Were a man to embarrass me, my preference would be to wipe the memory from my brain entirely. I’d rather never be able to think of it again, nevermind give anyone else the option of to consider the shame and humiliation I endured. But such behavior has recently become incentivized. Almost compulsively, young women are sharing the bad things that happen to them, whether that be getting broken up with after shopping for $200 lingerie or, as in the West Elm Caleb saga, discovering that the man they’d been talking to was seeing other people.
While many women would never think of posting an ugly selfie to Instagram, lest they tarnish the visual portrait they’ve built for themselves, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine someone with an otherwise polished presence taking to Twitter or TikTok to detail the latest way they’ve been disgraced, particularly with regards to sex and dating. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that we’re allowed to keep some things to ourselves, and now, girls just can’t stop posting their Ls.
Posting one’s Ls refers to posting “losses,” i.e., failures or unpleasant experiences that don’t amount to anything particularly profound. To be clear, it’s entirely different from posting about genuine abuse or trauma, wherein sharing can help protect others or serve as a form of healing for the poster. Instead, the intention of these Ls is often humorous, and by posting an event as such, the embarrassment becomes de-fanged. The poster is sharing by their own accord, in their own words, maybe even adding an “lol” to the end to imply they’re not hurt. In fact, they just think it’s funny — they’re sublimating their mild humiliation into content.
But beneath the humor is the transparent subtext of vulnerability, and the seeking of both sympathy and camaraderie among other women. More obviously, it underscores the impulse to transform every single thing in our lives into social media currency.
Of course, anyone of any gender can post Ls. There are several Twitter accounts compiling examples from various demographics, whether that be “Gays Posting Their Ls” or “Corporations Posting Their Ls.” But for whatever reason — perhaps it’s the stigmatization of vulnerability and lack of sympathy that would come with it — men aren’t posting their Ls in the same way, and there’s something far more insidious about the phenomenon among women.
The Twitter account Women Posting Their Ls Online is an example of that, and has served as a bastion of this type of content since October 2020. With more than 230,000 followers, the account compiles tweets, TikToks and news headlines of women posting their Ls. At times, what constitutes an “L” is defined by misogyny: A woman posting about her absent father, for example, is considered equal to a woman posting about being ghosted after a first date. Other examples includes a headline about a sex worker happily retiring and a TikTok screengrab of a woman talking about having the vaccine, cold brew and birth control in her body at one time.
These are hardly statements one would consider embarrassing, but generally, the through-line for these Ls remains the same: The woman is sharing this by her own admission in order to say something about the state of gender norms. And while an account like Women Posting Their Ls is a more hateful compilation of the trend, it nevertheless points to this common inclination women have to share things that they truly do not need to share. (The owner of Women Posting Their Ls, James, aka MK Ultra Money, didn’t respond to my request for comment.)
Another commonality in these types of posts is the idea that men suck, a well-worn theme on Twitter overall. “By humiliating themselves in these specific ways, placing men as the punchline in talking about sex and dating, [women] think it makes them cooler and more desirable,” says Chanukah Lewinsky, a photographer friend of mine who has a relationship advice podcast for people on the autism spectrum called Stim4Stim and has a particularly keen eye for these types of posts. “Many are about women making huge sacrifices for men who don’t want them and framing the story outwards for spectators. It’s essential that they have these spectators.”
Part of what makes these posts Ls, in addition to the element of rejection from men, is the fact that these posters are revealing how few boundaries or expectations they have for themselves (or how they didn’t flex those boundaries or expectations in the moment). “These women don’t have pre-agreements with themselves on how much effort and money to spend and how much ground to cede,” says Lewinsky. Basically, they aren’t just revealing that other people don’t respect them, but to an extent, that they don’t respect themselves.
It’s not like that’s any sort of crime — more than anything, it’s an indictment of this online economy of commodifying one’s experiences for an increasingly public audience. Social media rewards us for embarrassing ourselves with likes and followers, things that undoubtedly feel good and entertaining. And in critiquing this trend of posting one’s own Ls, I don’t mean to critique the specific women involved. I, too, have posted about the cringeworthy and weird things I’ve done in order to reframe them as funny, and therefore, gain clout and attention (though it’s a practice I’ve moved away from because, again, I’d prefer not to give other people that knowledge).
So, instead of emphasizing the women themselves, I’d like to critique the social climate that encourages us to share these things at all. When we debase ourselves for a few retweets or, at best, 15 minutes of viral TikTok fame, what are we really getting out of it? We owe it to ourselves to find new ways of coping with these relatively minor instances of shame. I’d say we should go to therapy, but god knows we’ll just end up tweeting about that, too.