The latest challenge sweeping across Facebook seems simple: post your Facebook profile picture from 2008 and the one ten years later from 2018. The idea seems to be to show your friends, at least your Facebook friends, how well or how poorly you’ve aged. It’s generated a lot of likes and comments among friends as people post and seems to be a harmless way to avoid the more stressful world around us.
But thinking about this “challenge,” I find myself full of questions.
First of all, I wonder who came up with it and whether he, or more likely she, might be able to find other more important things to do with all that spare time.
But more importantly, I wonder about why we all want to participate in this challenge. I’ll admit I’m curious to see how much I’ve changed over the past ten years, and I find myself smiling when I see pictures of friends as their younger selves. And I can’t help noticing who looks the same and who doesn’t.
But when I really stop to think about it, making a surface level judgment about appearances and what our appearance says about our lives kind of bothers me. Actually, it bothers me a lot. I know I’m different than I was in 2008, but the changes in my life over the past ten years have been about so much more than counting my increasing wrinkles and decreasing hair.
My first Facebook photo actually dates back only to 2011, so I can’t play according to the real rules. I joined Facebook because my daughter, an eighth grader at the time, insisted that her world would not be complete if she didn’t have access to social media. I gave in to her demand, on the condition that I have an account too, believing that I would have access to and control over her interactions online. That idea seems laughably naive now.
So much has changed in that span of time. Even though I have three years of lag time as an advantage over those true 2008 photos, when I look at that first profile picture compared to me now, I can’t help noticing the effects of time on my appearance. My hair was fuller and my eyes less crinkly around the edges, but my smile is the same.
In my first profile picture, I’m with my younger daughter, then an eleven year old. Now she is in college, and the middle schooler who demanded access to social media has found a way to make that her career.
Back then, I was the mother of three young children, my life busy and full as I drove carpools, went to soccer games, and volunteered at three different schools (there’s a son in the mix too, although he prefers gaming to counting “likes”). As the old saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun, so those years passed quickly in a haze of kids’ interests and activities.
As my children have grown up, so have I. Faced with an almost empty nest, I’m beginning to get used to a different pace in my life. I’ve gone back to doing things I love—writing and music and cooking for pleasure, rather than as a nightly necessity—things I’d let slide as a busy mom. I find myself opening up to new ideas and meeting new people, and in the process, I’m learning to look at the world in new ways. None of these things require me to have less wrinkles.
I don’t look like I did in 2008, but I don’t think the same way either. In fact, I think that life can be better, deeper, and richer than ever before, because I have years of life experience to draw from and share. When I look at how I’ve changed, I know that I want those ten years to have mattered for reasons beyond my appearance.
The years have affected not only how I’m seen, but how I see myself. And maybe that’s the most important difference after all.
Catherine Gentry is a writer living in Houston, Texas. She retired from practicing law to raise her three nearly grown children, and her writing has been featured online at Literary Mama, Grown & Flown, the “Voices” section of the Princeton Alumni magazine, and in the Houston Chronicle, as well as on her blog, “Words Count” https://catherinewordscount.wordpress.com/featured-writing/