What Fakebooking Looked Like in the 1950s


In the old video we just had restored to DVD, my grandmother wears bright red lipstick and a sparkly blue sweater as she undresses my mother for her bath. Her hair is perfectly coiffed. She smiles and bats her eyes. The year is 1951.

Impressed, I told Grandma that I’m usually in mismatched PJs and a shower cap when bath time rolls around, screaming downstairs for my husband to fetch me the last clean towel. “I think I’m doing something wrong,” I admitted.

“Oh, honey,” said Grandma. “I’m sure I dressed up for the camera–and the camera man.”

And there I had it: proof that “Fakebooking” thrived well before Facebook rolled around.

This footage reel sat forgotten in a dusty basement for 60 years. It was not posted, streamed, or otherwise shared. And yet Grandma found the motivation to look beautiful, glamorous, and calm as she embarked upon the bedtime battle.

I’ve begun to realize the impulse to impress obscures more than a ketchup-smeared face or an exposed nipple. When I read Sarah Tuttle-Singer’s viral Kveller post, “We Need to Quit Telling Lies on Facebook,” I agreed wholeheartedly: “Keeping up with the status messages is exhausting. And it turns friends into frenemies.”

Later in the DVD, my mother is shown screaming and kicking at her 5th birthday party, fingers stuck in her ears as friends and family gather around a table in the backyard for a bakery-frosted cake. “She hated her parties,” my grandma told me, shrugging. In the video, she picks up the birthday girl, rocking her and whispering, the way I sometimes comfort my almost-5-year-old. I’ve watched the scene several times, yearning for Grandma to make eye contact with the camera and roll her eyes in a sort of “FML” moment, telling us how she really feels, but her focus remains just on my mother.

The more I Fakebook, the more I clamor for true confession: to spill my feelings, fears, and secrets that aren’t appropriate for “sharing” en masse. I want to spill the beans on the backstory, that I had to bribe my kids with cookies to kiss my grandparents for that “aww” profile pic. I want to reveal my most slimming black jeans are from K-Mart, without rebuke from my husband that “everyone will think we’re poor.” Recently an acquaintance asked me what was new, and I launched into a story of how a great-uncle had died, my husband was trying on his sweaters and coats, and I was really digging the Cetaphil we’d found in his bathroom. She was taken aback at my “TMI.”

Maybe that’s why, at our recent family photo session, I refused to allow my sister-in-law to bribe my kids into smiling with chocolate chip cookies. After all, it was 10 in the morning. She had to hide the cookies and renege her offer, resulting in my kids (and my nephew) scowling and sobbing in the family portrait. For my “good parenting,” we got a slew of bad photos—FML.

So while I’d like to grace Facebook in full make-up and a sweater that isn’t stained, in a photo with both my daughter’s eyes open and my son wearing a grin that doesn’t look like he’s biting a brick, I know my kids will keep it real. Abby breaks from her cuteness all the time to scream, “Mommy, put your camera away!” Maybe she’s on to something.

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Melissa PhetersonMelissa Pheterson reports on health, wellness and lifestyle content for Gannett, iVillage.com and other media. Her work has appeared in the New York TimesJerusalem Post, Salon.com, JewishStoryWriting.com and in the anthology Have I Got a Guy For You. You can enjoy her collected stories of crazy Jewish family life, Under His Nose, on your Kindle or Kindle app.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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