Naomi Fry

Naomi Fry at home in Brooklyn. Photographed by Nina Westervelt.

Naomi Fry is a New Yorker staff writer who covers such pop culture phenomenons as Ben Affleck's back tattoo and Shia LaBeouf's Uggs. She's also a social media favorite among Manhattan media circles, known for her funny and prolific posts on Instagram and Twitter. Below, Naomi, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband, their daughter and two cats, talks about fame and self-representation in the Internet era, her abiding love for "self-consciously slutty Instagram It girls" and much more.

Naomi hi! (Former Caret interviewee) Molly Young was actually the one who suggested you’d make a great profile. She wrote [via email], “Naomi’s a kind of cult internet celebrity among New York media people. People make pins of her face.”

That’s really funny. I mean I obviously wouldn’t call myself an Internet celebrity. I joined Twitter in 2014, which is relatively late, but I’m obsessed with it. I’m constantly making stupid jokes—like very niche jokes—that some people seem to find funny. I'm 42 and I have a seven–year-old so it's been kind of surprising for me to see younger people relating to my tweets or liking the stuff that I've written. My stupidities resonate with people. I guess I’m happy about it.

I also think part of it is that while I’ll go ahead and admit that I think I’m smart and funny and a good writer, I’m also totally self-loathing and self-questioning all the time. So maybe the combination is appealing because it’s probably something a lot of people around me share: That kind of polar approach to self-worth and self-presentation.

On Instagram too, your posts are often humorously self-deprecating—like a selfie at your therapist’s office or when you just woke up.

When it comes to so-called “personal brand building,” even when you don't think you’re doing it, you’re still kind of doing it. So I’m not going to pretend it’s something I’m not totally aware of, as anyone on social media is. But I think it’s true that I have no interest in presenting my life in a way that’s idealized. I mean, look, if I put a picture of myself up I’m probably going to try for one where I don’t look hideous. But I’ll post photos when I’ve just woken up and my hair looks enormous and unruly and my eyes are puffy because I just find it funny.

There’s a comforting candor to your Instagram feed, especially in its mundanity—like a random photo of your cat.

Yeah and again, I’m not going to present it as completely artless. But I have absolutely no interest in the “influencer” aesthetic, where everything is perfect.
Of course, that’s not to say that I don’t fall for it. Especially in the summer when everyone’s posting vacation photos and I feel like I’m the only one sweltering and weeping at home. It sets these high expectations—career-wise, leisure-wise, body-wise, parenting-wise—which I probably set up for myself anyway even without outside forces. I think when people talk a little bit more truthfully it’s something they admit weighs on them.

And now there’s this stupid thing people are doing where they’re like “In this picture, I’m wearing a fedora and a $1000 chiffon skirt on my size 0 body and I’m in Soho laughing for the camera when in fact that day I had horrible cramps, my boyfriend had just broken up with me…” all this bullshit. And it’s like, but you’re still posing for the picture. It’s so self-regarding and weird. The platforms that we are constantly scrolling through set up these ideals that nobody can live up to. And I would just like to emphasize that I’m aware that this is not the most pressing issue of our age. But it’s something that’s in our vernacular and people talk about and I think ultimately it is something that’s influencing our quality of life—and yet I can’t look away.

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"Everyone has a little bit of artifice...the more artificial is maybe even more interesting in some weird way."
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So you spend a lot of time on social media?

Too much. My husband is always like, “O.K., get off now, come watch this movie with me.” And I’m just like, “Yeah in a second! I just need to scroll through 17 Instagram posts of someone I don’t even like.” Or don’t even know. It’s just peeking into these other worlds and it’s fascinating. It’s a way to see people…even if it’s an artificial presentation of themselves it’s still a way to look at what they’re all about. And again everyone has a little bit of artifice. It’s just that some people have more and some people have less. And actually the more artificial is maybe even more interesting in some weird way.

Who do you like to follow?

I love LA micro-celebrities. Either they’re celebrity-adjacent and maybe they work in the industry, or are just kind of hangers-on like middling DJs and Instagram models. Everybody knows I love young, self-consciously slutty Instagram It girls. That’s like my real thing. I love it and I love them. I’m just fascinated by the sexual power that’s displayed on these platforms. And it’s great when it’s druggy and artsy. I sound like a pervert. These people are all of age though (laughs).

These are often the same kinds of people you write about (like the amazing Spencer Pratt article you did for The New Yorker). What interests you about D-list celebs?

I’m interested in the sort of cusp-y-ness of it. Like being the son or daughter of someone famous. I wouldn’t be necessarily that interested in looking at the Instagram of the celebrity, I’d be interested in looking at the Instagrams of the people adjacent to the celebrity to see how the money and fame and glamour are reflected on these more minor characters. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe it’s that as a viewer you can put yourself in the place of these mid-level people a little bit more easily, but it’s still glamorous. It’s kind of an escape, I guess. And I’m interested in an escape that comes, not with a side of danger exactly, but something that hints at its own demise? People who are living not necessarily their healthiest lives. Maybe because my life is pretty organized and responsible.

Right, and they’re vaping on some beach in Ibiza.

Right. Like Justin Bieber. I mean, obviously he’s a huge celebrity. But his life has sort of been messy, you know? And I guess I like to think about that. I like to think about the details of these lives that are extremely privileged but not that happy, probably? Not that I don’t want Justin Bieber to be happy. I really wish him the best (laughs).

