In the last week, my Twitter feed has been filling up en masse with photos of my friends from 2006. It’s part of #2006vs2016 — a hashtag you pair with a photo of yourself from a decade ago and another of how you look today. The trend is both an easy commiseration over our past lives and peak navel gazing.
The tag itself is not new. People have used the hashtag since January, making this current revival its own sort of throwback. Whether Twitter users choose to directly comment on their 2006 fashion tastes or changing looks, the sentiment largely remains the same: look at what a dork I was!
The difference between this photo trend vs. something like Facebook’s “On This Day” feature is choice. Participants are willingly digging through their own archives to select photos that best represent them from the past and present. Self-curation is crucial, especially if the early 2000s fell anywhere even slightly near your teenage years. In 2006 I was a junior in high school who’d recently gotten her tongue pierced, and so there are an alarming number of photos of me, tongue wagging in the wind, like some low-rent Miley Cyrus groupie.
What I find most surprising, looking back at photos from 2006, is how I had yet to become literate in the language of the selfie. Selfies existed long before 2006, an Instagram-free era, but they’ve evolved with the times. Sites like Facebook and MySpace — from which the effective “MySpace angle” selfie technique was coined — taught many of us how to photograph ourselves for the internet today. When I use my phone to take my own photo in 2016, I know exactly which angle of my face I want to showcase, how to compose my expression, what degree to tilt my eyebrows. It’s a kind of performance encouraged by my friends and followers, who are more likely to smash that like button than if I’d photographed a beautiful sunset.
But in 2006, I had yet to figure any of that out. When someone pointed a camera at me, I relaxed into whatever pose felt the most natural to me: full-frontal tongue, a doofy peace sign, a smile.
I could go on about my bad outfits or that unfortunate thing I used to do to my eyebrows, but my actual appearance isn’t important here. It’s just part of the joke. By choosing to share these moments of our younger, more foolish selves, we’re gently nudging our past into the light to draw a flattering comparison to our present. At it’s best, the trend is a celebration of personal progress.
It’s also a warning to be humble: what we thought made us cool in 2006 looks dorky in hindsight. What we think makes us cool in 2016 will surely do the same a decade from now.