I remember first signing up to Myspace sometime in early 2006. If you’re too young to remember, Myspace was one of the earliest social media networks, one that was largely oriented around music culture. I still recall the excitement that came with the next friend request or picture comment. You could even add people from your favourite bands! Since then, I’d say my natural love of people has probably made me a little more susceptible to social media addiction than the average person. And I must admit I still get a bit of a buzz every time someone sends me a new friend request or follows me on Instagram (except for the spam accounts of course!).
But in the middle of last year I needed to take drastic action and did the unthinkable—I deactivated my Instagram account! I’ll be honest, a new job wasn’t going well and was quickly taking its toll on my mental health. Meanwhile, friends and people on my Instagram feed were supposedly ‘living the dream’ as they gallivanted the globe with style and perfection. With their endless travel and beautiful romances, Instagram told me these people had the secret to the good life. Meanwhile I had failed miserably as I sat trapped in an office on a dull and rainy Auckland day.
In reality, what we see on social media is an illusion. The vast majority of Instagram accounts are nothing more than carefully contrived highlight reels—a split second in a life. Travel blogger Sara Melotti recently shared the realities of her lifestyle in an interview with the Daily Mail. She referenced a photo taken in Bali, where she can be seen posing in the middle of a lush and exotic-looking rainforest. Yet the shot took hours to get right, all while she risked injury by climbing a slippery rock. And then at the end of it all, the lighting wasn’t even perfect and had to be edited!
While we can remind ourselves of these realities, it’s not really the point of the problem. When absorbing images of supposed ‘perfection’, it’s inevitable we’re going to compare ourselves to others and start to feel sub-par. And plenty of statistics prove this is pretty normal.
Researchers in the study, entitled #StatusofMind, surveyed around 1500 young people on how Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter played with their emotions. Participants were asked questions about whether they experienced feelings of anxiety, loneliness and depression. The questions also aimed to determine levels of FOMO (fear of missing out) experienced when using the various apps. Results found that Instagram had the worst effect on wellbeing.
‘Seeing friends constantly on holiday or enjoying nights out can make young people feel like they are missing out while others enjoy life,’ #StatusOfMind stated. ‘These feelings can promote a “compare and despair” attitude.’ One participant said Instagram can make females feel as though their bodies aren’t good enough—edits and filters are then required to make them feel more attractive. The study also found that heavy social media use is connected to poor sleep and tiredness.
Other research found using Instagram for as little as half an hour per day can make women feel negatively about their weight and appearance. This report found the app makes women ‘compare themselves against unrealistic, largely curated, filtered and Photoshopped versions of reality’.
These kinds of statistics don’t surprise me in the slightest. Instagram is a visual app—the vast majority of what is shared is meant to be beautiful, cool and attractive. Inevitably, many of us are going to feel like our bodies and lives don’t live up to the standard so many people dedicate their lives to achieve. The truth is we’re never going to ’gram our self-doubt, bitterness, disappointment or loneliness.
Throwing It Back
If you’re an Instagram user, you’re probably aware of the hashtags #tbt (throwback Thursday) or #fbf (flashback Friday). These kinds of tags tend to be used when people share photos not taken the same day as posting, typically those from a holiday. While I’ve been guilty of this kind of posting in the past, I feel it’s created a culture where people feel the need to consistently portray the image of ‘the good life’—even when they’ve been back at work for three weeks. In my experience I’ve done this when I’m having a bit of an ordinary day and feel the need for some affirmation. Does this mean some of us are becoming addicted to affirmation? I think we need to be careful we’re not becoming desperate to prove to others that our lives are more than just the Monday to Friday grind.
A Beautiful Life
Leading Kiwi influencer Matilda Rice has been growing a personal social media brand since winning the inaugural season of The Bachelor New Zealand in 2015—amassing 155,000 Instagram followers. Her win on the show was a rare success for reality television as she has since become engaged to ‘the bachelor’ Art Green.
In an exclusive interview with War Cry, Matilda admits she can’t stand the term ‘influencer’ because it comes across as stuck-up. ‘I love doing what I do, as it feels as though I have a community of friends around me all the time,’ Matilda says. ‘I know it sounds a bit silly, but I love being in touch with so many people at any given time, even people I’ve never met!
‘I like to try and inspire people to not take life or social media so seriously, and I try to make people laugh, or entertain them in some way,’ she adds.
Matilda admits that ‘social media is one-sided’ but she feels there’s nothing wrong with people wanting to share happy moments. ‘Have you ever seen a photo album in real life that has anything other than happy moments? The only difference between my social media and my real life is that [in real life] the lighting is not always that great, it’s far less planned, and I don’t censor myself as much in real life as I do on social media,’ she says.
Matilda has a point. But a family photo album is not shared with over 100,000 people who don’t know you. Also, our parents’ ‘point-and-click’ photos didn’t really encourage the same obsession with perfection!
‘At some point, though, I do believe people need to take a little more ownership of their own happiness,’ Matilda adds. ‘If social media feeds negative feelings inside you, then maybe take a break from it, or follow different people? People that make you feel happy or laugh, or that you somehow relate to a little more.’
I think the problem is that other people’s lives are now more accessible to us than ever before. We don’t need to leave our bedrooms to see what everyone else is supposedly getting up to on their holidays.
I would highly recommend taking some time away from certain platforms—I know it did me a world of good. I think it can also help to limit who you’re following; I realised it was just too toxic for me to see what exotic places travel bloggers were off to next every time I picked up my phone.
Despite my own negative experiences, I’m not anti-social media. In fact, I’ll admit I re-activated my Instragram. But my fear is that the ’Gram & co are going to make us less willing to be real with each other—because we feel we need to meet this standard of perfection.
Sure, it’s cool to share your holiday in Fiji. But we also need to share the tougher parts of life with each other—maybe even IRL!
Do I need to take a break from the ’gram?
Questions to ask yourself …
1 How do I feel after I’ve been on Instagram? Am I inspired or discouraged?
2 How do my posts make other people feel?
3 Do I feel anxious about my life not being awesome enough?
4 Do I get FOMO when I see other ’grams?
5 Would I be willing to share ‘bad’ photos on Instagram?