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“Occasionally, I have the weak impulse to move to a hut in Vermont with no running water and await the apocalypse there.”

Growing up, were you a pop-culture junkie or did it come later?

I grew up in Israel but my father worked off and on in the States, so I would go there as a child and as a teenager. Experiencing American culture on the ground was extremely influential for me. This was in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, before globalization and the Internet made American pop culture as available as it became later, so I was sort of the annoying person that would come back to Israel and be like, “Oh, I was just at so-and-so’s concert.” I was obsessed because it felt like a precious, limited resource. And that attitude continued to carry on even when I moved here. There was this underlying desire to be part of things to compensate for being a foreigner and maybe even outdo the locals at their own game or something? Not that I necessarily did. And then, of course, I was also just completely and organically fascinated by American popular culture, and who knows whether that would have happened if I’d not been a foreigner. But it’s not like I thought, “O.K., I’m going to have it as my goal to know more about this thing.” It just came about because I was extremely interested.

You’re a fan first and foremost.

Yeah. And then when it comes to my writing, I think not being from here has helped me. It provides a distance that can only come from not totally growing up here. So it’s looking at American culture with longing but also with a kind of critical positioning that comes from not being of it.

You write about ostensibly fluffy topics for some very smart publications. For instance, Ben Affleck’s back tattoo is not as crucial as say, the Syrian refugee crisis. Do you ever feel that your beat is looked down upon or dismissed by readers or even other writers?

Probably. There are definitely comments that are like, “Why is The New Yorker lowering itself to talk about the Kardashians,” or what have you. Personally, of course, I think there’s room to explore these areas. Even on the level of just explaining why they’re more significant than they might look at first. Pop culture is a big part of what’s happening right now, for better or worse. With Trump, it's clearly arguable whether such developments have had a positive outcome. But I do think that now that they're here, or as they’re being formed, it's important to take a look at them. It can be useful to take a more analytical approach to things that might seem degraded.

Pop culture and social media are two things people seem particularly fond of maligning and blaming for the downfall of society. Yet you dive head first into both. Do you see a connection? As a member of the intelligentsia, do you think you have a contrarian streak?

I think in a way it’s hopeless to control or master it, but I still have the desire to at least wrestle with the beast and foster my critical distance while enjoying some aspects of it. Obviously I don't know that I’ve achieved this very delicate balance. I definitely spend too much time on social media. Sometimes I watch a reality show or something that I love and I'm like, “Oh, this is really shitty.” It’s not like I don’t know what I’m dealing with on some level. Occasionally, I have the weak impulse to move to a hut in Vermont with no running water and await the apocalypse there. But I don't think I'm built for that. I often feel like I’m poisoning myself. But I also think that I get a lot from it: an understanding and an enjoyment tempered by criticality. Clearly, it's not yet the most organized or figured-out thing in the world for me. Maybe the most optimistic thing I can say is that I'm working through it by participating in it.

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The New Yorker is your first job as a full-time writer?

Yes. I've had a little bit of a weird career. Before becoming a staff writer at The New Yorker earlier this year, I was the copy chief at T magazine, at the New York Times, for a few years. And before that I was mostly teaching. I taught writing at RISD and at NYU. And before that, I was a fact-checker at US Weekly. I dropped out of grad school when I was almost 30 and it was only then that I started building my quote unquote media career. So it hasn’t been a super conventional path, which I think is kind of nice.

A lot of your articles are for The New Yorker site. Have you had to deal with trolls?

I think I’ve been relativity lucky. Especially since being a woman online is something that can be unpleasant, to say the least, and I know other women have had it much worse than me. I did get a strong reaction to this thing I wrote about Ben Affleck. A lot of people were very nice and generous and complimentary about it but others thought I was bullying him and attacked me for it. I was kind of caught unaware because I didn’t think what I was saying was that controversial. I felt I was first and foremost documenting and analyzing the phenomenon of sad Ben Affleck memes. This is very obvious, but when people attack you online, you realize that you don’t really have control, and it’s kind of a scary thing.

Speaking of issues like trolls and social media, do you think celebrities have it better or worse than they did pre-Internet?

I think they have it worse. Actually, who knows? Some use it to their advantage while I think others maybe aren’t as adept. With social media now, celebrities have these avenues to express themselves without the need for big media, right? But on the other hand, they get critiqued and followed and observed in a way that's much closer. The level of surveillance is intense in ways that it wasn't before. It’s definitely a changed landscape.

What will it look like 10 years from now? Will our idols all be cyborgs like Lil Miquela?

Oh, I really have no idea. Lil Miquela is great on the visual level and the references are really strong and realistic, but personally, I’m not that interested in the narrative. I’d want it to be looser and more lifelike. But she has millions of followers so she must be fascinating to a lot of people.

O.K., last question. But be warned, it’s a doozy: What is your favorite reality show right now?

I’m just waiting breathlessly for the return of Vanderpump Rules. It’s still the gold standard as far as I’m concerned. Vanderpump Rules and Beverly Hills Housewives. Life is much better when Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills are on the air.

Keep up with Naomi:

Twitter: @frynaomifry
Instagram: @frynaomifry
The New Yorker: