Social media has given us the incredible power to maintain relationships across the world, efficiently document our lives, and network like crazy – but the abundant advantages of self-promotion and cross-cultural connection are uncomfortably met with the uneasy question: are we really who we say we are?
The platform lives on likes, so its inherent design is already narcissistically twisted. We are incentivized to share content that will generate the most love – positive moments of vacations, promotions, weddings, babies, cute outfits, and yummy food. This is the breeding grounds for confidence and pride but also vicious envy. We become so wrapped up in our own lives or sickly crave jealousy to such a degree that we carelessly disregard others’ feelings for our own online presence and perception. Social media has given us the tools to refine our brand and style, often at the expense of healthy relationships and a solid sense of self-identification.
Social media is, without a doubt, an ingenious innovation that has dramatically revitalized the way we communicate, but at its darkest, it is a manipulative outlet that feeds off the most vulnerable esteems of its users. We live through our screens, but unfortunately, what we share is not always our true selves.
You have your real self – the crux of your being and personality — and then your ideal self, the person you wish to become. The social media world has drowned out the voice of reality and intensified our alter ego to the extent that who we are portraying is the hyper-version of our ideal selves. Social media has given us the power to present exactly who we want to be while simultaneously depicting ourselves dishonestly.
We want to appear intelligent, introspective, and insightful so we spend considerable time crafting a killer Facebook status or tweet (don’t deny you haven’t put too much thought into a social media post). We want to appear beautiful and sexy so we spend hours pulling together the right lighting, outfit, pose, and pout for the perfect selfie. And we share photos and snaps of kissing, presents, hand-holding, and mechanical smiles to make our relationships seem worthwhile. These manufactured alterations have driven many Instagram stars to expose the fakeness of social media – that life is not so glamorous behind the camera. “I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational. It’s contrived perfection made to get attention,” former Instagram sensation Essena O’Neil wrote in a revised Instagram caption after she quit the social media scene.
We become so sucked into constructing a certain image of ourselves that we lose sight of experiencing the moment in real life, instead capturing it specifically for social media. Our everyday lives appear candid and surreal, but we have mastered the art of pretending we are perfect. In doing so, we are not fully soaking in our travels, special occasions, life-changing events, or just a gorgeous California sunset but subconsciously envisioning its effect on social media and then meticulously editing the result. We are more obsessed with the finished product launched to our sites than the lived experience.
Social media has been incredibly useful in propelling activism, especially with the feminist and body-positive movements, but those initiatives prove contradictory since the resource drives self-comparison and an incessant hunger for validation. This culture of warranted approval is just as manipulated and false as the images and status updates we post. We compare ourselves to the altered, the filtered, the airbrushed, and the edited. And we enhance, enrich, and embellish ourselves online in such an exaggerated manner that what is being liked and favorited is not really even us anymore. Yet we still relish in the thumbs up and hearts we receive.
When we are so mindlessly consumed by our social media perception we lose sight of our own real attributes and thereby our genuine self-worth as we relentlessly scroll, click, and feel pressured to live up to nearly unobtainable versions of our selves – all to shamelessly impress and all to feel shamefully complacent. But this is chipping away at inner peace, self-acceptance, and fostering yet another impossible standard for us to be beholden to.
Upon realizing the destructive repercussions social media poses, we might be compelled to grow cynical and reject all forms of social media to feel whole again. But it is not absolutely necessary to quit something that holds so much technological and communicative benefit for our mobile generation. However, we should drastically change how we utilize social media. Curbing our social media addiction is the first step; offline time is essential in maintaining peace of mind and clarity. Furthermore, understanding that not every little thing is reserved for the social media realm, and therefore other people’s consumption, is vital to freeing ourselves from the clutches of the Internet. Those moments with friends, family, or a partner aren’t always meant to be carefully crafted snapshots of our lives for others to envy. They lose their treasured meaning when their intimacy is exposed. Instead of living our lives by what we will post next, we should focus on actually living and accumulating experiences without obligatorily pressing upload.
Have you struggled with the image of yourself you create for social media?
Also by Jessica: What It Feels Like to Be Someone Else’s Poison
More on Social Media: 6 Tips to Regain Confidence after Using Social Media
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