There. I said it.
I have just spent 7 solid minutes looking at some girl’s Instagram. She popped up on the explore feed (as they always do) with her beautiful makeup and incredible hair and well-lit photos and within 7 minutes I know that she lives in California, likes matcha tea lattes, has a very dashing boyfriend, prefers cats to dogs, drives a Range Rover, she goes to the coolest bars and restaurants, wears the nicest new labels, has a lot of money, is blessed with a permanent tan and radiates joy and beauty. Oh, and that my life will never be as good as hers.
A general summary of the sentiment:
There’s days when social media really inspires me. Then there’s days like today that make me feel miserable and worthless and like a failure
— Sophie (@sophiemilner_fs) April 30, 2017
Sure, that tweet hasn’t gone viral, but with 100+ likes and a bunch of replies and retweets, it’s a feeling that certainly chimes with a few people. It’s called compare and despair. Because who hasn’t felt that guilty pang of misery when we see somebody else succeeding, whilst we feel that our feet are stuck in cement and we’re going nowhere? I say the word guilty, because we know we know we knowwww that it’s not.real.life. It can happen when we look at our friends profiles, or that of a complete stranger, and despite the fact that I make a living partly by creating images that are most certainly an enhanced version of my reality – going to certain extents to construct my photographs just to get *the shot* – I still find myself engaging in acts of self-sabotage when I find that my life doesn’t compare to others on the internet. Why doesn’t my life look like that? Why am I not as happy as that? Why am I struggling so much? It makes me feel stupid. Because I should know better.
We’ve all had thoughts like this whilst checking out social feeds. And as humans, it’s totally natural for us to have a frame to assess, and reassess our own worth against to see how we’re getting on at the game that is life. Psychologists call it Social Comparison Theory. It’s totally normal – it was devised wayyyyyy back in the 50s, before nobody new what a Kardashian was, before anyone had come across a selfie Facetuned so strongly it looked like a cartoon. Social comparison theory is seen as the ways that we compare ourselves against others to help define and understand ourselves better.
We have long fallen victim to our ego’s need for affirmation. But social media – by way of Instagram updates and stories, Snapchat, YouTube videos, tweets and Facebook statuses – just gives us a wider, further-reaching, multidimensional and totally unachievable frame to assess ourselves on, that’s unfortunately pretty inaccurate thanks to it becoming an infinite, never-ending highlights reel of peoples lives. And if you’re the kind of person to compare yourself to someone else on social media, you’re more likely to feel depressed. You will always find someone to compare yourself to who’s doing better off than you, and if you go searching for it, you’ll find it quicker. So more often than not, we’re left reassessing ourselves so negatively against everyone else’s seemingly perfect lives.
And now, it’s coming at us from all different levels. Instagram and Facebook live, Snapchat stories. We’re connected to the internet at all times via our Smartphones – it’s relentless. What next? It presents a parallel universe, working by charading as, and part-reflecting reality, whilst simultaneously presenting a world so so different. And when we’re on our phones more and more often (most of us check social media 20-30 times a day), it’s easy to get blinded by the gloss we have on screen that leaves our own lives feeling, well, unfiltered.
I feel like I’ve tackled this subject in so many different ways, from my old post on Instagram and self-esteem, my post about success not being a race, and the one on the pressure to photograph and share everything. But I’ve never really properly addressed the fact that sometimes, social media makes me miserable. It’s practically embarrassing how much I bemoan social on my blog, whilst it’s the very same platform which has given me my career. But at the same time, it’s cause and effect: I live in this fantasy land for my job, and I end up feeling inadequate and worthless more often as a result.
So the Jekyll and Hyde sides of social media: I find it a source of endless inspiration, but also a mirror to endlessly compare my life, talents, job, and looks to, finding, more often than not, that my life doesn’t measure up and I’m left off feeling totally inadequate. And what’s strange is how closely the miserable side and inspiration sides of social media are so closely aligned, at times. One moment I’ll be fizzing off of the inspiration for interiors on Pinterest, getting over-excited on what things I could possibly buy to make my room nicer, all whilst having this sad nagging feeling that I’m so far off owning my own property, decorating rented flats is tough, and the rent is so extortionate here in London that I can barely afford baked beans from the reduced aisle in Sainsbury’s, let alone redecorate my room with all of these stylish furnishings. It’s a total waste of time. I look to others for style inspiration, but leave feeling like an unfashionable lardy blob with a credit card transaction worth £135 with Zara’s name on it and no place to wear the fancy new dress I bought apart from, well… Instagram.
