Like most people, when I first began using social media, I didn’t sign up for every platform or network at once. I chose to start off slow, first creating an account with Facebook, then Twitter. It wasn’t until I was nineteen years old that I created an Instagram account and began ‘gramming about my time spent living overseas, on my own, as a young almost-20-something.
I first became aware that I was using social media incorrectly when I Instagramed a photo of myself in Harrods, England’s famous (ridiculously expensive) department store located in London. I had been ‘gramming my adventures gallivanting around the large metropolis when one day, I received an influx of texts and messages from my friends and old highschool peers professing their jealously over my adventures, waxing poetic about how much they wish they could be doing what I was. Mainly, moving overseas alone at a young age to travel and see some of the world.
That’s when I realized I was using social media all wrong.
Despite the amazing adventures I did have whilst living overseas (many of which translated into popular photos on Istagram and Facebook), my social media accounts didn’t document my struggles when moving from one new country to the next on my own; they didn’t show how scary it could be landing at an airport and waiting for your luggage, knowing there were no family members or familiar faces to greet you. They certainly didn’t showcase the difficult times I experienced after going through a breakup with a person I had moved to Sweden for, which had me flying to Prague like a glorified Icarus.
In other words, I was documenting all of the good and none of the bad. I was allowing people a glimpse into my world, but it wasn’t a totally truthful one.
Recently, several social media stars have quit social media, citing life-altering changes in their attitudes towards the platforms as the ultimate inspiration to take themselves – and their lives – off of social media. As many of you likely know, several people around the globe become famous from their online presence and not only earn fame and notoriety, but also a living from it. One such famous star – Essena O’Neill – hasn’t even turned 20 yet, and is already quitting Instagram after realizing she was so caught up in the illusion of the platform and what it did for her self-esteem, that she hadn’t even realized she basically relied on it to get through everyday. Once online stars like O’Neill realize they show the world a basically “fake” side of their life, they often take time away to get back to their roots.
I suppose you can say I did the same thing after deleting my entire Instagram and starting from scratch, just last year.
I believe, however, that the real wakeup call for me came when I realized just how unhappy a friend was.
I had been friends with this woman for over 5 years, and we were very close. I knew she had some familial issues, but I never knew to what extent the entirety of her issues reached until I began spending more time around her family. I slowly but surely realized that many of the problems she claimed to have with her family were really blown out of proportion; she had self-esteem, confidence and insecurity issues which results in her using our friendship to her own gain, her boyfriend moving out and breaking ties with her, and her university grades dropping. She became eratic, saying that no one cared about her, no one took care of her and she had no one to rely on. Hearing this as a close friend of over 5+ years slapped me awake and had me recognizing that I didn’t know this person.
But if you were a stranger looking in from the outside, you’d never know just how unstable this young woman was.
Her social media accounts were littered with happy-go-lucky posts about shopping, traveling, drinks with friends, and more. Many of the happy, popular photos on her Instagram account would receive hundreds of likes, but no one knew that I had been there for many of those photos – had even taken several of them – and knew that just 5 minutes prior to that photo being posted, this woman was crying hysterically or arguing with her ex, sometimes even yelling at her father on the phone for no reason. I started to really look at these photos and thought, “Am I perpetuating a cycle?”
In the end, we became distant as I began moving away from the friendship, unsure how to handle the girl I knew with the online presence I didn’t. It caused me to reflect on my own online presence and I realized that, though I wasn’t eratic or bipolar in my posting, I wasn’t showing the whole truth either.
I always believed the purpose of social media was to utilize certain platforms and networks to share what is going on in our lives and, if we are a brand, to showcase what we’re selling and spread the word about it. I thought it was about putting ourselves out there and saying “This is my life and this is what happens, I’m simply documenting it for you.” I never thought I’d be one of the users who post only what I think people want to see, rather than simply posting my true life.
What we forget when it comes to social media usage is that these platforms and tools for connection and awareness are not curtains, closets or facades we should be nor can hide behind. They are meant to connect us to people, brands and more; they exist to help raise awareness, literally about anything. But we use them as platforms for showing the world that our lives are sometimes far better and “cooler” than others’ are. We abuse social media in an attempt to tell the world, “This is how great my life is” when, in reality, no one will ever know the struggles we face, the hard times we go through or the challenges we sometimes experience. For example, do any of your friends know that maybe one photo you’ve posted of yourself with #goodhairday #browsonfleek #lashesfordays was actually taken on a day where it took at least an hour to finally get your hair the way you want it just for one perfect selfie? The answer is likely no.
What I hope any reader of this post can take away from this whole “rant” (if you will) is that social media is not meant to be hidden behind. So much of it has become a game of hide-and-seek, where we post one thing and others delve deeper to find out just exactly how awesome our lives are. People admire online sensations like O’Neill for her killer bod, her fashion, her adventures and more; but as she has openly admitted, no one really ever knew the truth. And because she made money from her online presence, even delving deeper into the life of someone like O’Neill likely wouldn’t result in people feeling vindicated that a 17 year old’s life is actually miserable, and not the mirage we all thought.
If you use social media to showcase the “truth” according to what you think the world wants to see, ask yourself whether it’s worth the hassle of faking it to make it in the world of online presence, or whether you should simply be yourself. After all, the authentic, real you is what people see in real life. It’s not your perfect selfie.