Column: Pinterest: a world worth understanding

The site has captured female audiences like none before it.

The women of Pinterest have created a space in the dark world of the Internet for romantic photos, elaborate desserts, D.I.Y. crafts, beauty tips, child-rearing advice, and weight-loss motivation.

I found myself wrapped up in the world of Pinterest late last year. I was a woman obsessed with pictures of shoes, clothes, hair, and makeup on tall, thin, pretty models. I’d scroll through hundreds of pictures in class after class, while watching TV — basically all the time. I was even attempting a few Pinterest workout plans for a little while.

But let’s be clear: Unless you’re a movie star or consider exercise to be really interesting (which I don’t really), then you do not have time to work out for hours per day every day. Baking can be fun, but it also gets expensive and time-consuming. I like fashion, but again, it’s a pricey interest and doesn’t give a lot back to your soul. And despite my admiration for their creativity, I lack the basic patience necessary to do crafts or crafty home decor.  

I should also mention my initial opposition to Pinterest. I generally try to project and abide by a serious, hard-news-reading, analytical, modern-woman image. For example, I rarely post on my Facebook unless it’s social or political commentary or carefully-selected photos.

Although I can critique my usage or the content of Pinterest, it doesn’t negate the fact that I still have an account I occasionally use. So my real question concerns why it’s so easy to be obsessed with Pinterest and why it coaxes out this inner girly-girl I usually suppress.

I’ve narrowed it down to three main reasons Pinterest is such a female site and why it’s a decidedly positive thing to happen to the internet:

  1. The power of aspiration. Jezebel published a column earlier this year reprimanding those who think Pinterest is frivolous and pushing to liken Pinterest to the fashion magazine industry, which has made its living and driven consumer behavior in fashion, health and beauty for decades through fantasy of a more beautiful (in every sense) life. From my dark, sticky, unkempt college apartment and poor diet, I definitely have a lot of aspirations for life improvement. I guess Pinterest reminds me life won’t always be like it is now — I can change it.
  2. Escapism. While I’m worrying about getting through school, paying for school, healthcare, the poor state of politics, and life in general, it’s kind of nice to know there’s part of the world dedicated to beauty and I can go there whenever I want. And this isn’t some little-girl-can’t-handle-the-big-scary-world B.S. Escapism is a noted and practiced form of stress relief, since it refocuses your attention on something enjoyable to give you a mental break.
  3. Finally, I think there’s something to be said for the sense of female community derived from Pinterest. Women are constantly told to act like men, to be successful in the workplace, and I would argue that competition between women is taught socially from a young age. While people may judge Pinterest harshly, there’s very little judgment happening on the site. Calm, interested strangers, 82% of which are women, comment on pins and pin boards to offer advice, question a technique, or compliment the find. I’ve seen remarkably little in the way of trolling, harassment or general rudeness, and its terms-of-use policy has so far limited the site from being overrun by X-rated porn or violent images like Tumblr has had to deal with.

A lot of initial reactions to Pinterest from those who haven’t really used it is that it’s frivolous, for frivolous women and just a trend with no staying power. However, I’ve been on Twitter since its early days and I remember how pointless everyone thought it was too. And now companies are offering how-to webinars and writing self-help books for marketing professionals who need to figure Twitter out fast to stay relevant.

While we haven’t seen anything yet on the Internet so female-driven as Pinterest is, I think it lays the foundation for more of its kind. And as more women tap into the medium, smart web entrepreneurs, companies, and magazines will follow. Pinterest users may change the face of social media in the long run, but for now, it gives me an outlet for a little bit of romantic dreaminess. And is that really so bad?

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