The other day I had somewhat of an outer-body experience…
Let me tell you what I saw:
24 y/o Lizzi standing in front of the window taking a selfie (gotta get that perfect lighting). She tilted her head into various positions in order to find the perfect angle. She tried one with an open mouthed smile, nah- she doesn’t like her teeth. Tried again with her mouth closed – better. The only thing left to sort out was the monster spot on her chin, so she downloaded an air brushing app and got to work; smoothing the fine lines in her skin, brightening up under her eyes and most importantly erasing any trace of that monster face invader. Then she uploaded the picture to Instagram, carefully chose her filter – nothing too orange, but upped the contrast a little, sharpened the edges. Added yet another layer of contrived perfection…
And it was then that I snapped back to reality- what the hell was I doing?! I had just downloaded an app specifically for the purpose of changing the appearance of my face to upload to a social media platform to share with my followers, the majority of whom I know in person so they know exactly what my face actually looks like anyway. It’s safe to that say that I didn’t upload that selfie. But not everybody has those moments of clarity, some people are too far gone into the depths of the perfect Instagram feed to check themselves when they get to that stage. But why?
Don’t get me wrong, I love Instagram as a platform and I’m not placing any blame on the app itself, because at its core it’s just a place to share beautiful photography – and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, by its very nature, photography incites that kind of vain almost narcissistic attitude in people because it is such an incredibly visual thing, and so much of our self-worth and self-esteem is wrapped up in our image. Therefore it isn’t the fault of the platform, but rather how the platform has come to be used. Where Facebook is perhaps more of a conversational platform, Instagram, I feel, is far more one sided, where the pressure of being judged is ever present. It is almost impossible not to compare yourself to the people you are following on Instagram. I find it difficult not to compare my messy cluttered feed to others seemingly perfectly curated, beautiful feeds, themed consistently around a particular colour or filter. And in doing so, I compare my life to theirs. I used to strive to have that stunning feed but actually it only made me feel controlled and constricted, and that made me miserable.
Nowadays people have careers that exist only because of social media and I am in no way criticising them. They’ve worked hard, they’ve got ambition and dedication and they’ve amassed a wonderful following as a result. And yes, isn’t it fantastic that this is possible! It’s so cool, in my opinion, that we can be connected so closely with our favourite celebrities and social media stars through one little app, however this brings with it its own complications. Sometimes these users may need some more awareness of what exactly it is they are promoting when they upload that sparkling selfie or travel snap.
With this comes a whole new level of ‘Fomo’ (the fear of missing out for those of you who aren’t up to date with the lingo). Many people want to use Instagram to post pictures to show that they are living a happy life, even to the point of staging their photos and making things appear as they are not. And this kind of behaviour can only result in the rest of us, as Instagram users, questioning our own lives too. Even if we don’t realise that we are doing it we may internalise what we see online and try and replicate this in our own worlds. There is an incredibly fine line between healthy comparison and unhealthy comparison, between aspiration and jealousy. It is really important for the rest of us to recognise that Instagram often only offers a very filtered sense of of reality. Even the very semantics of the app – ‘followers’, ‘likes’ – denotes a level of superiority and judgement that could be quite damaging. Whereas on Facebook we have ‘friends’ and ‘reactions’, on Instagram we have followers, and with that comes a certain level of ego which runs far deeper than we might realise.
Ultimately, you can’t switch off from it – social media has afforded us a level of spontaneity which I adore, however it means that the feelings I, and so many others, have experienced are only ever one tap away from the home screen of our mobile phones. This is something that I have slowly had to get used to. I love social media and Instagram is one of my favourite platforms, but I’ve had to learn how to ensure that my self worth and my Instagram feed are not intrinsically linked. It is so important to be able to separate these two things out – use the platform to share beautiful imagery, but try and disconnect that from your own value and self esteem. It’s easier said than done, but once you lose that pressure I promise that you’ll love it even more! I am sure that there will be people reading this blog post who have never experienced any of the things that I’ve described and if that is the case then, genuinely, good for you! However I know that there are others that have felt the way I have and I guess this post is for them.
Next time it all feels a bit too much, just step away from it; post an unedited selfie, unfollow that person that’s filling you with jealousy, even delete the app for a while if you need to. Just remember that you’re worth much much more than smashed avocado on toast and that perfect ‘OOTD’.