Today began with licking sticky blackberry jam off fingers and eating creamy avocado smothered on toast. Next, a banana and cauldron of coffee with swirling clouds of almond milk poured in. As I ate I scrolled through my morning Insta feed. Lately, I’ve been purging my feed of any “junk” accounts that don’t inspire me, but of course there are some people you can’t unfollow (whether they’re your cousin or roommate) without some awkwardness. These obligation follows are where trouble begins to stir.
How many of you have ever gotten a message from someone telling you to go like their new selfie on Instagram or retweet their latest anecdote on Twitter? How many of you have heard crap like, “If this picture doesn’t get fifty likes in an hour, I’m deleting it.”? How many times have you been told what you should comment on someone’s status? Have you ever done these things yourself?
Because I used to. Once upon a time, I was so obsessed with maintaining this pristine online presence that I’d freak out if someone posted a “bad” picture of me and I’d force them to delete it. I would delete tweets that no one favorited and would text all my friends when I posted a new picture so that (god forbid) it wouldn’t sit there, festering, unliked. My followers had to outnumber who I followed by at least twenty. I controlled my image with an iron fist and worked insanely hard to keep up with it.
But that’s just it–I was acting insane.
This kind of behavior is so common that we don’t question how nutty we’re acting. On a weekly basis, I’m flooded with messages from friends demanding that I like their new Insta picture and if I don’t do it fast enough they get mad. I get sent multiple pictures and asked which one they should post. Sometimes, I’m even told what they want me to comment on it. I love my friends more than life itself, but this is batshit crazy.
We all want validation. You post a nice picture of yourself and suddenly you’re flooded with red hearts and fire emojis. Naturally, if you’re used to a certain number of likes on your picture and post one that gets less, you’re going to see that as a “bad” photo and delete it. You might even feel embarrassed. This is because, while it’s so easy to let others make us feel good about ourselves, it’s equally as easy for them to make us feel bad. Once you hand over control of your self-esteem to the fickle masses of your followers, you are a slave to their opinions.
There is no such thing as a good or bad photo. If it’s a memory that makes you happy, it doesn’t need to look professional or get a lot of attention. Likes on Instagram have no real life equivalent, and if you have to tell people to like your picture then it means even less. And if you’re telling people what to comment? That just means you’re so obsessed with keeping up appearances that you force people to help you cultivate this super-cool version of yourself. What’s the point?
Social media is a highlights reel, not real life.
I don’t remember the exact moment I stopped caring about my likes or followers but it was a pivotal moment in my life. I stopped following people I didn’t care about and now I always get surprised reactions when my friends see that–on my private accounts–I follow less than 100 people. Well, I don’t know more than 100 genuine, wonderful people in real life and why would I subscribe to anything less? My low follower count doesn’t make me feel embarrassed or uncool. Not getting retweeted or liked doesn’t make me feel ashamed or ugly. In fact, I feel an overwhelming sense of freedom.
Don’t get me wrong, I love social media. I think it’s a powerful tool for promoting ideas and connecting people on all sorts of creative platforms. There’s a difference, however, from loving it and letting it control you.
Of course it feels good getting positive responses from people you care about. But when you stop posting pictures from the headspace of, “Will this get a lot of likes?” you can start creating content that is authentic to you. How you feel about yourself on a daily basis won’t fluctuate on the whims of your social circle. When your friend posts a silly, candid picture from a party you won’t break into a cold sweat thinking about who will see you at your less than best. In extreme cases, consider doing one of those month long detoxes from the site you use most and see how you feel after.
You will feel so much better for it, I promise.
BONUS: To hear people besides me discuss social media authenticity, watch these cool kids:
(all photos from Wildfox)