TV killed the radio star, Netflix killed the TV star, and all that’s left for us is Twitter. That’s fine though, if all we have is @priya_ebooks.
To her 16.9 thousand Twitter followers, @priya_ebooks is a force of realness, unique among other popular accounts for her relentless lack of self-deprecation. @priya_ebooks is the mean-mugging, law-practicing older sister you never had. On Twitter, she’s the anti-sadgirl, the antidote for the internet’s injured psyche.
Somewhere between advocate and activist, @priya_ebooks uses Twitter to start the conversations that aren’t being held on other platforms. Since these only happen in 140 character explosions, I checked in with the tweet queen and asked her to elaborate on some topics via Skype. In an hour alone, we made it through sadness, Twitter activism, The Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain, and black lipstick.
Q: When did you join Twitter?
A: Actually a while ago, in 2011 or 2012, but at the time I would do those tweets—you know the ones that everybody does when they first join twitter? Like “woke up in the morning had breakfast #oatmeal.” But then something happened, in about 2014; I started posting very frequently and I found myself drawn to these interesting women that were talking on Twitter. There were so many cool academic non-academics, if that makes any sense, talking about interesting things.
Q: Did you feel like you consciously had to mold your voice to the voices you were reading, or was it sort of an organic thing that happened?
A: It’s very organic. The thing is, my own voice can be pretty pedantic and academic, and this is because when I’m not writing fiction or poetry I tend to be quite academic. I’m a lawyer, I was an English major before that, I taught kids in my spare time. I naturally have a very authoritative-sounding voice. I always tweeted like that, I think, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Obviously, like any woman with a significant online presence writing about feminism does, I get a lot of people who don’t like me. It’s not that I tweet with such authority, it’s that I’m talking about my own experiences and obviously I’m the expert on my own life so I’m speaking firmly, but also get used to it! A woman speaking authoritatively is not a bad thing, you’re just a little bit sexist.
Q: Is there a particular audience that you tweet to?
A: Oh absolutely. There’s a certain kind of person that’s very underrepresented, not talked about, and that for me is always young women, particularly women of color, but young women more generally.
I don’t think that anyone is talking to them in the same way they’re addressing other people. I thought that maybe if I could do something to make them feel better about themselves, like I don’t know, you’re a young teenage girl or you’re a brown girl somewhere, and you are having a hard time—if I can help you through that, then it’s worth it.
Q: Would you call this creating dialog a type of activism, or would you just say you’re starting conversations that aren’t happening elsewhere?
A: So a lot of people, when they’re denigrating people like me, they say “Oh, you’re a”—in quotes—“TwitterActivist,” like a condescending way of saying, “what you’re doing doesn’t mean anything.” And all my life I’ve been interested in social justice, and I’ve done that in the real world. But in many ways, the reach you have online is amazing I think it starts these fantastic conversations. I do think of it as a form of activism.
It is not less activist to talk about the stuff that I talk about online, because that has a ripple effect in its own sense. Messages of self-love, learning how to dismantle racism and sexism in your own self—all of those are interesting issues, and I think that talking about them works in a huge way and goes toward activist ends.
Q: It seems like you don’t really tweet in a self-deprecating tone at all, and one tweet in particular: “Don’t immortalize all your sadness online,” struck me as pretty powerful, as that’s something I’ve done often without realizing the implications of it. Do you think the expression of sadness is localized to Twitter because of its identity as a confessional platform?
A: A hundred percent. I think Twitter rewards sadness in an unhealthy way. Now let me be clear—women already censor themselves, and women talking about their emotions often gets dismissed in the same way chick lit often gets dismissed, so I want to encourage women to be open with their emotions but at the same time it’s an unhealthy pattern to what happens on Twitter!
I think the thought process kind of goes like this: “I’m not feeling great, so let me think of a clever way to word this sadness.” It’s often very cutesy, since people aren’t very outré about it. They tweet a poignant sentence, like “I hope that someone kills me,” “I’m just a sad little thing,” which is the most common pattern, women literally, physically reducing themselves to tiny objects or animals and posting “me.”
And the problem with that is that it reinforces, for one thing, that feeling. Because you’re getting rewarded for it! There are 200 people retweeting it, and so you fall into that pattern of making similar tweets. For one thing, I believe in positive feedback loops and how what you’re saying about yourself becomes true. So the problem with [sad tweeting] is that it maybe comes true.
