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My Internet: Jessica DeFino
The beauty critic figured out how to never have to check her Instagram DMs.
Embedded is your essential guide to what’s good on the internet, by Kate Lindsay and Nick Catucci.
Every week, we quiz a “very online” person for their essential guide to what’s good on the internet.
Today we welcome Jessica DeFino, a beauty culture critic who publishes the newsletter The Unpublishable (“What the beauty industry won’t tell you, from a reporter on a mission to reform it”) and has written for publications like The New York Times, Vice, Vogue, and The Cut. Jessica is terrified by the specter of “Meta Face,” thinks Twitter is healthier than Instagram and TikTok, and writes at her desk on her laptop and edits in the bathtub on her phone. —Nick
EMBEDDED: What’s a recent meme or other post that made you laugh?
JESSICA DEFINO: Some version of the “my boyfriend doesn’t wash his face and never gets pimples, I do a 10-step routine twice a day and have horrible skin” meme—like this one or this one—is always going around Skincare Instagram. They all make me laugh because it’s like … You’re so close to getting it!! (By which I mean: Skincare is a scam.) And I love everything @depressedartmemes posts.
EMBEDDED: What types of videos do you watch on YouTube?
JESSICA DEFINO: I pretty much only turn to YouTube if a home appliance isn’t working and I can’t figure out how to fix it. The last video I watched was this tutorial on getting my outdoor grill to start. (Apparently there’s a battery inside the power button?? And I had to change it? Who knew!)
EMBEDDED: Do you use TikTok?
JESSICA DEFINO: I very deliberately have not downloaded TikTok. I trust that if a TikTok is particularly important or relevant, a friend will text it to me or it’ll show up on Twitter.
EMBEDDED: What do you use Instagram for?
JESSICA DEFINO: Nothing anymore! I spent years and years building up my Instagram audience because when I queried my dream literary agent, she told me publishers wouldn’t look at my book proposal until I had 10,000 followers. (I have a different and much nicer literary agent now.) I really think investing so much of my time and energy and career into Instagram rotted my brain. And I really think I’m a worse writer because of it! I can’t get the imaginary Insta trolls out of my head. But I haven’t posted to IG consistently in about a year and I feel really good about it. I’ve just been logging in via desktop a few times a week to check my DMs and that’s it. (I won’t fully delete the account because all those followers will hopefully come in handy when it’s time to promote my book.)
EMBEDDED: Do you tweet? Why?
JESSICA DEFINO: Yes! I think Twitter is the easiest social media platform for me to handle because there’s not much of a visual component there. Most of my work is about dismantling beauty culture and critiquing beauty standards and Instagram was just not the right place for it—it felt increasingly bizarre to post anti-industry content when it was immediately overpowered by pictures of filtered, Photoshopped, FaceTuned faces and shopping links. It was depressing because I felt like, What am I doing? Does it even make a difference? Does anyone care? This is probably the first time anyone has ever referred to Twitter as “healthy” but it truly does feel healthier to me! I get the benefits of social media without the visual mindfuckery of Instagram or TikTok.
That said, I did go private once I crossed the 25k follower mark. The constant feedback and comments from people who don’t know what they’re talking about is too much, and I just don’t care about being noticed or followed or validated via social media enough to put up with it anymore. I’m mostly on Twitter to take in other people’s content now, not put out my own.
EMBEDDED: Have you ever had a post go viral? What was that experience like?
JESSICA DEFINO: In 2020 I wrote an article for the New York Times called “Is This The End of the Manicure?” which was not exactly well-received by the beauty community, lol. I got thousands of DMs on Instagram—people telling me I was “tearing women down” because I was critiquing a women-supported industry, people saying I wasn’t a feminist, people telling me to kill myself. A fellow beauty editor did a series of Instagram Stories about me, saying editors only hired me for the controversy clicks and calling all of my reporting into question. Another fellow beauty editor tweeted that she would “walk into the ocean” if she were me. It was horrible. I had to delete Instagram for months and get a therapist. Over nail polish!! (I did end up writing a response piece.)
I’ve also gone viral a couple times for tweeting about working for the Kardashian-Jenner Official Apps and those were both pleasant viral experiences! People were very much in “eat the rich” mode at this point. And I got a VICE article out of it.
EMBEDDED: Who’s the coolest person who follows you?
JESSICA DEFINO: I think Sarah Ramos is so cool. She DMed me on Twitter once to say that she liked my work and I immediately called my mom to be like, “The daughter from Parenthood is actually a pretty weird artist and pop culture critic and writer now and she reads my articles.” I also freaked out when AOC followed me on Twitter.
EMBEDDED: Who’s someone more people should follow?
JESSICA DEFINO: My best friend Karisa has this absurdist TikTok account (@kittykisser_) where she makes up text-to-voice songs about her cats. Since I don’t have TikTok I can’t support her creativity there but I think everyone else should!!
EMBEDDED: What does “cancel culture” mean to you?
JESSICA DEFINO: I think cancel culture is a culture of people fighting to establish moral superiority and prove themselves “good” solely through framing other people as morally inferior and “bad.” It’s a culture of people actively searching for reasons to banish other people from society—it pokes holes, it finds flaws, it’s a bad faith culture. It’s not restorative or redemptive. Cancel culture absolutely exists. Cancel consequences don’t really exist, though, and people (especially on the left) tend to get those two things mixed up.
