Yesterday I was stirring noodles and catching up with roommates who were crowded around the kitchen. Talking about castings, train rides, how the J wasn’t running, how this date went, how late we got in last night. I dramatically announced that I let social media know I was leaving social media. My friends and I laughed, furrowed our brows shouting at each other, “INSTAGRAM is a TOXIC environment.. farewell everybody,” acting ridiculous, because well it is kinda ridiculous. I was well aware of how extra I was being, but sometimes you have to over do it to get the point across to yourself.
I look around me and know that what I have is enough. I live in my favorite city in the world, I have people who care about me even when I fail miserably, who have forgiven me for making mistakes, who send me new songs and pop into my favorite coffee shop just to see if I’m sitting there. I think about how a year ago, I might have felt the need to publicize these relationships and little moments, maybe trying to prove something to myself. If I can make my life look good, it must be, right?
I could say it started in LA, my unhealthy relationship with social media, but that would be a lie.
I first got a Facebook in sixth grade, first started heavily using it in seventh grade. Planning out captions to be a perfect balance of witty and funny, showcasing who I was in my best light. All of my friends sending each other photo options, this pose or this pose? This caption or this caption? Should I add a smiley face? Overthinking and every last detail for a perfectly curated essence. It took a lot of effort, because we were trying to make ourselves something we were not: perfect.
Seventh grade, that was about when I was 12 years old. I am now 21, which means I have had around 9 years of living on the internet, documenting my life, and most importantly, showcasing my best self to an audience. At times consciously, but all the time unconsciously. I have been thinking about what other people think of me for 9 years, without a break. It switched from Facebook to Instagram, added on a twitter, a tumblr, a Youtube channel. All with the underlying question of: do people care about what I have to say? If they care, would that make me good enough?
A game that was so normal and unquestioned because everyone else was playing along, with these unspoken rules. You can’t be too vulnerable or rant too much. You can be naturally beautiful but only a certain type of naturally beautiful. Be smart but interesting, creative and colorful too. These are all pressures I must have felt, but never confronted, or even really recognized.
I can’t discount the power of social media. It was an amazing tool for an introvert like me. There was no way I was going to get up in front of a crowd and share my creative ideas, but I could post it without a confrontation. I found a niche of people who cared about something more, and created an online community. I learned about race issues, feminist issues, about veganism. I learned that someone my age could actually change something, create something. It was honestly really great, and helped me grow for a while, until it didn’t anymore.
I felt an internal struggle, one that had a voice now. I went to a country with no internet for two weeks and was sad to realize it was the longest I had gone without so much as logging onto social media in 9 years. Two consecutive weeks, out of some 468 weeks.
There was no suppressing how it made me feel anymore. Inadequate was at the top of the list, there’s always someone that’s doing better than you one scroll away. And in real life, you would know how that person is also struggling, but your mind has a funny way of taking a perfectly edited photo as fact. And even as I was aware of all of this, I felt it still effecting me. I monitored my mental patterns when I scrolled, even if I saw a photo of a dear friend living their best life, of course my loudest voice was happy for them, but the quieter ones resounded. Jealousy, envy, detrimental self talk. As much as I worked on it, it was still there.
I remedied by unfollowing everyone on my feed that triggered these patterns. This made it look like I didn’t care about people, wasn’t friends with certain people, and led to awkward texts of, “I love you, but I can’t help but want to skip lunch when I see you post a photo of your body.” I felt like I was being very, very weak. Why couldn’t I trump mind over matter? Why did it seem like this was effecting me silently and nobody else? I felt like it might be my fault: I’m too sensitive, too comparative, I should get a thicker skin and be happy with who I am and not compare myself to everyone. That’s what I preach, what I suggest to do, why can’t I do it myself?
The thing is, I COULD. When I logged out of left my phone at home. I connected with friends in a real way, loved myself. Appreciated my life and moments all around me. And just one scroll could trigger my anxiety. Was this suddenly happening? Or has it always been happening? And above all, why is nobody, NOBODY, else talking about this?
A lot of other people are feeling it, I know this. I know from comments or messages I got. I know from hazy in the dark 3 am conversations. I know from how I have seen my own friends facetuning their photos at a bar before posting them. I know from modeling agencies signing people with followings over people with talent, how people seem to hang out in groups where everyone has relatively the same amount of followers. How I have literally gotten texts from my friends asking me to tag them in the last photo I posted. How stats have been added, and now we can see just how many people care about us. I know it’s effecting all of us in some way, but it’s so normalized we don’t really know where to start, what to change.
excerpts from my journal
I think before social media we did a lot more living. We did things for ourselves, for our immediate community, because present was what we cared about. I think current social media is a bit of a barrier to finding out who you are. When you get constant feedback on which version of you is more liked, it must, at least subconsciously, shape who you are.
I am becoming more aware of my dependency on social media. I really need to grow outside of the realm of Instagram so I can feel less dependent on it for my success. It seems the more I “need” it, the less I want it. I hear my ego: if I was skinnier, cooler, lived in the right place, I would get more praise. I can get more people to like me! I can! When in reality I never thought I would make it here and should be overwhelmed and grateful, not hungry for more. I think when I get to New York I should swear off social media until the end of the year. Put more time and effort into podcasts, videos, blog posts, rather than just an image. I think that’s a good idea. to keep me focused on my goals and being my happiest self, not necessarily my most liked self.
I have decided I’m going to not use my Instagram until 2018. Right now its making me too sad and distracted. I want to focus on loving me and getting settled and my relationships before I think about adding it back into my life.
I don’t think I need it anymore, I don’t want to need it. Of course I am afraid, how can I succeed in this day and age without it? Will my projects and ideas be strong enough to stand on their own? Will anyone care? But then I think about how people have become numbers by a name. How someone is uninterested in me until they ask for my Instagram. How much more creative and free I feel without it. I know no matter what someone else’s opinion is, I know how I feel, I know how it effects me, my perception of myself and my self-value, and I need to stop ignoring that.