Going all factoids on you again here, there’s been countless studies showing correlations between increased anxiety and decreased self-esteem with the use of social media. But one thing that’s changed dramatically is how we use social media these days. It used to be about connecting. Remember MySpace? Bebo? Old Facebook? These days, it’s more about building a ‘personal brand‘, using it as a business tool, or a virtual CV, with all our different social channels, creating a multi-dimensional movie for the lives we wish we had. There’s no surprise that we sometimes feel miserable and inadequate, given that in this disjointed and voyeuristic world, all we see of people is the highlights they choose to show off. When we’re living our own every day reality, we see the lows and highs. Example: I keep getting distracted from writing this by picking a spot on my cheek but I’m illustrating it with cute summery photos of me playing on my phone!
Just look at your own profiles, objectively for just a moment. As a snapshot, it probably looks better than the reality you’re living. Reality is way more balanced. Reality is me sitting here right now, in my pyjamas, having not fake tanned in two weeks with no makeup on. It’s not my best self – or at least, not the one that I think is. Social media gives us a view of reality that doesn’t exist – from filters, to editing apps like Facetune, to posting things shot several days or weeks before. As a blogger, I rarely post things on the day that I actually do them (might mess with the planned feed y’know!) but I’ll still find myself snapping away for ‘filler’ content to put on ice for when I’ve got nothing to post one day.
So seriously, what the fuck can we actually do because this is an actual problem?
1. Social media is just the new internet. It’s the way we connect with people, read news, promote ourselves, and learn. So we’ve got to see it for what it is: a source of entertainment. It’s the same way that people get angry at me for watching things like Made in Chelsea, saying that I’m stupid because “It’s all scripted! It’s not real!” and I’m like, obviously. It’s obviously constructed for our entertainment. And social media is a little bit of the same. It’s about shifting the mentality to see it not as reality, but constructed.
You’re probably thinking “I already know this!” – and truth is oh my god yeah, so do I. But we’re still here, reading/writing this blogpost, feeling shitty about our own assumed shortcomings whilst watching someone else nailing it on the net. That’s why you’re here? Isn’t it?
2. It’s harder, as a blogger, to just switch off when your life is social media. Some of my happiest friends have quit social media as much as they can, but when you live your life in it for a living, it’s a lot more challenging to create a separation. So if you find yourself less inspired and more miserable, minimise your time spent on it. Move the apps off your first phone screen so they’re not easy access, and only use it for uploading.
3. Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad or don’t inspire you. If fitness accounts, super-successful fashion accounts, or anything of the like make you feel bad about your own life, then it’s toxic. They are triggers. Get rid. Sashay away! Instead, follow someone who’s all about health and fitness, but their posts don’t necessarily make you feel bad for not living the same way. If you’re bothered by one of your favourite bloggers who only wears designer now, then unfollow them. Follow someone who’s style you can afford and attain. If social media is creating this parallel universe, make it one that you not only want to be a part of, but that you feel you’d fit into, instead of feeling like an inadequate
4. But what about my good friends who’s successful lives make me question my own? If you’re friend knew you felt like this, they’d feel bad and tell you all the amazing things about yourself. So tell yourself all those amazing things you think your friends would say to you.
5. Know that we compare our weaknesses to others strengths. We all know the things we hate about ourselves – whether you’re not rich or smart or skinny or stylish enough or whatever – we obsess over them so much that they sadly become ingrained in our psyche. So we naturally look out for other people who have the opposite. It only makes the comparison gap so much wider and more painful. Recognise that you’re doing this, and be kinder to yourself. And don’t fall in to the trap!
6. Stay in the present. Stress, anxiety and depression that we feel when using social media all stem from the fear, panicking about the future and harshly reassessing our lives. It’s time to stick in the present, and stop worrying about the future so much.
So let this post be your egos affirmation that yes, you are doing okay. And yes, we all feel like this sometimes.