Trick Mirror is a Treat

At the very beginning of Trick Mirror, the author, Jia Tolentino, admits that she is confused. While writing this collection of essays, she “found that I could hardly trust anything that I was thinking.” But as the book goes on — to discuss the internet, optimization, scams, feminist heroines and marriage, among other things — you come to find that, while Tolentino may not be able to trust her thoughts, readers can certainly trust her writing.

The subjects discussed in this book are things I think about constantly. I am always dismayed over Instagram; the way, as Tolentino writes, “everyone tries to look so hot and well-traveled.” I obsess constantly about feminism, the #GIRLBOSS myth and why I feel like I am never measuring up. I brood about marriage — bombarded daily by new engagements, engagement photoshoots and Facebook wedding albums — and how it often feels, with the advent of social media, as if a wedding is less about the symbol of marriage or the person one is marrying, and more about the attention that the event itself lends to the couple. I worry about optimization, that I am never using my time ‘efficiently’ enough. I roll my eyes at ‘wellness’ influencers while simultaneously finding myself drawn in by clickbait like “I Tried Gwyneth Paltrow’s Beauty Routine For A Week and Here’s What Happened” or “Yoga With Cat Aids The Body and Soul.”

These are all constant sources of confusion and anxiety for me, and I could never quite describe them or feel as if I was accurately explaining my frustrations…until I read Tolentino’s book. It was at though she had read my mind and transmitted my thoughts in a more succinct, intelligible and eloquent way. I won’t do her the injustice of trying to summarize her writing for you here, but I will list some quotes that illustrate her genius and also strongly resonated with me.

On the Internet:

“In the absence of time to physically and politically engage with our community the way many of us want to, the internet provides a cheap substitute: it gives us brief moments of pleasure and connection, tied up in the opportunity to constantly listen and speak. Under these circumstances, opinion stops being a first step towards something and starts seeming like an end in itself.”

On Instagram:

“The anti-Instagram statement is now a predictable cycle: a beautiful young woman who goes to great pains to maintain and perform her own beauty for an audience will eventually post a note on Instagram revealing that Instagram has become a bottomless pit of personal insecurity and anxiety. She’ll take a weeklong break from the social network, and then, almost always, she will go on exactly as before.”

On the Student Debt Crisis:

“Adjusting for inflation, college tuition at a private university is currently three times as much as it was in 1974. At public schools, tuition is four times as expensive. Car prices, in comparison, have remained steady. Median income and minimum wage have hardly moved. At some point in the mid-nineties, it became mathematically impossible for a student to work her way through college, and financial aid has nowhere near kept up with the disparity between what students need and what they have.”

On Feminism:

“The freedom I want is located in a world where we wouldn’t need to love women, or even monitor our feelings about women as meaningful — in which we wouldn’t need to parse the contours of female worth and liberation by paying meticulous personal attention to any of this at all.”