Another problem is that it becomes very performative. I think the world is very comfortable with the idea of suffering women. The world never has a problem with women who are self-deprecating. The world will never direct abuse and hate at someone who is already saying: “I’m insignificant, I’m sad and broken and lonely.” What’s the point in tearing someone down if they’re already down! The world is comfortable with that. “Women don’t have any self-confidence, that’s fine!”
I’ve looked at the mentions of accounts like that, and they’re very benign. But the second I tweet something that’s like “I’m looking like, unbelievably hot today” or “I’m feeling so intelligent!” really anything that’s bringing my confidence up, people react badly to it. I know there is so much validation for women if they go down that path [of sad tweeting] but I don’t want them to go down that path.
There’s this great essay by Leslie Jamison on [The Grand Unified Theory of Female] pain. She says at the end of the essay: “Keep writing, but just write to something beyond blood.” Whether they write or not, or whether the only writing is tweets, I think it’s very important for women to not just write to perform; your pain is valid! But there’s more to be gained by stepping out of that box of sadness that people want to put you in.
It’s really hard to talk about these things without being cheesy. To bring my extremely long rant to a close, that’s why I made that tweet. And I will continue to tell women to not fall into this trap of self-deprecation online.
Q: Why do you think women view sadness as an attractive way to represent themselves online?
A: Of course this goes for men too, but more for women. It’s very easy to believe the bad things about yourself. Sometimes I will make these tweets that are like “I sprang out of bed today,” or “I’m looking awesome,” but most times that’s not the case. I tweet that sometimes when I don’t believe it, because it’s very, very hard to believe the good things about yourself. I mean that’s a human condition! We all have masochistic tendencies. The best way I can put this is a strange analogy, but bear with me here. Have you ever looked into a mirror and been like “oh my god, you SUCK, you terrible, like fucker, ugly, bitch,” or have you ever set an alarm, for instance that’s like: “Wake the fuck up you useless blah blah blah—”
Q: Oh yeah, literally I have one that’s like “‘___’ is skinnier than you!”
A: Hah! Yeah, so I think there’s this internal voice of castigation, where there’s no natural voice of “you’re awesome.” That’s something you have to build up. Your unconscious voice is always one that wants to self-berate. To some extent I feel like that plays into the notion of masochistic impulse, the feeling of “oh I deserve this!”
Even if you have a Twitter that’s has zero followers, and no one’s going to console you, they will still post those things because it’s literally just a manifestation of beating yourself up.
Q: Do you think it can ever be empowering to have a space to share one’s own sadness?
A: I say all this with the caveat is that it can be someone’s brand, where you’re only tweeting about the sad things that are happening to you, and that’s all fine. But do I think that’s empowering? No I don’t think it’s empowering.
That confessional-ness of it? I do enjoy that. But no matter how confessional you are, if you have an audience, I think to some degree to tweet that “life is worthless, whatever,” I think that other people would just find a reflection of their own sadness, and while I think that’s important, knowing that you’re not alone, but beyond that, honestly I’m struggling to think of the value of something like that has.
Q: And you mentioned on Twitter that this “sadgirl” voice seems to be a particularly whitewashed one.
A: When I first realized there was a particular pattern to this, I started looking at the kind of accounts that were tweeting this kind of stuff, who were tweeting cutesy sad tweets—they were all white! And I found this interesting that it’s only white women talking about this.
Let me put it this way. If, for instance a white woman posts pictures versus a woman of color, there’s a marked difference in the comments, in the captions. The comments on the woman of color’s photo would be like “YASS you’re so FIERCE,” because people see the woman of color being a de-facto bad bitch, a boss bitch. You picture this very empowered, kick-ass tough, take-no-prisoners attitude.
And this of course leaves no place for sadness, right? Because tough people aren’t sad! Whereas with white women, historically, there’s always been a sense of fragility, which was even used to justify the killing of black men for dating white women. The white woman has been cast as the damsel in distress.
People view white women more sympathetically. I don’t mean by this to cast any aspersions in the way that people react to me online, but for me it seems like people underplay the amount of abuse people of color get. Women of color get it two ways—they’re not white, and they’re women.
