Why Do People Love Posting Old, Hot Photos of Their Parents on the Internet?
With Father's Day approaching, we investigate the phenomenon
I used to joke that Father’s Day was my favorite holiday.
It’s a day when my Instagram feed is flooded with “throwback” photos of people’s young, hunky dads sporting handlebar mustaches, super short joggers and baseball caps, holding a beer in one hand and their adorable baby in the other. Okay, I wasn’t joking, Father’s Day is my favorite holiday.
In recent years, posting an old photo of your mom or dad on social media is how young people honor their parents on their respective holidays. It’s one of the only social-media trends I actually enjoy, because getting to see what everyone’s parents looked like in their 20s and 30s is way more exciting than that perfectly curated Insta feed you’re working towards. It’s also one I unabashedly partake in.
But it’s not just me, nor is this only happening on Father’s Day. Showing off how hot and cool your parents used to be is a growing, year-round trend.
On TikTok, young people are finding photos of their parents in the ’90s and posting them to the video-sharing platform. The photomontages are accompanied by a snippet of Ice Cube’s “You Know How We Do It,” and typically go viral, accumulating millions of views, over half a million likes and thousands of comments, many of which ask simply, “Is your dad single?”
“My friend always told me my dad looked like a K-Pop Star, so I just said why not?” explains 19-year-old Adrian, whose TikTok featuring his dad’s high school photos attracted a lot of attention.
“It was [surprising] a bit to see how young he was. I forget our parents were once at our age. My dad looked like he could be friends with me.”
One of the larget platforms for sharing old photos, however, is Reddit. The subreddit r/OldSchoolCool has 14.6 million members and functions as an archive of sorts. The group describes itself as a “pictorial and video celebration of history’s coolest kids, everything from beatniks to bikers, mods to rude boys, hippies to ravers.”
While many of the photos in the subreddit are of celebrities, models and political figures, old photos of members’ parents and grandparents are often shared as well, with users typically noting how “stunning” and “handsome” they were.
And on Instagram, pages celebrating vintage or “old school” dads and moms have grown extremely popular.
Two accounts in particular, @OldSchoolDads and @OldSchoolMoms, feature user-submitted photos of dads and moms chugging beers, smoking cigarettes, posing with their kids and rocking some serious ’70s and ’80s fashion.
Chase Banta, founder and current admin of the two Old School accounts, started them in 2018 after uncovering some old photos of his father who Banta felt had an “iconic” feel about them.
“I figured there were probably thousands of people out there with equally great photos of their own dad that deserve recognition,” explains Banta.
And he was right. Currently, Banta receives around 10 submissions a day per account, and the pages have already accumulated thousands of photos and over 100,000 followers each.
What makes an old photo of your parent “iconic” enough to warrant sharing it with the world? The fashion is an obvious indicator. From short shorts, jumpsuits and basket loafers to giant hair and giant ‘staches, the more outrageous stylings of the past, as well as the surprisingly fashionable ones we’d totally steal now, are often noted in captions and comments.
“It’s also a matter of encapsulating a ‘big fucking mood’ or ‘goals’ that we identify with or aspire to,” says Banta.
Then, of course, there’s the humble-brag element of all of this. In every photo of a parent or relative, there is an inherent piece of ourselves, which may go a long way in explaining why we love showing them off so much.
When I would visit my grandmother, she’d show me photos of her father and sister, gushing to me how “beautiful” and “handsome” they were. I know there’s a solemness in this, especially for her sister, who died at a young age, and that looking at her photo comforts my grandmother. I know she wants me to know the family I never met. But I also recognize the underlying sense of pride: when she shows me a photo of my poised, truly beautiful great aunt, I’m supposed to feel proud of my genes. And I do.
For others, like Banta, it’s the fact that a single photo can capture and even validate one’s own very existence.
“There is a period of time, say 1982 to 1998, which remains frozen for me, while the twenty or so years that have followed have been a period of constant change,” explains Banta. “It’s hard to find a picture from the last 20 years of my life that encapsulates anything longer than a year. But I can look at a photo of my dad in 1986 and feel like it somehow validates the whole first 16 years of my life.”
Ultimately, whether it’s on Instagram, TikTok, or the photo albums in the attic, sharing photos and memories help keep the people we love alive.
Before I finish talking with Banta he tells me his father, the inspiration behind the Instagram accounts, died two weeks ago in a plane accident.
“The pictures are great, but they can’t replace the people in them,” he says. “Don’t forget to tell those people who you love that you love them.”
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