Tangled Web: For Pete’s sake, stop making that face on Instagram

A friend has a bad case of the ugly selfies. How do I save her from herself?


Jess Zimmerman

Internet Culture

Published Aug 15, 2013   Updated Jun 1, 2021, 9:03 am CDT

Thanks to the Internet, we now have a host of new ways to offend, enrage, misinterpret, creep out, or alienate people. In the Tangled Web, we field your questions about how to be a decent human online. Have a question? Ask [email protected].

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My friend, who’s not Kate Upton but is also not hideous, insists on making “ugly” faces in all her Instagram selfies. Which is basically all that’s on her Instagram, for what it’s worth. It seems like a defense mechanism. How do I gently tell her that she’s not helping her cause? (And, yes: she’s single.)

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Hmm…what’s her “cause” here exactly? Finding a mate on Instagram? Do people really do that? Well, okay, I know that people do that; people find love on every part of the Internet including 4chan and Puzzle Pirates. But do you have reason to believe that’s her actual goal here? And if not, does it matter that your single friend is not presenting her face in its best possible light?

Well, yes, it matters a little, in that it’s irritating to see someone pulling revolting faces all over your Instagram feed. But that’s not because she’s hurting her cause; it’s because she’s hurting your cause of not wanting to see her constantly making smooshface or whatever. That’s fine! You can be annoyed by a friend’s weird habit. Just don’t tell yourself you’re only feeling negative about it because of your concern for her dating life.

So, the real question is not, “How do I keep my friend from uglifying herself so that she can get a date on Instagram?” (come on) but, “How do I keep my friend from taking boring pictures that are no fun to look at?” And the answer is, you probably can’t, because people are grownups and can do what they want—but it might help a little to think about why she may be doing it. A few options:

  • Your assessment is right, and it’s a defense mechanism. Maybe she’s simultaneously self-obsessed and self-loathing, so all she can do is take selfies where she looks as ugly as possible. I’d venture to say most people don’t work through their personality problems on Instagram, but some do, so okay.
  • She’s deliberately trying to mess with the selfie tradition where you try to look as patriarchally-approved “pretty” as possible. This is the least likely, but I enjoy thinking about it.
  • She thinks that face looks good.
  • She’s nervous with cameras, and either her face instinctively creeps into a horrible mask when faced with one or she’s taken up silly mugging as a coping strategy. This is quite common, but doesn’t really explain why she voluntarily turns the camera on herself so often.
  • She just really sucks a lot at photography.
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In none of these cases is there a magic word to make her stop. Basically all you can do is model good Instagram behavior, and hope that she’ll start taking more interesting photos once she sees the possibilities of the medium. (And unfollow her if it irks you too much when she doesn’t.) But you seem to instinctively feel as though you have to save this woman from dumb self-expression in order to keep her marriageable, and that’s not the foundation for a good friendship. Giving serious consideration to all the reasons she might be presenting her face in a non-you-approved manner might help you relax about the fact that her Instagram would make a bad dating profile.

Jess Zimmerman has been making social blunders on the Internet since 1994. Most of her current interpersonal drama takes place on Twitter (@j_zimms).

Photo by Admond/Flickr

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*First Published: Aug 15, 2013, 1:47 pm CDT