Once upon a time, in a fictitious African country, there lived a young lion cub. After the death of the young cubs’ father, he decided to runaway and live a life that, while aesthetically pleasing, wasn’t meant for a young lion to live. He ran away from his real life to indulge in a false beauty and false hope, that is until he had a little bit of help from the past. Simba, I mean, the young lion finally had some sense knocked into him, was brought back to reality, and reminded of who he is.
Like the young cub’s friends, I am here to tell you to wake up and remember who you are! Sure, the Lion King might not directly be a tale about social media and its damaging effects, but no greater story has been told about people – or animals – attempting to run away from reality and take heed of a fake lifestyle. Plus hearing Mufasa off in the distance echoing, “Remember who you are”, brings back all sorts of nostalgic feelings for the millennial who seems to have forgotten what life was like before continuous, instant access to the internet.
Social media can be a valuable resource for connecting and reconnecting with people all over the world, obtaining breaking news and following trends, but research also shows that social media can actually undermine our well being.
These days there seems to be an overwhelming amount of value placed on how you package yourself than who you really are. Because perception has become much more attractive than reality, we have to fight a daily battle to either utilizing social media as a resources or being consumed by our apps day and night. With the constancy of social media, our generation seems to have taken the phrase, “Fake it til you make it” to new heights. Our lives can be shallow, superficial and fictitious, but, much like Simba, we want to believe it’s complete paradise. But that’s far from reality. Obsession with how we are perceived through social media can have a major impact on how we view ourselves physically and in terms of finding meaning and significance in our lives.
From filters to Photoshop, and I might as well add airbrushed makeup, we’re not sure what’s real anymore, and many of us might not care to know. Learning Photoshop is as easy as a Youtube search and taking the perfect selfie seems effortless when following tips from “professionals” like Kim Kardashian – and might I add how the age of social media has made everyone into a professional?
Young women in our generation have admitted to feeling insecure while continuing to religiously gawk over filtered photos of their favorite celebs.
“We live in a society that rewards this artificial perfectionism,” says former Instagram model, Essena O’neill, who quit social media and released a video about many of the ugly truths behind the editing and staged performances of her seemingly effortless Instagram photos.
Women, especially, have always been held to unattainable beauty and character standards in our society. From the modeling industry to the performing arts, many women have spoken out about body standards and distorted beauty in the media, including this photoshop ad from Dove. It’s no wonder how these practices and standards have infiltrated their way into the world of social media.
Influence is another area of our lives majorly affected through social media. FOMO (fear of missing out) has become a popular phrase these days in regards to social media. There is so much pressure on our generation, and the one trailing us, to appear as though you’re living some sort of fairytale life on social media; to appear exciting, riveting, or even perfect. As a teacher, I have many students who will delete a picture from Instagram or status from Facebook if it doesn’t accumulate enough likes, usually at least 30. But this false way of living can oftentimes hide real feelings of insecurity, depression and even suicidal thoughts.
Why are so many of us drawn into finding influence or significance through social media platforms? Myself included. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t check the stats on my personal blog weekly or the share buttons on other blog posts that I write. I want to know who read, who liked and who shared my thoughts. Humans are wired for relationship with other humans – we want to be liked, wanted and needed. It’s innate, and not inherently a bad desire, but when our entire identity is wrapped up in likes, retweets, replays on Snapchat or followers, we have a bit of an issue on our hands.
We cannot rely on other people to define our worth or significance. Again, a delicate balance is needed for knowing who to rely on for much needed constructive criticism, and whose opinions simply do not, and should not, matter.
It’s possible to feel significant without the abundance of followers or likes – I average maybe 11 on Instagram, and I’m perfectly content. You can do this. You can live your life without the constant approval of others.
So how is one to overcome the forces of social media?
1 – Who Are You? You, and only you, can define who you are.
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies of me and eaten alive” – Audre Lorde
One of the best things I did last year was create a vision board upon moving to Miami. I made it as a reminder and to highlight four areas that define who I am, and four areas that I want to continue to grow in: Love, Character, Community and Creativity. These are my goals, though intangible, they are certainly irreplaceably real. Everything else that I do, especially in regards to marketing myself on social media or browsing through for fun, have to revolve around these four areas. Nowhere on this board did I include “comparison”. Also, none of these four areas is in desperate need of being validated through social media, but social media can be a great resource to help shape them for the better.
See, no one is forcing us to thumb through the pictures of the most successful Instagram models, fitness gurus or beloved celebrities; it is, no matter how tight the pressures of society may feel, a choice. My choice is to be productive, and there’s nothing productive about feeling depressed and envious about lives that have been nipped, tucked and photoshopped.
2- Deactivate. If social media is causing more harm than good for you, it might be best to follow in the footsteps of Essena O’neill and deactivate for a while. Until you have a clear understanding of who you are and why you’re using social media, save yourself the envious feelings and deactivate. It might be a good idea to especially remove yourself from platforms that you don’t actually need. If you aren’t ready to deactivate, at the very least powering down before you go to bed can help you in more ways than one.
3 – Engage. A couple years ago, I took a few teenage girls from my church on a camping trip and made the decision to turn off my phone for the entire weekend – partly because I was going through a bad breakup and didn’t want to deal with the drama. Nonetheless, this choice to turn off my phone forced me to be present and it was incredibly refreshing. I still remember the days before social media, and even constant access to internet or cell phones, but this choice reminded me that I didn’t have to tweet some of the funny things that were said that weekend, or take a video of our late night jam session to prove that it happened or that I was having a great time. I lived life and didn’t have to display it for the rest of the world to know that I was indeed doing something meaningful. And when I returned home from the trip I had so much to talk about because no one had the benefit of seeing my weekend on social media. Maybe the loss of significance in our relationships and lives is partly due to not inquiring about each other’s lives since we post everything on the internet?
I have to make an effort, and even encourage those around me to stay off our phones, primarily social media, when we’re hanging out with each other. It defeats the purpose of being social when everyone is on their phone.
4 – Follow Someone Meaningful. I try not to take life so seriously, so one of the Instagram accounts that I follow is Satire Gram, which basically makes fun of all the ridiculous photos people post to Instagram.
It’s lighthearted, but deep down it’s all of us, so it makes it relatable to laugh at. I also try to follow accounts with interesting, heartfelt stories, like HONY, and how they raised money for a school following one student’s story; or artwork so I’m inspired to write, like The Jeli. I choose to follow these accounts because they don’t make me feel depressed or envious, just imaginative and motivated to create music, stories and artwork of my own.
5 – Watch Your Circle. While trying to properly balance my social media life, I’m incredibly grateful for my circle of friends. I know that I can go to my friends whether I’m currently feeling positive about my identity or if I’m in a rut. They have no problem reminding me who I am outside of social media; no problem letting me know if they think I’m over-using certain apps and vice versa. In other words, it’s difficult to break free of the strains of social media if our real life social circles are not made top priority. This means boldly calling out my friends if we’re out having lunch, but everyone is on their phones instead of talking – possibly my biggest pet peeve. Watch your circle, but also fight for your social circles – the ones that are filled with the people who love you with #NoFilter and have witnessed how you really look when you wake up!
All of our most fondest memories may not necessarily be documented on social media, but surely in our hearts and minds. And for every negative, there’s a positive. If you’re not ready to leave social media, there are ways to manage it well so that it doesn’t leave you feeling drained and of low self-worth. Social media can have many great benefits, but through it all, you should feel inspired, not inferior.
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