Last week, superstar and mom-to-be Shakira shared, along with her boyfriend, an ultrasound photo of their son, calling it his “first pic” alongside the hashtags #excited and #cute. My first thought was that I wasn’t surprised. Ultrasound photos on social media have become as common as pictures of newborns. But back when I started STFU, Parents in March 2009, they were just starting to become ubiquitous on social media.
I posted a few submissions, and people agreed that the images fell into the overshare category. It wasn’t because the photos were bothersome or gross, especially since most people who have friends who are procreating are old enough to have seen a sonogram before. What threw people was that suddenly, out of nowhere, they were catching a glimpse into their friend’s (or their friend’s wife’s) uterus. Put plainly like that, it starts to sound a little off-putting. And although it’s hard to believe now, just a few years later, in 2009 the attitude was less “Is it a boy or a girl?!” and more “Why are you showing hundreds of friends your uterus?”
Of course, on some level it seems immature to be reserved, if judgmental, about something so innocent. Ultrasound pictures excite new parents for obvious reasons, and those parents want to share their excitement with their friends. Some even want to share it with the world, like Shakira and her boyfriend. But I’ve noticed that the more people post things like ultrasound photos on Facebook, the more their friends feel they’ve been granted “permission” to do the same. Which brings us to where we are today.
Today, parents who share information about their pregnancies online are inclined to post an ultrasound picture. It’s just what you do. You announce the pregnancy, maybe post a few updates about eating (or getting sick) for two, and then upload the sonogram — the pièce de résistance — in an effort to get your friends as psyched about your pregnancy as you are. It’s a formula (no pun intended), and it seems to be working.
Facebook has paid attention and launched the “Expecting-A-Baby” bio option in August. And we’ve all seen the profiles parents create for their babies despite age restrictions for account holders. This week The New Yorker even ran this cartoon. Things have progressed (or deteriorated) to the point that sonograms on social media are completely, totally benign, and if you express surprise about that then you’re the anomaly, not the parents-to-be. Plus, let’s face it: Facebook’s target user base is having lots of babies, so it makes sense that more people seem to be talking and posting about babies.
That said, even though I knew that was the current climate, I was still a little surprised when I posted a Salon column by Mary Elizabeth Williams on the STFU, Parents Facebook Page earlier this week and received a dose of criticism. Not only did people think the image was perfectly fine to share, they also accused me and the Salon writer of being too critical. Gradually, I’m watching examples of what used to be considered overshare fade into normalcy. For instance, it’s currently still considered overshare when a couple gives a play-by-play of a woman’s dilated cervix after she goes into labor, but I think that’s going to be the next thing that’s considered “normal.” And soon, we’re all going to be staring at turds floating in bathtubs and wondering where the path went off-course.
I’m not saying that I am personally weirded out by ultrasound photos, and neither is Mary Elizabeth, I’m guessing, who has two children. What she was saying, and what I continue to say even as I swim against the current (no pun intended, again), is that once an ultrasound photo becomes “normal” to share with the world, what comes next? And why do people suddenly feel the urge to share private information online simply because they/we can? As social media racks up users, I think we’re going to see much more overshare, and a much larger audience defending it. In the meantime, I’ve put together a collection of sonogram submissions to showcase the progression (or regression) of updates over the last few years.
First, let’s take a look at a “classic” ultrasound photo update. Just a black and white image with a simple, loving statement. Times were so much simpler then, weren’t they?