“Feminism has not eradicated the tyranny of the ideal woman but, rather, has entrenched it and made it trickier” – Jia Tolentino
Jia Tolentino, the author of Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion, has been described by the great Rebecca Solnit as ‘the best young essayist at work in the U.S.’ A staff writer at The New Yorker and a former member of the Peace Corps, Tolentino’s oeuvre is noted for its conviction and verve. A hungry chronicler of millennial culture, Tolentino’s former stints at online feminist magazines like Jezebel have lent her work a feminist authority, underpinned by an acute yet tactile lyricism.
A hungry chronicler of millennial culture, Tolentino’s former stints at online feminist magazines like Jezebel have lent her work a feminist authority
Tolentino’s themes in Trick Mirror are deeply personal, and a gutsy critique of many of the institutional structures that frame millennial life. It is the internet and social media, those abstract and all-consuming structures, that are the subject of the first essay in Trick Mirror, titled ‘The I in the Internet’.
Tolentino’s most urgent concerns are of the performative aspect of identity that social media demands, and of key societal roles like that of the activist, which are rapidly being relegated to hashtags, framed within clinically curated, heavily designed Instagram accounts. She, like many others commentators, is also fearful of the digital algorithm which co-opts our personal preferences for the use of corporations, subsequently reflecting and affirming the identity we have chosen to purvey online.
Tolentino’s most urgent concerns are of the performative aspect of identity that social media demands
It is all one big ‘Trick Mirror’, according to Tolentino:
“On social media platforms, everything we see corresponds to our conscious choices and algorithmically guided preferences, and all news and culture and interpersonal interaction are filtered through the home base of the profile. The everyday madness perpetuated by the Internet is the madness of this architecture which positions personal identity at the center of this universe. It’s as if we’ve been placed on a lookout that oversees the entire world and given a pair of binoculars that makes everything look like our own reflection. Through social media many people have come to view all new information as a sort of direct commentary on who they are.”
Delineating global identity politics vis-a-vis technological structures seems to heavily inform Tolentino’s central thesis for Trick Mirror. She elaborates upon her argument in the essay, ‘Always be Optimizing’ where she debunks the notion of the modern ‘ideal woman’ and interrogates her history, specifically how she has evolved within static patriarchal ideologies.
In her essay ‘Always be Optimizing’ Tolentino debunks the notion of the modern ‘ideal woman’
Tolentino’s concern is with how most women unconsciously further the patriarchal credo, while simultaneously championing an aesthetically marketed, contemporary brand of feminism. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Tolentino acknowledged this dilemma:
‘I’ve organized so much of my life in whatever form wanting men to like me. And also because they held the keys to the scholarships, the money, the jobs. I voluntarily joined a sorority. I voluntarily joined one of the most perniciously sexist systems perpetuating power in America. I wish I were opposed to these systems that want women to be beautiful and successful as whatever. And yet I want to be pretty, and I want to be successful. I’m attracted to all these things that I know are bad.’
Tolentino’s concern is with how most women unconsciously further the patriarchal credo, while simultaneously championing an aesthetically marketed, contemporary brand of feminism
In her essay she affirms this sense of precarious selfhood:
‘Today’s ideal woman is of a type that coexists easily with feminism in its current market-friendly and mainstream form. This sort of feminism has organized itself around being as visible and appealing to as many people as possible; it has greatly over-valorized women’s individual success. Feminism has not eradicated the tyranny of the ideal woman but, rather, has entrenched it and made it trickier”
Tolentino’s acknowledgment is an imperative reminder to the reader. She invites us to question the tenets of modern life we assume to be faultless. Does our liberalism or feminism devalue a certain brand of woman? Rife with epiphanies and exposes, Trick Mirror is a vehicle to better understand what it is we truly stand for. It lifts the lid on our prescribed and sham identities, shearing delusion from truth, all while essentially pressing upon us the substance of our humanity.