Is Our Choice of Emoji a Window into Our Souls?
A So Sad Today investigation.
Illustrations by Joel Benjamin
This originally appeared on VICE US.
It's not that I care what other people think of me. But I totally care what other people think of me. Recently, I overheard someone say that emojis have been dead for a while and are now only for old moms. A cruel voice in my head said: Wait, you use emoji every day. Everyone is secretly judging you.
A cold chill ran down my spine. Quickly, I raced to the group text with my two non-judgmental and youthful friends, Mira Gonzalez and Darcie Wilder, for crisis management. I knew they would set me straight. Are emoji totally over? Are they still safe to use?
Mira said no way are emoji out. In fact, Chelsea Manning is ushering in a new era of emoji use. No one told her the first era had ended! Darcie said that perhaps specific emoji are out, but using them in general is still OK. When I asked if the laughing tears emoji and crying tears emoji are still safe to use, Darcie said yes, but that she only uses the crying tears emoj, because the laughing tears triggers a weird thing from childhood where she can't be openly happy.
Darcie's insight made me think. Why are we drawn to particular emoji? Could childhood trauma really dictate some of our preferences? What about psychic pain, attachment issues, heartbreak, or negative self-image? Does emoji-choice serve as a sort of rorschach test for the way we perceive the world. In the name of science, I asked Mira and Darcie to go a little deeper with me on this in a grouptext.
So Sad Today: ok let's start with the hamburger emoji. when i use the hamburger I feel cool in a retro 80s way, especially when combined with the lipstick and rainbow emoji. i also feel for a moment like someone who is chill about eating a hamburger. but then i remember i'm an imposter, because the truth is i don't know when the last time is that i've eaten a hamburger on a bun bc of my disordered eating. so I feel like a fake. like bitch, we know u never eatin that emoji
Mira Gonzalez: the hamburger emoji is for some reason the emoji i chose to save with my ex's name so now i forever associate it with him.
SST: one time I saved an ex's name as the toilet emoji so i wouldn't text him but then I felt like it was giving him too much power so i saved it as the battery emoji or something equally unappealing but more neutral
MG: i stopped saving people with emojis after the hamburger incident
SST: too much risk. u cld burn through all of them
MG: exactly. can't ruin anymore emojis. its so easy to ruin them, emotionally
Darcie Wilder: ummm i associate standing cat emoji with neglect and guilt because i saved it as my friend from high school's contact because she looked after my cat when i had one, but i don't see her enough and feel like i've been a deadbeat friend for like 13 years. also, i never have, and will never use the poop emoji
SST: there was someone i had hot sex with who used it a lot and it sort of made me feel romantic about the poop emoji
DW: ummm i think i hate poop humor i'm not sure why (jk it's cuz im hella repressed) but also that it's trying to be so cute it's saccharine and gross. i'm thinking of like, a shoehorn of gross-ness and on one end it's gnarly shit and on the other end there's saccharine cutesy
SST: most ppl i know who use it seem pretty ok with themselves. like they are more id than ego. i don't use that emoji, because my id is wedged too tightly under the shoe of my superego for me to ever just "be chill." but embracing poop humor in general has been very healing for me. fart jokes really set the child in me free!
DW: yeah, the inner child, i'm always stuffing that bitch down
MG: poop humor also freaks me out i have never used the poop emoji. yr guys' journey with poop humor is inspiring tho
DE: i think ive just seen too many "quirky" ppl love the poop emoji. i think caterpillar emoji is underrated and portrays a specific emotion that resonates with me
SST: i feel way too broken for caterpillar emoji. it's so innocent, and i've seen too much of this cruel world!
DW: i began using it when i was dating someone awhile back and i feel like there is a yearning in it, and a cuteness, and an innocence. on the flip side i could see how it could represent a penchant to victimize myself like "little ol me!"
SST: wait, i never saw the yearning but suddenly all i can see is the yearning! like the caterpillar is def codependent
DW: the caterpillar is reaching - aspirational, but the cuteness to me has a playfulness where it's like "lil ol me!!!" but also is too tiny to succeed, so it's not a threat. wow this is uh, really revealing
MG: i have rly weird associations with the hand doing ok sign emoji because my ex and i wld do this thing where we wld get in terrible fights cause he did smthing awful and when we sort of got to a dead end point in fighting and everything felt insanely bleak he would send the hand doing ok sign emoji and i would send it back to signify that things were fucked and there was absolutely nothing we could do to unfuck our relationship
SST: it seems like that emoji actually says something about *his* psychology. namely: void of empathy for how a hand doing ok sign emoji would make another person feel
MG: oh yeah definitely. like he doesn't actually feel guilt.
SST: which is appealing in a bro, in a sick way. anyone can get a bro who is capable of caring about people to care about them. but if the one who can't care about anyone somehow cares about you, then you're extra special
DW: the gun emoji used to physically startle me. i feel nothing for the watergun emoji
SST: one time a dude sent me the gun emoji next to the eyes scrunching with tongue out emoji and i was like thank god i can stop being obsessed with him now
DW: the tongue emoji will gross me out if someone uses it in a certain way, like i just think about eating pussy and i don't want to associate most people with that
MG: tongue emoji alone is off limits totally. i will sometimes use the smiling tongue out emoji sarcastically when i'm rock bottom depressed
DW: i always feel attacked by fistbump emoji. i feel like fistbump emoji is punching me in the face. i feel most understood by noseblowing emoji. i feel noseblowing emoji all the time. maybe it's because i have trouble asking for help unless i am sick
SST: interesting. i never use any emoji involving human flesh, because i don't want to see any more humans. i prefer combinations of fantastical emoji
MG: u do the palm tree and the skull a lot
SST: yes to me those are beautiful and aspirational. like magic tropical world of secret mystery. also i feel like the skull protects me, like wearing a leather jacket
MG: i feel that way about big sweaters
SST: the skull emoji is definitely tougher than i am. it is forever guarding my sensitive soul