Curating a Public Self: Exploring Social Media Images of Women in the Outdoors
Keywords:social media, outdoor experience, outdoor pursuit, authenticity, outdoor women
Two social media posts (Highland, 2015; Johnson, 2015) about the authenticity of women’s experiences in the outdoors fueled an intense dialogue among the authors of this paper. These posts sparked healthy debate, and we asked ourselves, “Why does our apparel, our aesthetic appeal, our physicality, or even our motivation become subject to critique and judgment?” The burgeoning use of social media, in particular the use of Instagram and Facebook to curate a public self, has provided the catalyst for our study. This paper explores the use of online presence by women in the outdoors and examines how social media is portraying those women. In particular, we examined the authenticity of Instagram and Facebook in representing identities. We also interrogated the potential of social media to contribute to the commodification and aestheticization of what it means to be a woman in the outdoors, using current social media literature as a point of departure and Goffman (1959) as a theoretical lens. Findings were mixed; some images perpetuated the aestheticization of women outdoors, whereas others provided inspiring, strength-based portrayals. Such findings implicate the unremitting need to deconstruct negative aspects of social media images of women in the outdoors and develop a new lens to (a) assess the positive aspects of social media images of women in the outdoors, (b) counteract the negative self-perceptions generated by mainstream media images, and (c) allow for positive self-representation.
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