My generation is consumed by a false sense of control that’s completely cultivated by social media. We believe that by controlling what we post and how we post it, we are creating our own little world of connections. To be fair, there is a lot of truth to that; but we don’t recognize that the fabricated world we create is actually really harmful to a lot of people.
I won’t lie. Every photo I post on Instagram I’ve analyzed for at least five minutes. That’s the world in which I was raised. (That’s way too much time to spend zooming in on your face, by the way.) Before I press “post” I guarantee those photos and the caption have been approved by at least three of my friends.
I know I’m not alone in this because almost everyone I know does it; but for some reason, while scrolling through my feed I completely forget that. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently bad about wanting to present your best self online; but it literally makes me so jealous of everyone I follow.
How do people see me? Why didn’t they comment on my picture? Do they actually hate it? Are they making fun of me for thinking that picture was cute enough to post? She’s so pretty. 40 people commented on her post. Everyone thinks she’s so pretty. Every single one of her posts is perfect.
Extreme, I know, but seriously.
I’ve heard too many horror stories about cyber-bullying and just how toxic outright hateful words through a screen affect people. I know too many people who accredit their eating disorders to their social media habits. I’ve been the girl who thought I wasn’t pretty unless I did what everyone else was doing, searching desperately for the most popular filters. (When I say “searching desperately” I really mean that. I spend hours on photo editing apps with Instagram open on the next tab.)
So… if social media is a powerhouse for insecurity, why do I use it?
Well, the simple, most obvious and honest answer is I’m afraid of being thrown off the bandwagon. I could easily sit here and write about all the lovely benefits of social media (which definitely exist, by the way); but in reality, for seventeen-year-old girls it can be one of the most toxic things in which we find ourselves. I’m afraid of not being connected. I’m afraid of having nowhere to post photos. I’m afraid that I’m missing something. However, there’s more to this story than just fear.
This is no groundbreaking new philosophy; but it’s a major avenue that led me to empowering myself and thereby empowering others. This world of connections we’ve created for ourselves is only connected by the fact that we selectively post aspects of our lives for others to observe, like and comment on. So, I limit my time on Instagram and grant myself time to sit outside and read a poetry book. Sometimes I choose to not scroll through social media at all. I open the apps with a deep breath and tell myself the words I tell the girls I mentor: “I Feel Pretty.”
Instead of viewing someone’s post in relation to me, I just try to view their post. If they look pretty, I have to remind myself it has nothing to do with how pretty I am. Ultimately, I’ve gotten to the point where I can say social media helps me empower others more than it hurts me. I know how valuable comments are these days; so, commenting on posts is a major part of being kind to others. Without fail, I have a better time on social media when I’m simply admiring someone’s post rather than envying it. I’ve learned to re-purpose my envy.
Learning to re-purpose my envy online directly affected how I tackled envy in person. Instagram is not the only place with open lines for gossip, after all. I remind myself that I must view others outside of a ranking. If I only ever did that online, deleting Instagram would be a phenomenal solution, but I don’t, so it wouldn’t. That’s why I still use social media. At this point I would be more envious of what I’d imagine people were posting because I wasn’t seeing anything at all.
We’re all on this spectrum of self-hatred and empowerment because it’s a natural social response that’s extremely heightened with social media. Grandparents will compete over who has kinder, more talented grandchildren; parents will compete over who has more intelligent, obedient kids; young adults will compete over who buys an apartment or gets married first; and then we have the teenage girls. We will be more vocal about this comparison than anyone else (or maybe I’m just biased). I can’t stop using social media not only because I’d have major FOMO (fear of missing out), but also because it helps me understand the minds of everyone I know. Here’s where I’ll pin the basic argument for excessive social media usage and say that it keeps me connected to people, especially when I can’t really see them right now; but we’re all tied to these connections. Seventeen-year-old girls aren’t the only ones who hate social media nor are they the only ones who can’t stop using it.