You get a lot of racist stuff on top of the misogynist stuff. There should be sympathy for them, visibility for the difficulties they face. People are always like “you’re so tough, Priya,” but no one wants to give me sympathy. Women of color are naturally erased in many instances, and all of this is why this sort of precious sadness is exclusively a white phenomenon.
I don’t think white women should feel like they are fragile either. I don’t feel like they are inherently more delicate. Being this delicate person? You’re shooting yourself in the foot. There’s so much more power that you could have!
Q: Can I ask you about your selfies? It seems like proclaiming one’s beauty online can be a radical act for lots of women, and seeing your selfies can be a reminder that it’s okay to do that. Is there a relationship you find between selfies and self-love, or is it way simpler than that and you just like the way your makeup looks some days?
A: I’m a huge proponent of selfies. I have found that selfies have been helpful in my own journey towards self-love, and a lot of women have said this to me. What’s interesting to is that these selfies, often times, are not for men’s consumption. A lot of times, men will be like, “oh, why do you look so aggressive?” I’ll be like “okay so here’s the thing? This is not for your gaze!!”
When I see comments on selfies, most times it’s other women, right? Maybe wearing a nice dress isn’t just for a man, it’s so you will appreciate it. With selfies, it’s about everyone uplifting each other. People mock girls for complimenting each other, like *affects stereotypical valley girl voice* “oh my god your SHOES!” People mock women for complimenting each other a lot, but I’m a huge proponent of it, of the power of that kind of affirming cycle of compliments.
Selfies really prove this. People will lift you up when you’re feeling down. Women are very generous. They really get in there, and that helps you with your own journey of self love.
Posting a photo of yourself that you took yourself is the difference between a bikini camera pic taken by some snarky tabloid guy, versus an Instagram selfie that Kim Kardashian might take. I bet she feels better about her own selfie than paparazzi candids! “Hey, I’m controlling the image of my own face, and I’m posting it online!” I’m all for selfies.
Q: It’s interesting, because in controlling their own images, women get accused of being narcissistic way more than men. And for women, being called narcissistic seems like it can be more of a fatal flaw.
A: Oh man, it’s so vile to me that women are so easily and readily accused of narcissism and vanity and selfishness. It’s applied to women at the drop of a hat. And it’s so toxic because if a man is called self-involved, nobody cares. It’s actually seen as kind of attractive! We root for this guy. But for a woman, oh you’re doomed. There’s no coming back from being a shallow, self-obsessed person.
Women are held to such high standards of conduct in that they are meant to live for other people, and the slightest fall from that standard makes you feel like a failure as a woman. You’re meant to be nurturing, you’re meant to be caring for other people all the time. So if you fail in that and you’re deemed narcissistic? You’ve failed at womanhood.
Q: So a selfie can reclaim one’s own image in spite of narcissism?
A: Right! A good example is with a nude picture. When celebrity nudes are leaked, people love it! It’s something that was done without consent, it’s my right to look at a woman’s body. But the minute a woman releases pictures like that of herself, a consensual sexy image, people are like “wow, we didn’t need to see that.”
Q: I feel like even the so-called “sadgirl” selfies even look drastically different, there isn’t any “I look great today,” instead there’s more of a “I’m hiding in my blankets today.”
A: Oh yeah, there’s this closed-eyed, fragile, minimal makeup-looking, that’s very sort of minimizing, and as you said, the blankets are the key to that, wrapping yourself up, unconsciously evoking this “protect me” vibe. Which is why when I post selfies, most of the time I’m MEAN MUGGING. People are always like “oh my god Priya, this is serious bitch face!” and I’m like “no, man. That’s just my face.” Also I’m kind of trying to repel men. Not as serious as say, Man-Repeller but to say: “These tweets are for women.”
Q: I like that when you wear heavy lipstick it’s not for men, because they can’t kiss it.
A: Yeah! Oh my god. I love it, especially if it’s dark lipstick? Oh, forget it. My favorite thing that ever happens on Twitter is when guys post pictures of women pre- and post-makeup. Like “This is why we have trust issues! I feel so betrayed!” My god, you are the stupidest person living if you think that her lips were naturally purple-ey, shimmery, black and that her eyelids were ómbre. You are an idiot. That’s a trope about men that they complain about makeup, but they complain about makeup. Like *affects throaty voice* “ugh it’s gonna come off on me!” Yeah? Well, good.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.