Why Pinterest Fails Us

Photo credit: (Left), Chelsea Johnson, October 21, 2013 http://www.LifeWithMyLittles.com

Photo credit (right).  “Roy” on PinterestFail.com

-By Donna Harel, PhD.

Growing up, I loved the “neighbors helping neighbors” section of my mother’s Women’s Day magazine. It’s no surprise that this progenitor of clever domesticity and craftiness has evolved into a  social media powerhouse: Pinterest.

Pinterest, as their website describes, is the “world’s catalogue of ideas.” Users create “pins” – visual bookmarks – to other websites:

A pin could be a delicious dish, your next adventure, a DIY project, or love at first sight… Boards help you nest away your pins by theme or topic. your favorite collections are right at your fingertips. You can pin wild and free!

Think Martha Stewart on steroids. As an anthropologist who commits to imperfection, Pinterest’s prescriptive nature troubles me. As with many corners of our culture, Pinterest’s call of perfectionism – and the opportunities to fall short –– always awaits.

Why? Because full-time Pinterest users who use professional photography and photo editing provide the majority of content on Pinterest. As with the glossy magazines that preceded them, pin boards promote a disjuncture between the ideal and the real. No one on Pinterest posts crappy versions of their Halloween crafts, cupcakes, or gifts for teachers.

Several websites are dedicated to Pinterest “fails” (the tagline of my favorite one reads “Where good intentions go to die”). They illustrate (with great humor) the gap between the ideals of Pinterest perfection and the realities that many people struggle to execute. I know that if I bothered with these clever projects, I’d be posting right along with the other “Pin Reapers.”

My “Bento box lunch” board reveals my personal aspirations. Such cute ways to encourage my kids to eat healthy, wholesome foods! Somehow just pinning their pages, I feel inspired and virtuous.

I know full well that like other Pinterest posters, the people on the Bento box boards pour passion and tons of experience into their pages. I’d like to think that it’s all they do. The anthropologist in me sees the people who post and the people who pin engaged in practices that reveal a host of complex cultural ideologies. My Bento pins illuminate some of the trouble with Pinterest.

In her article “Japanese Mothers and Obentos: The Lunch-Box as Ideological State Apparatus,” Anne Allison, an anthropologist who specializes in contemporary Japanese culture, argues that obento – the art and practice of making Bento boxes – serves to institutionalize an intense form of mothering.

Japanese nursery schools help transition children from home life into wider society, with a particular focus on putting the needs of the group over those of the individual. For example, children must eat lunch quickly and completely before the group may go out to play. Japanese mothers must make the food appealing and easy to consume, lest their youngsters endure the humiliation of delaying recess for the rest of the class.

Allison found that despite these high stakes, the Japanese mothers she encountered often treated the design and execution of obento – a process that could take between 20-45 minutes per day, along with panning and shopping –  as an outlet for creative expression. They employed a range of items: containers, decorations, molds, stamps, etc. The production of obento was an abiding topic of conversation among mothers and the subject of entire magazines and specialty items. Fun, but inescapable.

Bento boxes represent aspiration for me, but rarely match my reality. Instead,  I prefer what I call “grazing boxes.” I guest-blogged about them on Kariane Nemer’s thoughtful family lifestyle site, Everyday Intentional Living, which you should totally subscribe to (after you finish reading this post). I think that grazing, choice, and independence (when it comes to food) work well for many kids – if their parents can manage it. I’ll be the first to admit that these practices are not just about food prep. They reveal wider ideas about childhood. As an advocate for the imperfect, I’m most likely to set up an ice cube tray with a few nibbles and some hummus for my kids, rather than a cute, orderly bento box.

Scrolling through pin boards, whether for Bento boxes or Halloween party ideas, I feel both inspired and overwhelmed. For better or worse, Pinterest offers myriad ways to improve our lives.Taken with a healthy dose of humor and skepticism, Pinterest can be great. But the next time you pin something, remember the kids in the Pumpkins.

Resources:

On the problems associated with perfectionism:

Celeste Chua offers a cogent look at perfectionism:

http://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/why-being-a-perfectionist-may-not-be-so-perfect.html

See also Hara Estroff Marano’s 2008 article:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200803/pitfalls-perfectionism

Pinterest Fails:

http://pinterestfail.com

http://justsomething.co/the-34-most-hilarious-pinterest-fails-ever/

http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/craft-ideas/g2638/hilarious-pinterest-diy-fails/

Bentos and Culture:

Japanese Mothers and Obentos: The Lunch-Box as Ideological State Apparatus

Anne Allison

Anthropological Quarterly

Vol. 64, No. 4, Gender and the State in Japan (Oct., 1991), pp. 195-208

An example of a Bento page.

On the problems associated with perfectionism:

Celeste Chua offers a cogent look at perfectionism:
http://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/why-being-a-perfectionist-may-not-be-so-perfect.html

See also Hara Estroff Marano’s 2008 article:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200803/pitfalls-perfectionism

Pinterest Fails:

http://pinterestfail.com

The 34 most hilarious Pinterest fails ever. These people totally nailed it!

http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/craft-ideas/g2638/hilarious-pinterest-diy-fails/

Bentos and Culture:

Japanese Mothers and Obentōs: The Lunch-Box as Ideological State Apparatus
Anne Allison
Anthropological Quarterly
Vol. 64, No. 4, Gender and the State in Japan (Oct., 1991), pp. 195-208

An example of a Bento page.

Published by

Your Public Interest Anthropologist

I am an anthropologist, writer and writing coach. I love to coach people as they find their most compelling stories. I believe in perfect imperfection. This in how I coach writers, keep my house and raise my three kids. I love to spin yarns with my words and with actual knitting needles. I've only met a few knitting patterns that I didn't like.

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