“Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.” These iconic words appeared in the “Wear Sunscreen” address given to graduates in 1997 by Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune, and were later popularised by Australian film director Baz Luhrmann into a music track. The speech is brilliant, with wise truths about life and how to navigate it. And it was right.
Schmich’s cautionary advice has now long been passed on to readers of magazines filled with models and celebrities possessing age defying, fat defying DNA. Worse still was the airbrushing used. Longer legs, blemishless skin, a crease removed here and there, and you can understand why it so difficult for teenage girls to accept the way they actually are, and to love themselves.
Now it’s happening in fishkeeping too. Like two billion other people I’ve spent the last few years finger swiping my way through the aquatic content of Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest and as a fishkeeper, I can now draw many parallels…
Type tropical fish into Instagram and you don’t get pictures of average, approachable, affordable tropical fish and aquariums. Instead you get pristine Altum angelfish, huge Peacock bass, high end reef tanks, and aquascapes.
There are no average tanks containing plants, only high-end aquascapes, and the Siamese fighters are all the £40 fish, not the £4 fish. Snakeheads, arowana, stingrays, platinum morphs and predator tanks. All gleaming, all cramped and overstocked, and then come the videos of the fish being fed live prey from goldfish to crabs and crayfish, to centipedes and scorpions.
Due to the way these sites work, the images with the most likes get put in front of even more people on their phones, where they in turn like them, and the whole thing snowballs into digital elitism. Ugly fish and ugly tanks don’t get a look in. Standard fish and standard tanks don’t get a look in either. Its beauty magazines all over again.
Digital fishkeeping has now become about entertainment. I woke up to a video of someone being bitten by a Wolf fish, Hoplias spp. Held in a small, bare tank, when placing their hand in to annoy the fish it bit their fingers, jumping out and landing on the floor in the process. The camera went again and again to the bleeding fingers, while in the background the fish lay on the floor.
So I’m on the cusp of removing myself from those sites and deleting the whole lot, as sometimes it makes me feel rubbish about myself and my tanks. For the many hours I put in every single night I get very little actual learning from it. There aren’t any words after all.
I don’t blame Zuckerberg for it. These are public spaces and if you are a private person, don’t go on them, and don’t engage, or upload information. But I do crave a place where nice pictures are accompanied with practical information and facts on every aspect of a tank and its fish, its costs and its restraints. Because I want to go back to loving the fish I have, not feeling bad that my fish and tanks aren’t as good as what seems on the face of it, to be everyone else’s.