Misleading Memes

I do love a good meme. Starting the day with a positive bit of prose or a good laugh goes well with coffee. Universal truths somehow seem to resonate when they’re put into fancy script with a pretty background. But every once in a while, the meme maker gets it horribly wrong.

When this meme recently appeared on a friend’s Instagram I immediately saw red. My brain totaled up a dozen ways that it was truly offensive. In short, it really pissed me off.

Meme has a photo of a body-builder on the left in a green bikini, and a grey-haired woman using a cane on the right. The caption reads, Bot of these women are 80 years old. Your daily choices determine how your future will unfold.

It’s cool that an 80-year-old woman is a hard-bodied body builder. And perhaps she was more physically active than the other woman and drank more smoothies. But she is, and I say this with tremendous respect, a freak.

The idea that the woman on the right made bad choices that turned her into an ordinary old lady is unnecessarily critical. We know nothing about her. Does she have any illnesses? Was she in an accident? Does she have a condition that causes pain? How’s her mental health? I could go on citing variables for about a week.

The other woman had an abundance of luck. A lack of ALS and terminal cancer and degenerative disc disease and a host of other things that would have stopped her from completing her goals, through no fault of her own.

And what’s so wrong with being a slow-moving, white-haired woman at 80? Little kids love ladies like that and call them Grandma. They’re wise and bake cookies and tuck $5 in birthday cards. I dare say that more old ladies are like her than the other example. And that’s not solely because of bad choices.

Here’s another one I took issue with.

Meme reads: Strange isn't it? You know yourself better than anyone else, yet you crumble at the words of someone who hasn't even lived a second of your life. Focus on your own voice. It's the only one that matters.

I understand the sentiment but it’s not quite there. Yes, criticism from others is largely useless and we take it too seriously. I agree. I don’t know about you, but my own voice has told me I am worthless and suck and don’t deserve good things and too horrible to be around other people! Should I have listened to that? Sometimes, a caring outside voice is kinder and brings your perspective around when you’re struggling.

Yes, people can be cruel and their criticism isn’t usually worth listening to but I can’t agree that my own voice is the only one that matters. My own final opinion on major decisions? Okay. But you wouldn’t have wanted me only listening to my own voice if you lived in my head!

Meme reads: Never ignore a person who cares for you. Because some day you will realize you've lost a diamond while you were busy collecting stones.

A diamond stalker, maybe?! You shouldn’t need to explain the context of a meme, especially one that contains the word “never”. I’ve had some pretty awful people say they care for me and I’ll ignore the heck out of those cubic zirconias, thank you!

Anybody can put anything in a meme. It looks pretty and creative and people share it without thinking sometimes.

Meme of a guy tapping his head like he's smart. Top text says, turnips feel amazing and midnight. Bottom text reads, Don't glue your eyeglasses on.

Words to live by, people. Please share!

I apply the same kind of critical thinking to memes as I do to the news. What’s the source? (Erin Davis? I don’t even have to think twice. If only everyone was so careful about the words they use.) Does the meme prop up one person or group at the expense of another? Bad meme, bad! No treat for you! Every one of the memes above was shared by a good person with the best of intentions. Memes are easy. The words are chosen for you. Just remember that the next time you fondle a turnip when the clock strikes 12.

Getting back to the 80-year-olds comparison meme: the meme-maker was probably trying to say, choose a healthy lifestyle. It can affect how you live later in life. That’s true! But it doesn’t determine the outcome. Life throws all kinds of things at people that they don’t choose and can’t control. We need to think before spreading the lie that an extreme example – an outlier or a rare case – is what we all could be if we ate more celery (and maybe steroids?!). Supermodels were pushed on us that way when we were younger. Some of us are still trying to extinguish that inner voice (again!) that tells us we’re not worthy because we’re not belly-shirt ready. We don’t need 80 year old body builders – aka freaks – held up as the ideal now, too.

5 thoughts on “Misleading Memes”

  1. Thank you for the name check my dear friend. Memes make me insane sometimes and you’ve pointed out the most poignant examples (er…turnip guy excluded). But the ones with spelling errors kill me as do falsely attributed quotes. I can’t count how many hours I’ve wasted looking up whether George Carlin actually said something but 95% of the time he didn’t. I guess it’s a compliment but as William Tell once said, I wouldn’t let it go to his head! Love you. E

  2. Those are great points! When the words are on a pretty background, somehow, critical thinking can go out the window.

    “Never let them see you sweat” ~Socrates

  3. Yuuuuuup.

    Plus in those comparison memes most of the time we don’t even know the full story of what we are looking at. The older women who looks like she is moving slow and unwell might be about to turn around with a big smile and crack a joke that will have you chuckling for days. Curiosity before judgement!

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