The Tyranny of Pinterest

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Pinterest, like any social media site, is many things to many people. Since the site launched in 2010, it has accumulated more than 30 billion “pins,” the individual posts that users can tack to one of their virtual boards. Sign in and you can find items on different ways to re-appropriate tin cans, fun ways to gift money, and galleries full of remodeling ideas. It serves as a combination vision board, to-do list, inspiration source, image dump, and repository of dreams. It is also a tool of oppression.

That might seem like an extreme accusation to level at a social media site devoted to including the most chevrons per square inch on every available surface. And when I first joined Pinterest, I didn’t think about it in those terms. It was 2012, and I had just moved into a new apartment. Pinterest was just gathering steam. It seemed like a marvelous way to get ideas for decorating, organizing, and otherwise attempting to mold a rickety Brooklyn one-bedroom into a palace of design and good taste on a measly budget. Remnants of these projects, some very ill-fated, remain in my place to this day: a “chandelier” made from a spray-painted hula hoop hung with Christmas lights, a series of “hunting trophies” made from Beanie Babies, several mason jars filled with plastic animals for some reason. In moderation, Pinterest can be a useful source for craft projects like these, a way to figure out what to do on a dreary weekend afternoon with a hot glue gun and some broken crayons.

The logic of Pinterest, at least of the DIY boards that make up a good chunk of the site, is that anyone who would buy things that they could so easily make is a sucker.  It’s infused with this sneer at items that are commercially available. Sure, you can buy a candle, or you could make one by carving out a Clementine. Why take a trip to Ikea when you can jury-rig a sofa out of wooden palettes, foam, and fabric? Why shell out for chapstick when there’s a recipe right here? Don’t you want your apartment or wardrobe or life to be populated with objects that are handmade, unique, and special?

But there are a couple flaws in the Pinterest aesthetic, as it were. The first is that the increasing prevalence of these handmade crafty items means that they aren’t actually unique. You can spot a Pinterest project from a mile off: Tasteful polka dots, clothes pins, mason jars, twine, and glitter-dipped anything are part of the scenery. Instead of giving off the quality of something creative and interesting, many of these projects seem just as cookie-cutter as their commercial equivalents.

The other problem is the one confronting women paging through the glossy images in lifestyle images forever: This life that is homemade, sustainable, carefully crafted? It takes time. There’s an unwritten undertone of contempt for the kind of mindless person who just throws their money at something rather than investing energy and time into it, who would just microwave some leftovers rather than carefully source their greens and grassfed beef, who would just recycle their cans instead of turning into planters. (And some of these tips also take money: By the time you’re through buying a hot glue gun and stencils and raw canvas or whatever, you’re probably spending at least what you would have on that item anyway.)

A lot of this contempt is aimed at young women, who are by far the number one demographic using Pinterest. Browsing the site can feel like a long list of rebukes: What are you even doing with your life that you’re not making your own kale chips? Your spaces are inadequate and cluttered. I can’t believe you would just buy moisturizer. It’s the Pinterest equivalent of Instagram FOMO (for the unitiated to arbitrary internet abbreviations, that’s “fear of missing out”), only it manages to inspire a different kind of dread, not that you’re missing the part: You are living your life all wrong.

That those unsaid messages are both sexist and classist is a fact that dawned on me slowly. Here’s the thing: Young women, particularly those actively engaged in trying to build a career and maintain some sort of social life and otherwise leave their apartments don’t have time to make their own Chapstick. Or tortillas. Or jelly beans. You have to be selective about the things that you invest your time in because it is valuable stuff. Those lists of sewing hacks and make-your-own t-shirt quilts are nice and all, and if you have the time and inclination, then Godspeed. But it took me a long time to figure out that conveniences exist because they’re convenient. It is worth more to me to have the time to pursue a new interest or chat with a friend over drinks than it is to rush home in order to make my own cappuccino salt.  There is something worthwhile and satisfying in making things yourself, and I am not immune to it. But it’s OK to balance those things, to understand that just because your chairs are from Target and you bought lemonade from the store rather than making it, you have not failed.  Your life is already unique and interesting, and your Ikea-bought lampshade doesn’t diminish that fact a whit.

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