My memes, my self

A viral meme-maker takes us into her process.

I started my meme account, @sensualmemes, on Instagram in the spring of 2016. At the time I was in an on-again, off-again relationship with someone who had sexually abused and emotionally traumatized me, and was attempting to navigate young adulthood against all of the other roadblocks women universally face. I was inspired to publicize my trauma by the accounts @scariest_bug_ever and @gothshakira. Our camaraderie in our shared experiences quickly turned into friendship, and as a trio we started making feminist memes on Instagram. By the summer of 2016 the three of us had more than 100,000 followers combined. This number has since doubled. I like to think that we have given a voice to an Instagram generation of fed-up femmes.

Some people wonder: Are memes art? I think that context and intention is everything. The internet is a wonderful platform for art because of how accessible it is, but at the same time it inflates the value of that medium. I make most of my memes when I’m slumped over on my couch, glaring at my phone. Other times I will be ruminating for days on something that’s bothering me about society or my relationships, and I’m able to articulate my feelings via a meme in a succinct moment of catharsis. My process involves a mixture of boredom and a-ha moments. Here are some of my favorite memes I’ve made, and a bit on the inspiration behind them.

I wrote a meme format when I first began my page in the spring of 2016: “If you can’t handle me at my meme admin, then you don’t deserve me at my curated, contrived internet persona.” I repurposed the idea when I saw Sky Ferreira posted this meme-able selfie. She follows me so I DM’d her asking for permission to post it. I only got an lol in response, so I don’t think she was too impressed. I thought it was brilliant so I posted it anyways.

This summer I was prescribed Lexapro in an attempt to help my worsening depression. I was also unemployed, and my condition was causing me to spiral out of control. Even after I filled the prescription and began to take the pills, I found myself suspended in the ether of unknowing — would the SSRIs be my puppet master, or could I take control of my own life like Justin Timberlake himself?

This is an older meme from when I began posting in the summer of 2016. Ironically, the more time I began to dedicate to my meme account, the more anxious I became. I would find my free time consumed by a fear that I was letting people down by not posting enough. It seemed that every moment that I was not working or in school was spent on Instagram, and even when I was physically preoccupied my mind was constantly flooded with new ideas meme ideas. Thankfully, I moved to Portland that summer from my hometown in the Bay Area, and I managed to find other ways to distract myself. Every year, though, my worry of a summer wasted resurfaces. The summer never seems to last long enough.

My close friends often send me images they think I could make memes from, and this excerpt from The Simpsons is a keen example. It’s nice because they know my niche sense of humor, and I can usually come up with a corresponding caption. I made this meme to address the hypocrisy of fake male allies and nice-guy culture.

Gun-wielding Kris Jenner is so ludicrous to me, but I love her as a matriarch and a meme. She has a gun license IRL, so I don’t understand why anyone would want to mess with her. That being said, I like to manifest Kris when I’m feeling especially vulnerable, as evident in this meme. I’m a masculine woman, and it often goes implied by men that my attributes are unattractive, whether it’s that I’m quick to anger, how I sit with my legs spread out, or how I’m eager to put people in their place when their small-mindedness is showing. I find that I’m most often perceived as unattractive when I’m critiquing men who aren’t used to being told they’re wrong. I’m happy to have found my voice through memes, and I’m not afraid to use it.

I made this after I confronted my abuser. I kept texting him paragraphs upon paragraphs about his assaults on me and other women, but it was clear that he was merely trying to contain the situation and had no interest in getting to the root of what was going on. I wasn’t going to get through to him, and I had to accept that no amount of emotional labor I performed would heal him, me, or anyone else.

I love subverting overused meme formats. This one is an homage to “normie” Twitter, poking fun at self-centered types who won’t even let you finish saying “hello” to them before they begin gushing at you. It plays on the work of Jenny Holzer. I just love the idea of a loquacious Holzer combatting the modern fuckboy, and the marriage of the two is an entry-level insight into my sense of humor.

This is another example of using low-hanging fruit — i.e. a picture of Miley Cyrus cuddling a pig — to get a simple point across. I consider this a silly, light, and pointed meme. For most feminists who are attracted to men, privilege is an ongoing struggle within romantic relationships. Resenting a person for not understanding the privilege they inherently possess while simultaneously being in love with them sucks, and the obstacles this creates can be impossible to overcome.

I had a moment of clarity last year when I made this. I had been dumped by my abusive ex (for the nth time) and I wanted to actually get past it. I would come up with these mantras to remind myself that I needed to be alone for awhile, and I faked it ‘til I made it. This was one of them.

Starterpacks are, by now, a classic meme format. They’re simply a collage of esoteric details that, when collected, create a picture of a stereotype. They used to be my go-to. It got to the point where I felt I had made a starterpack for all of my grievances, so I stopped. This one in particular is a self-drag. Despite the fact that all of my controversial opinions begin with irony, I’m all of a sudden doing people's’ natal charts within minutes of meeting them.

There’s nothing I love more than making fun of cishet white boys. If this starterpack reminds you of anyone in your life, you should excommunicate them from it immediately.

Shannon Edwards is a writer and public speaker in Portland, OR.