It doesn’t take long scrolling through a social media feed to see someone brand someone else an “attention whore,” tell them they’re “fishing for compliments” or something similar. Growing up, I remember how sharply the point was made that seeking attention is wrong, annoying, and a character flaw. Anyone who so much as wore a colorful shirt or spoke up could be branded an attention whore, and there was no mistaking that this moniker was mainly reserved for women.
Recently someone asked me why people who are suicidal, considering self harm or otherwise distressed from their mental illness, don’t reach out to others. I had to think for a second because there have been plenty of times when I haven’t and I really didn’t understand why. But over the next few days, it came to me.
The lesson that good people don’t seek attention has been drilled into me so deeply that I didn’t seek attention when I was in danger of hurting myself and without intervention, did. If I had felt more comfortable drawing attention to myself and didn’t have the fear of someone labeling me an attention whore I might have considered contacting someone more of an option.
It make me think more about attention and how asking for it has been criminalized. Social media hinges off of the notion of attention. Each person who posts anything is asking for their friends’ attention. So when someone posts 50 selfies in their bathroom, they are asking for attention. But when someone reposts a political article, they are doing the same thing.
In the end, people need attention. We are social creatures and the world can be isolating and lonely. Someone might ask for attention with their 50 bathroom selfies and really, what’s the crime here? They feel as though they are missing something and need to seek companionship or reaffirm their self esteem or any of the various reasons why someone would post all of those selfies. People don’t have to all communicate the same emotion in the same way. There’s no right way to reach out to others.
And when it really gets down to it, if there is a crime, there has to be an impact and the impact? You see a bunch of photos in your Facebook feed? You see 50 different angles of someone’s face and what hair gel they use? Is this actually doing harm? Not to mention there are ways to avoid seeing this in your feed to begin with.
Maybe society needs to stop viewing people, particularly women, who ask for some attention as a litany of negative stereotypes. Maybe someone seeking attention just needs… attention. Maybe some people express their human need for social contact differently than others. And maybe there’s nothing wrong with that.