“I saw my mum’s butt... on Instagram!”
M y mum has always been averse to technology. Only when she finds necessary, will she try and learn how to use computing software and mobile applications. However, in the last few months, her resistance to technology fell away, and she became someone secretive, deceitful, and no longer the quiet, unassuming mother that I knew her to be.
Since my father was diagnosed a couple of years ago with prostate cancer, my mum stopped work to take care of him. He has since passed on, and our family members and I encouraged her to retire and let us take care of her. To occupy her time, she helps me with the household chores, takes care of my two young daughters, Tania* and Tamryn*, and on occasion, meets up with her friends and ex-colleagues for tea.
As a way of keeping in touch with extended family members and friends, I encouraged her to try out popular social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram; she took to the latter as she felt that it was easier to use. In the beginning, I had to teach her the basics such as the use of filters and the importance of hashtags. Initially, she had her complaints and excuses, about how looking at photos would make her eyesight deteriorate and that the extended use of her fingers would aggravate her joint pains.
As the weeks passed, she started to take more photos and enjoyed looking through the many different photos on Instagram. She started to take numerous selfies everywhere and anywhere, and would constantly check her Instagram feed at family dinners even though she nagged at the grandchildren not to. She spent so much time on the app that Tania* and Tamryn* even gave her a nickname called “Instagran”! I was just happy that she had a new “hobby”.
One day, I was on leave and stayed home to take care of the kids. My mum decided to meet her friends for a spot of shopping but in her hurry, she had forgotten to take her mobile phone. She called her phone and I picked it up, having found it on her bed when it rang. She was relieved. I, on the other hand, was soon mortified.
After the call, out of curiosity, I decided to look at her Instagram account just to see what she had been up to. I nearly dropped the phone when I saw the photos. There were photos of my mum in places that I didn’t know she had been to, such as Karaoke bars and hipster cafes. There were photos of her with men whom I have never seen, some appearing even younger than I was. She also took photos of herself trying out lacy lingerie in dressing rooms with bright makeup on. But when I finally came across my mum’s series of “butt-fies”, I had to put the phone down and compose myself. Just who was this woman whom 226 The Singapore Women’s Weekly | MAY 2016 I had lived with for 35 years, raised me and her grandchildren, and whom I call mum?
Apparently, my mum had two accounts: One, where she linked with family and close friends, and a second, where she had posted photos that spoke of her “other” life. I was confused; I felt guilty for peeking into her account and for teaching her about Instagram in the first place, but also betrayed and angry, at her for leading a double life and keeping it a secret from me. I had so many questions but I didn’t know how to ask her, and I didn’t know who to turn to – I would feel too embarrassed to tell my friends, or even my husband.
After this incident, I decided to observe my mum, and took any opportunity to ask her about her daily activities. I would ask about where she was going and had been, who she spent time with, and whether she made any new friends on Instagram. She would divulge little, and said that she had met very few (but very nice people) from the Instagram circle.
At family gatherings, I would innocuously pose ethical questions about the use of social media, on the excuse that my kids should be educated about them. She would agree with me and “tut-tut” my children if they disagreed with my opinions. One time, I trailed her on the sly which ended up futile – all she did was shop for groceries and gossip with the neighbours she met along the way.
I have yet to build up the courage to ask her directly about her “other” life, but seeing how my mum seems happier than ever before, I might decide not to intrude too much. Recently, she revealed that she has gone on casual group outings with younger Instagram friends and that she has tried certain poses, photo apps, and “tricks” to appear more youthful on her selfies.
My mũm confided in me that she’s felt lonely ever since dad passed on, and that she’s much happier now that she has an active social life to keep her occupied. I realised then that it doesn’t matter if she has a secret social media life. As long as she’s happy, I’m happy.
*Names changed to protect privacy.
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