“No one is as happy as they seem on Instagram,” Alexa Chung recently told The Telegraph. Of course, deep down, we all know this to be true. Yet some people on social media continue to annoy the shit out of us with shameless self promotion and illusions of the perfect life. According to a new Harvard study, social media humblebraggers—people who try to mask a brag with a complaint or self-deprecation—are likely the worst offenders. The study cites this anonymous tweet as an example: “Hair’s not done, just rolled out of bed from a nap and still get hit on, so confusing!” Ugh. Barf, right?
Harvard Business School doctoral candidate and co-author of “Humblebragging: A Distinct and Ineffective Self-Presentation Strategy” Ovul Sezer explains, “While modesty is something we value, sincerity and being genuine [are things] that we value even more.” In fact,“Sincerity is the key determinant of whether people like you or not,” she says. In other words, no one likes a bragger, but a humblebragger is even worse. By that token, when Kendall Jenner got more likes for a photo in a single day than Kim and Kanye’s wedding pic and then posted “Take That KimYe!” it wasn’t so bad. It would have been way worse if she’d said, “I can’t believe I got more likes than KimYe. Crazy! #blessed.”
And there it is, the dreaded #blessed hashtag. “Calling something “blessed” has become the go-to term for those who want to boast about an accomplishment while pretending to be humble, fish for a compliment, acknowledge a success (without sounding too conceited), or purposely elicit envy,” stated a recent piece in The New York Times. Basically, it’s just another way to humblebrag.
“Loving & Living life in Ibiza. # Happy #Blessed #Loved,” reads the caption to a bikini-clad Paris Hilton Instagram photo. “My face has never been this composed #blessed at @chloe today” tweeted Grammy-winner Lorde from front row at Paris fashion week. “That moment when your cat casually walks up, then abruptly ATTACKS your custom satin Oscar de la Renta gown during your fitting for Met Ball,” reads a Taylor Swift tweet. Brags, brags, brags.
“By having that hashtag, they’re trying to make it seem like they’re not bragging,”explains Sezer. “We all know bragging is bad. We all know that self-promotion is risky; if we brag about ourselves too much it might backfire. So because we know it, we try to find ways to mitigate it.” People who humblebrag and use the #blessed hashtag are trying to hide the brag. The bad news? It just doesn’t work.
Hidden behind a hashtag or not, the humblebrag is hardly a new phenomenon. The term was coined by the late Parks and Recreation and The Sarah Silverman Program writer Harris Wittels, who started the @humblebrag twitter account to compile examples of the phenomenon and went on to write the book Humblebrag: The Art of False Modesty. According to Sezer, we now have a term for it because of social media, but humblebragging turns up in face-to-face encounters and job interviews all the time. Anyone who’s ever answered the “What’s your worst quality?” question with “I’m too organized” or “I’m a perfectionist” is guilty of the humblebrag.
That moment when your cat casually walks up,then abruptly ATTACKS your custom satin Oscar de la Renta gown during your fitting for Met Ball.
— Taylor Swift (@taylorswift13) May 5, 2014
While we can’t make humblebrags disappear, we can do something about the feelings of jealousy they often trigger. In their recent “How To Stop Being Jealous of Your Friends” video series, the editors of The Cut said, “What really makes it bad is when you creep each other’s Instagram accounts and you think ‘Oh, this person’s life is so fabulous.’ It’s important to realize that success and beauty are not finite. So just because your friend is super cool and successful and beautiful doesn’t mean that there’s less of a chance for you to be those things.”
The media sometimes helps to perpetuate these feelings of jealousy (blame the media for everything, right?). Take, for example, a recent People article on Cindy Crawford’s daughter, Kaia Gerber. Its sole purpose was to list the reasons why we should be jealous of Kaia (spoiler alert: She has a zillion social media followers, members of One Direction drop by to visit her, George Clooney is basically her uncle, etc., etc., etc.). Can’t compete with that. Kaia’s definitely #blessed.
Thankfully, Facebook just launched some new tools to give users more control over what appears in their news feeds. We can now choose the friends and pages we want to see at the top of our feed. The feature is only on iOS for now but it’ll roll out on Android and desktop over the coming weeks. In the meantime, let’s all follow the research and spare ourselves the haters. A little modesty would be great, but even an outright brag, apparently, will do.