The Dark Side of Pinterest

Pinterest

When I first discovered Pinterest, I was instantly hooked. I don’t need to go into depth about what this website is all about—it’s quickly become about as ubiquitous as other social media sites like Facebook and Twitter—but in a gist for the uninitiated, Pinterest is a “pin board” of images selected by users off the web, each image linking back to its source page, and which other users can add to their own Pinterest boards, “like,” comment on, and share.

That’s it in a nutshell. But, to get a better perspective, let’s take a look at some recent stats (source) about Pinterest users:

  • Almost 70% of them are female
  • Half of them have kids
  • The highest percentage of them are in the 25-34 age range; the second highest is 35-44; and the third highest is 45-54
  • Pinterest gets about 1.36 million visitors every day

A Woman’s World

So the most common Pinterest user is a woman in her late 20s to early 30s, who may or may not have kids. For those of us who have used Pinterest enough to recognize typical and popular content pinned to the site, this explains a lot. While content is certainly varied enough, there is an overwhelming traditionally feminine aspect to it—pins for recipes, child-rearing tips, women’s apparel, hair and makeup techniques, weight loss and exercise strategies geared towards women, images of superlatively decorated homes, countless wedding ideas, and quotes. Tons and tons of quotes. Many are motivational, largely geared towards achieving “the perfect” body (most of which are accompanied by related imagery); many others are quotes about love, heartbreak, courage, and friendship.

On one hand, having all this content in one place and in very, very high abundance seems wonderful: whatever we need to know, however we want to be inspired, any idea or method we’re looking for can be found on this one site. A plethora of them, in fact. In the first couple of months after creating a Pinterest account, I had found and made an awesome bead necklace using a tutorial I stumbled upon on Pinterest; I created a beach-inspired dining table centerpiece using related images I repinned; I used a bunch of recipes I discovered to cook some fantastic meals; I even realized that I didn’t hate peplum as much as I thought I did and bought a peplum top solely inspired by the gorgeous models donning peplum I kept running across on Pinterest. Any moment of free time I wanted to do something with, I could easily fill with an idea I found on Pinterest. Within a couple of months, my pinboard exceeded 2,000 images of things I wanted to make, do, be, look like, live in, visit … I could go on forever.

Too Much Yet Never Enough

You know what happened after that? I started wanting to change, improve, and update everything around me. I could no longer appreciate the breathtaking mountain and ocean view reflected in my huge living room mirror—all I could see were the curtains that needed to frame it, and the only ones that would suffice would be ones that I could sew on my own and paint chevron striped onto. I started becoming more self-conscious of my hair than ever, which seemed like it could always use one of those fancy buns I still had to learn to do, or that cool ombré colour job it seriously lacked. And don’t even get me started on exercise; there were so many gazillions of workouts I was either missing out on or not doing right, each one more effective than the other towards creating that perfect figure that was oh, so far from my own average, somewhat lumpy, untoned, pale, mere mortal frame. Clearly, I was not pinning enough motivational quotes.

There were so many ways to make my life more beautiful, more exciting, more healthy, more efficient, and more enjoyable, and they were all right there to take advantage of … and they were making my un-Pinteresting life look so blah. Clearly, I was a failure.

A Barrage of Information

When the printing press came along, it changed the way information was transmitted and received all around the world. When computers came along, they revolutionized the speed and efficiency with which we could work. When cell phones came along, they changed the most fundamental nature of our interaction with each other. While it may be too soon to predict whether or not, and how, Pinterest may be revolutionizing anything, I can say with certainty that its quick rise in popularity is definitely playing a significant role in the life of its users.

If we consider the average user, a woman in her 30s who may be a new mother or is planning to have kids, a bunch of major implications arise right there. These are women in the most critical stages of their lives—they’re starting a new family, they’re starting a new career, they’re in a new stage of their relationship, they’re moving into a different income bracket—and they want the best for themselves and their loved ones. No wonder they’re instantly attracted to an endless supply of information for how to get all of this and more, so much more, quickly, easily, inexpensively, and effectively.

There are some dangerous side effects to Pinterest. They’re not blatant or instantaneous, but the inherent nature of being bombarded with the type of content found on Pinterest at an endless rate is very conducive of certain outcomes:

  1. It’s all about me. Me me me. Of course, nothing in the 21st Century is lacking that self-absorbed aspect (case and point: this blog), but Pinterest can sometimes be self-improvement and self-obsession on acid. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a better person, but there is something wrong when most of that energy is focused on achieving the elusive and non-existent goal of “perfection.”
  2. It’s a highly visual medium, which puts most of the focus on what we see over anything else. The danger in this is that it hinders thought, examination, and discussion by luring us in and distracting the analytic part of our brains with eye candy. Can you blame yourself for instantly feeling that pang of self-loathing upon seeing images like this? You’ve already concluded that you’re not good enough to a certain degree because you don’t look like that, whether consciously or subconsciously, before you’ve even had a chance to examine all the social meanings behind images like this.
  3. It doesn’t encourage us to learn through our mistakes. When every possible aspect of life is illustrated, explained, and step-by-stepped to us as if we have the mental capacities of second graders, it is far too tempting to take the easy way out and lean on these guides rather than experimenting, taking risks, falling down and letting that teach us how to get back up.
  4. It constantly reminds us that whatever we have or do, we can and should be satisfied with so much more. Got a nice house? It can be nicer. Healthy? Your abs could be more toned. In a happy relationship? You could be doing it better. Love your wedding album? Whoooo boy, you better divorce that sucker and do it all over again, because it could be a billion times more romantic.
  5. It puts pressure on us to be the “superwoman,” or the jack-of-all-trades. Look at you just sitting there, reading your book and sipping your tea when you could be jogging with your stroller to the store to buy ingredients for a low-fat, gourmet vegan feast. What? You haven’t learned to paint perfect, to-scale galaxies on your nails yet??? Oh, and by the way, your toddler’s going to resent you for not sewing her an entire wardrobe from scratch yet. Yeah—2 years old know.

Use With Caution

Am I proposing that Pinterest be banned and permanently stricken from the history of the interwebs? Of course not. I still think it’s a pretty damn cool site. And just like any other technology in the world, it has its uses and it has its problems. Nor am I saying that every single user is susceptible to every one of its problems in the worst way possible. It’s just something to be cautious of.

What I am urging every Pinterest user, young and old, male or female, to remember, is that, just because it may appear like you can have it all, do it all, and be it all doesn’t mean you should. That, sometimes, you can discover amazing things just by going out into the world and learning them on your own, even if it means taking a horrible tumble along the way. That an hour, a minute, a day or a lifetime spent gazing at the sky, daydreaming, or burying your head in a book can be the most precious time you’ll ever spend. That the little you have may the most you could ever need; that the imperfections around you can be appreciated for their beauty more than any glossy image you’ll ever see; and that we all have the capacity for unlimited happiness inside us from the simple act of being alive than any quote of inspiration will ever provide.

Happy pinning! ;)

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3 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Pinterest

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