I hear the shutter click from behind me and flinch. It’s a reflex, I can’t help it. Every time I hear that tell tale sound my muscles contract and my jaw clenches. It’s like a survival response, telling me I’m under threat. Fifty, sixty, seventy times a day it happens. Click. Flinch. Click. Flinch. My body aches from the constant tension.
I’ve asked her to stop but she won’t listen. Instead she tosses her hair and pouts, all while recording my reaction. Capturing it all on her phone to share with her followers. The more I react, the more clicks she gets in her feed, the bigger her influence grows.
It never used to be this bad. In fact, we used to be one of those no phones at the table families. It drove me nuts but now I find myself longing to reinforce it. I fantasise about grabbing a lock box and making everyone put their device in before we sit down to share a meal together. How good it would be to have just one conversation a day, totally uninterrupted.
It all started innocently enough. A friend of a friend told her about this new thing. It was called being a “Boss Babe”. Apparently you could make a nice little bit of money from it too. All you had to do was take some photos and post them online, get enough followers and companies would start paying you to feature their stuff. Sounds simple enough right?
At first she was hesitant, worried about us kids and if she’d have enough time to look after us while being this new and improved Boss Babe version of herself.
“No problem!” the friend of a friend had said, “Put your kiddos in the photos. Hit two birds with one stone! Everyone loves seeing cute kids right?”
That was all the permission she needed. Armed with her phone, she downloaded the app and over time her account grew. From a couple hundred people to a couple hundred thousand, the reach of Boss Babe increased exponentially. And now with every follower gained, the camera clicks and I flinch.
At first it was fun. We called it the ‘photo game’. She’d bring us home new outfits and we’d put on a fashion show in the living room. She’d take us out places and we’d get to try yummy foods that we didn’t cook at home. We were playing make-believe, smiling and doing silly things in front of the camera. It was fun, for a while. The problem was that the photo game didn’t stop. There was no off-switch. Hours turned to days, turned to weeks, turned to months, until soon enough the photo game had infiltrated our entire lives.
Now everything I do, every conversation I have, must be captured, recorded, curated, filtered, tagged, posted, and shared. The Boss Babe not only dictates where I go, what I eat, and what I wear but also when I smile, when I laugh and when I cry. She and the camera are in control and I am no longer my own person. I have assumed a new identity as fodder to feed the algorithm and her admiring fans.
And they eat it up. All the Boss Babe fans – her followers. They like, double-tap, share and comment to their hearts’ content.
“Love this!” They type, “So cute!” “Where can I get that outfit for my little one?”
Their appetite is insatiable, constantly wanting more – more of me and my life. Only it’s not real. The whole thing is a sham. A staged showcase of a picture perfect family, designed to make people feel inadequate by comparison. So much so that they are compelled to buy something from the Boss Babe’s page, thinking it’ll make them more like her, more picture perfect. Only it doesn’t work – you can’t buy an illusion.
This morning I’d had enough of the charade. I started fighting back, refusing to participate. I didn’t smile when asked and I refused to wear the clothes she’d picked out for me. Whenever she hit record, I started to yell, swear and pull ugly faces. The Boss Babe didn’t like that.
“C’mon,” she coaxed, “you know this is how I make us money, right? This is how we can afford all the nice things you have.”
“I didn’t ask for these things!”
“Well what about your brother and sister? Don’t you want them to have nice things and live in a nice house? All you have to do is smile for a second. It’s not that hard, is it?”
She made me feel bad, saying that. I looked down at my toes, feeling suddenly unsure. Of course I wanted my little brother and sister to be happy. I wanted them to have everything they needed and more. I was about to give in, about to tilt my head up and smile for the camera, about to flinch, but then I got mad.
A voice inside my head kept saying the Boss Babe was a user. She was addicted to her followers and the money they made her. She would say anything to get a smile out of me. She was using my kid brother and sister against me. She wanted me to feel bad, feel guilty about not doing what she wanted. Well not anymore. I’d show her.
Taking a breath, I lifted my eyes to meet hers.
“Okay, fine,” I said, “but can I do you first?”
Boss Babe smiled widely, “Of course honey.”
She handed me the phone and I held it tightly in my hand. I gestured to the living room.
“Let’s do some dancing!” I said with a grin, “Macarena!”
The Boss Babe laughed and moved into the centre of the room.
“Okay,” she said.
I stood in front of her and held up the camera, getting ready to record.
“Hey Siri, play the Macarena,” I commanded.
Like a movie director, I held up five fingers and started to count down to zero. The music started to play and Boss Babe began the dance. She wiggled her hips side to side and went through the choreography – arms out, then across the chest, then up behind her head, followed by a little shimmy and a jump to the side. I giggled, pretending to enjoy it. Boss Babe smiles for the camera.
The second verse came on and she turned to the side for the second set of moves. She motioned with her hand for me to set the camera down and join her in the shot. I shook my head and told her to keep going.
Boss Babe’s eyes flashed but she continued the dance with an unwavering smile. I could see her thinking she’d be able to edit the video afterwards anyway. When the song ended, Boss Babe stood with her hands on her hips.
“Okay, your turn!” She smiled.
I shook my head again.
“No, it’s still your turn,” I said, “I want to get a different angle this time.”
Her smile faltered a little.
“Alright… but then it’s your turn okay.”
I nodded, moving across the room so I was right next to the wall and started my movie director countdown again.
The music started for a second time and Boss Babe danced. She’s a little less enthusiastic but she kept the grin on her face as she went through the moves. Halfway through I gave her a thumbs up and a wink.
Again the song ended and Boss Babe started to move over to where I was standing.
“Time to switch,” she said, reaching out for the phone.
I shook my head again.
“No, I want you to do the dance again.”
Boss Babe’s eyes flashed again and she frowned, her mouth turning into a firm line.
“No, I’ve done it twice. It’s your turn now.”
She tried to swipe the phone from my hand but I tucked my arm quickly behind my back.
“Just one more time? Please!” I pleaded.
“I don’t want to,” she said, crossing her hands over her chest.
That was all I needed to hear. I stepped towards her, my voice took on a high and mocking tone.
“C’mon,” I sneered, “you know this is how I make us money, right? This is how we can afford all the nice things you have.”
Boss Babe’s eyebrow shot up in surprise. She took a step backward, her hands staying over her chest as if to protect herself.
“Don’t you want us to have nice things and live in a nice house?” I continued, advancing towards her, “All you have to do is dance for a second. It’s not that hard is it?”
Her eyes hardened, “Stop it. That’s enough.”
But I didn’t stop. I kept advancing, taking the phone out from behind me as I went. I held it right up to her face and started taking photos.
Click. Click. Click.
“Smile!” I commanded.
Click. Click. Click.
“C’mon! Just one little smile!”
Boss Babe reached out, taking a swipe at the phone but I twisted out of her way.
Click. Click. Click.
“Okay, you’ve made your point. You can stop now,” she said with irritation, “give it back and we won’t do anymore photos today, I promise.”
The voice in my head returned. Boss Babe didn’t mean it. She was just saying that to get the phone back. Even if she was telling the truth, it was only a day. Tomorrow it will start all over again. I wanted my life back.
I gripped the phone hard in my hand. Before I really knew what I was about to do, I raised my arm, turned on my heel and hurled it straight at the wall. In slow motion I watched it spin through the air, turning over and over until it collided with a crunch.
A sweet cracking sound splintered as the screen of the phone smashed. Boss Babe screamed and rushed past me to pick up the broken pieces.
I slid my hand into my pocket and pulled out my own phone. Holding it up, I took one more photo. The camera clicked and this time Boss Babe flinched.
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