We are all guilty of posting a ‘look-at-how-fab-my-life-is’ photo to Insta when we’re having a bad day. Exhibiting that aesthetically pleasing, super healthy, delicious, home cooked soup when in reality we took one slurp and gagged. Recent studies have proposed that for many, a social media profile is a complete parallel of their ‘irl’; but why? Why do we feel the need to put a front on to our 450 followers? Who, might I just add, probably don’t really care. Why is it necessary that our online life is that of a Kim K standard? What affect does this have on our viewers and what does this mean for our own mental wellbeing?
Instagram was launched in 2010 and by 2012, the company had 30 million users. Today, in 2016, it has 400 million active consumers. According to brandwatch.com, in the last six years, over 40 billion photos been shared and the app achieves 3.5 billion likes every single day – now, that is a lot of likes. Instagram seems to be the app that people refer to when using the term ‘air-brushing reality’.
In that time, mental health has soared. According to youngminds.org, Childline revealed, that since 2010, the number of young people who mentioned suicide increased by 116%.
I, for one, have fallen victim to ‘air-brushing’ reality. Anxiety over self-worth is something I seem to obsess over. I’ll dress myself in new sandals, see it’s raining and change into something more practical and a little less insta-worthy – but only after taking my #OOTD photo, of course. The more likes I get, the more content I feel within myself and take pride in the creativity of the outfit I put together. I absolutely regret to admit that I have deleted photos that lacked likes, I also find myself regularly comparing myself to other ‘grammers. A constant buzz of ‘what do they do, that I don’t?’ conquers my head to an extent that forces me to dissect everything I post, prior to publishing.
I am not alone in admitting that I have deleted a social media post over how many – or how few, in most cases – likes it got. A twitter poll revealed that 61% of people have also done the same. And when asked to explain why they did that due to an absence of likes, many people used the phrase ‘I was embarrassed.’
But, where has this come from, this stigma that you’re not liked as much as the next person just because they have 70 likes on a post and you have 30? It sounds mad when you put it like that, right? Social media specialist at fts, and anxiety and depression sufferer and survivor, Dane Cobain explains. “Although those problems started before social networking use became widespread, I have known it to exacerbate the symptoms, and younger generations spend so much time connected these days that it’s hard to get away from it. There are even terms like ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) and ‘Nomobophobia’ (i.e. ‘no mobile phobia’).” That key word ‘connected’ sums up today’s society in one.
The 27-year-old from High Wycombe also quoted his own book, ‘Social Paranoia’. He told me: “Psychologists have warned that people might suffer from digital amnesia by starting to believe their own version of events and forgetting what actually happened. They also found that nearly half of people feel paranoia, sadness and shame as a result of not being able to live up to the image that they’ve created.”
It appears to be a vicious cycle. You feel bad about yourself, so you post an image to make yourself look good. Then you feel bad about the fact that your life doesn’t live up to the sparkly photo that you shared, but now, you’re obliged to keep up the façade. And then, it starts over.
I spoke to 18-year-old psychology student, Annalies Paris about her educated opinions on whether we can point our fingers at social media when it comes to determining causes of mental health issues. “For the person uploading the pictures on social media, it can cause anxiety and depression because there’s this constant pressure, direct or not, to maintain this false image of their life” She went on: “this also leads to the idea of this whole “selfiephobia”, where people are scared of taking a picture of themselves because they’re scared it won’t be perfect enough for their expectations.”
So, what if people aren’t judging us the way that we think they are? Are we disillusioned by our own intensity of self-perception and engagement of an alternative persona that we so desire to be? A topical survey has suggested that only 19% of people actually judge others’ social media posts over a lack of likes – and realistically, that’s not a lot. But, more often than not, it’s not the people who we don’t know, causing the problem. It’s those who we do, that we tend to compare ourselves to and judge. Annalies explained: “When you’re similar to somebody, or you judge yourself to be similar, yet they seem to have a much better life than you or better possessions, there’s this kind of ‘compare and despair’ phenomenon that takes place.” She suggested. “If you’re on a holiday to Devon, yet your next door neighbour goes to Florida every year, you get this sense of feeling inadequate or jealous. ‘Why am I not good enough? What has she/he done to deserve that and I don’t? I deserve it more my family and I work much harder.’”
One episode of Channel 4’s ‘Black Mirror’ is a prime example that we are not yet (yet) at the point of publicly judging each other’s daily lives, and letting those judgements be instantly life changing. The series features stand-alone dramas, one in particular revolves around a woman who is desperate to boost and maintain her social media score, which is voted by everyone she meets. The higher rating that they are, the better houses they’re allowed to live in, or the better jobs they get. Their whole life orbits around the way that others see and rate them online – one slip-up and you could be uninvited to your best friend’s wedding (ouch). It’s an interesting insight to a possible (or, hopefully impossible) future, and a good watch, which is now on Netflix – in case you were wondering.
I know for a fact that social media has some input into the way our minds work. No matter what, there will always be a subtle comparison and competition. Whether we’re making ourselves feel bad by the pressure to keep up a photogenic lifestyle, or if we’re subconsciously depressing others who don’t feel as adequate; we are a competitive generation, in lots of ways. I hope that this craziness of feeling the need to promote ourselves as more glossy than we think we are, is just a phase, and will pass over in a hurry. Encouraging self-love is a rapidly increasing trend, and it’s exactly what us social media techies’ in the modern day land of filters and hashtags, need.