbath finery after a spirited trip to the park, and it was one of those perfect moments. I gazed at her sweet slumber on the couch, and I sighed to my husband, “The Shabbos photos you can’t take are always the best ones.” (As Jews who observe the restrictions of the Sabbath, we don’t take photos on this day.) Then I realized, maybe it’s not that Sabbath photos are better in any objective way, but since I couldn’t immediately reach for my phone and capture the picture, I had no alternative than to be in the moment and drink it all in: her little chest rising and falling, her fancy dress artfully decorated with grass stains and crumb cake. What was she dreaming about? I was able to notice things and really throw myself into the moment in a way I never would have, had I rushed for my camera as usual.
From a technical standpoint, the scene was mundane, but private, unmediated moments have a special quality. Let’s try to enjoy more of them.
—Wendy Shalit, The Private Self(ie) in Time Magazine