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By day, Tae In Ahn is a storage solutions specialist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, creating one-of-a-kind contraptions that house the organization’s priceless pieces. By night, however, Ahn is @ebaybae, the handle of her fascinating and ridiculously addictive Instagram account.
If you’re not already one of the 19,500 who follows her feed, @ebaybae is an ode to the cornucopia of items listed for sale on eBay, from the wonderfully weird (like a 26.9-pound, 8-foot-long gummy worm) to the seriously covetable (a 1995 Gianni Versace bathrobe) and slightly macabre (a burial suit that claims to be a more eco-friendly alternative to a coffin).
“If I could, I would buy all of it,” says Ahn when I catch up with her by phone. I remind her about the listing that featured “original rare-shaped” Cheetos arranged to mimic the classic image of man’s evolution that had a minimum bid of $4,500. “Okay, maybe not all,” she laughs. “But most.” In fact, Ahn says that while she’s bought a number of things on eBay over the years, those tend not to be the listings she shares, “because they’re not as novelty. They’re just, like, everyday basics.”
Ahn came to Instagram stardom the good old-fashioned way: through a combination of boredom, obsession, and self-delight. “I had started a freelance job that required a really long commute,” recalls Ahn, “and I’d spend hours on the bus, and since I get easily carsick when I read and I was sick of podcasts, well, what else was there to do?” For Ahn, the answer was to troll eBay for interesting or desirable listings. “I would take screenshots and text them to my friends,” she says. Most of them reacted pretty positively to it. “They’d be like ‘GET,’ in all caps,” she says.
Eventually she decided to put them on Instagram. “I thought it was a more efficient way of sharing because I had more than one listing to share and I didn’t want to bombard people with texts,” she says.
Now, @ebaybae regularly delights thousands of people, with many posts racking up hundreds of likes. Some of her most popular posts include a head-to-toe mohair bodysuit (designed, no doubt with “woolies” in mind) and a Soviet-era plastic case for carrying eggs. Unsurprisingly, given her day job, that last one is one of her all-time favorite finds: “It’s a really cool design,” she says. “It’s a really neat way to carry a bunch of eggs. I really like storage solutions; that’s part of what I like about my job.” Also, she just really loves eggs.
Ahn has a degree in fashion design from RISD and a master’s in curatorial and conservation in fashion and textiles history from FIT, and she looks at some of the listings with an academic’s eye. All day long at the Costume Institute, Ahn is surrounded by archival pieces with storied histories, but at @ebaybae, she’s more interested in the mundane. “I like showing things that wouldn’t be at a museum, things that are too commercial or too lowbrow, that wouldn’t be viewed or appreciated in the same light as artifacts,” she says. “I like to show that side of things. It would be interesting to see, like, in another time period, what was something that was considered lowbrow? So I guess I’m just documenting that for our time.”
Ahn also gravitates toward listings that show “society’s obsession with luxury, and with logos.” Regularly populating her feed are items like Chanel-stamped ping-pong paddles and an immaculately crafted dollhouse-size Louis Vuitton trunk, which may inspire lust or derision, depending on who is doing the looking. “The appropriation of symbols, in general, is something that fascinates me,” she says. One example she remembers: “I found a Zuni Mickey Mouse ring, a traditional Native American item with an appropriated symbol that came from Disney.”
What makes @ebaybae more than just meme fodder is that it offers an unedited snapshot of the wide variety of things that people create, covet and buy — and therefore a fascinating window into human nature. One has to wonder, for instance, about the story behind the listing described as a “rare vintage wooden Ghana burial casket in the shape of a squash,” or the people buying live coral, snails, and fish (which feature in many listings). What about the guy offering to tattoo a buyer’s desired logo on his face for $10,000, or the person who drew a smiley face on a regular banana and put it up for $1,000? These listings may seem absurd, but are they really any stranger (or more useless) than the Supreme brick that sold out in 30 minutes for $200 or the millions of fidget spinners flooding the market? If centuries from now, digital archaeologists unearth @ebaybae’s feed, they’d no doubt judge 21st-century consumers as nonsensical, status-obsessed, confusingly idiosyncratic, and, at rare moments, rather ingenious. And they’d be right.