EMBEDDED: Do you subscribe to any Substacks or other independent newsletters? What are your favorites?
JESSICA DEFINO: Yes, so many! I sign up to any newsletter that seems even remotely interesting just to be supportive of other newsletter writers. I think I subscribe to over 100 Substacks. A part of me feels like putting generous subscriber energy out there will come back to me in the form of generous subscribers, lol. But right now I particularly love Back Row from Amy Odell, I <3 Mess from Emily Kirkpatrick, HEATED from Emily Atkin, The Immense Wave from Marianela D’Aprile, Internet Princess from Rayne Fisher-Quann, How To Cure A Ghost from Fariha Róisín, Not The Fun Kind from Moira Donegan, and More To Hate from Kate Manne.
EMBEDDED: Are you into any podcasts right now? How and when do you usually listen?
Is it just me, or are podcasts so bad lately? I can’t find one podcast that I care about anymore. Everything bores me. (Except for all the lovely podcasts that have had me on as a guest, of course.)
EMBEDDED: Are you playing any games right now?
I still play Wordle everyday. Sometimes Quordle too.
EMBEDDED: Have you ever been heavily into Snapchat? Around what age?
JESSICA DEFINO: Never. I downloaded it once when I worked on the Kardashian-Jenner apps in 2015, when I was 26, because Kylie was #1 on Snapchat at the time and that was a very big deal. I was an assistant editor and part of my job was to try to capture her voice and social media presence and translate that into content for her “Official App.”
EMBEDDED: When was the last time you browsed Pinterest? What for?
JESSICA DEFINO: I’m working with a graphic designer to redesign my newsletter logo and she put together a very exciting Pinterest moodboard for it.
EMBEDDED: What’s something you might want to do in the metaverse? What’s something you wouldn’t want to do?
JESSICA DEFINO: I have no interest in the metaverse. I’m terrified of Meta Face becoming a thing!
EMBEDDED: Do you text people voice notes? If not, how do you feel about getting them?
JESSICA DEFINO: NO. I would never do that to someone. The only person I like getting voice notes from is my sister Valerie. She’ll text me first to say, “I’m going to send you a long voice note about XYZ because I don’t want to type it out, no rush, listen to it whenever.” Otherwise voice notes give me anxiety. They will sit in my messages unplayed for days.
EMBEDDED: What’s your go-to emoji, and what does it mean to you?
JESSICA DEFINO: The weary face is always appropriate. It communicates frustration, confusion, cuteness overload, overwhelm, being so happy I could ugly cry, existential dread, everything. 😩😩😩
EMBEDDED: What’s a playlist, song, album, or style of music you’ve listened to a lot lately?
JESSICA DEFINO: I saw a Bruce Springsteen cover band play for four and a half hours at a bar the other weekend and haven’t been able to stop listening to Bruce since. “Rosalita”? “Racing In The Street”? “THE RIVER”?? No one is writing like him anymore!
EMBEDDED: Do you pay for a music streaming service, and if so, which one? When was the last time you bought a music download or vinyl record, CD, or tape?
JESSICA DEFINO: I pay for Spotify and that’s mostly how I listen to music. I did buy some vinyl records a couple months ago at a vintage store in Asbury Park. One was a Livingston Taylor album. He’s James Taylor’s brother—I personally think he’s better than James, but I may be biased because Livingston was my Stage Performance teacher when I was a student at the Berklee College of Music. The other one was Diana Ross & The Supremes Sing and Perform ‘Funny Girl’ which I couldn’t believe existed. I had to have it. Lea Michele has nothing on Diana Ross!!
EMBEDDED: If you could only keep Netflix, Disney, HBO Max, or one other streaming service, which would it be, and why?
JESSICA DEFINO: I would keep Hulu to watch The Bachelor and its many wonderful spin-off shows live.
EMBEDDED: What’s your favorite non-social media app?
JESSICA DEFINO: Probably Google Docs. I write at my desk on my laptop, then edit in the bathtub on my phone via the Google Docs app (which sounds like hustle culture dystopia when I type it out like that but actually feels very nice and luxurious … maybe it’s both!).
EMBEDDED: What’s the most basic internet thing that you love?
JESSICA DEFINO: I love making beauty memes!
EMBEDDED: Do you regularly use eBay, Depop, or other shopping platforms? What’s a recent thing you’ve bought or sold?
JESSICA DEFINO: eBay is my go-to for gifts. My boyfriend and I binge-watch CSI reruns a lot and I was looking through eBay for a birthday present for him recently and found this autographed picture of CSI star Marg Helgenberger—topless!!—from the ‘90s. Mint condition. It’s so perfect.
EMBEDDED: What’s the last thing that brought you joy online?
JESSICA DEFINO: Meta Business Suite. It lets you set an auto-reply for Instagram messages, so I just made one that basically says, “I don’t check Instagram anymore. If we’re friends, text me, if this is work-related, email me, either way, I won’t see this message.” And now I never have to check my Instagram DMs again!