In one of my previous blog posts Think before you hit send, which if you have not already read you can do so here, I explored the affect the written word can have on our mental health, especially in young people. Today, I wanted to carry on with this topic, however this time I want to concentrate on the influence of the images that we see online. Because, as the saying goes A picture speaks a thousand words but a picture online speaks words that may not necessarily be the whole truth.
After reading an article in the Guardian on the topic I learnt that a recent study that will be published this month in Body Image journal has shown that in today’s society young people are more influenced by their friend’s online photos than they are of images of celebs in the media. And sadly it’s having a negative effect on their self-esteem. With the statistics for mental health problems on the increase and services, especially for young people being cut or badly underfunded I believe it’s important we recognise the role that social media and ‘selfie culture’ is playing in diminishing our mental health.
With regards to who young people are being more influenced by it comes as no big surprise that it is their peers, given that these are the people they will see on a regular basis both in the real world and online. People they know and the people they use to try and gauge their own place in the world. As well as people who in many respects they are in competition with, not only in the real world but now in the digital one too. These are the people they want to be keeping up with even more than the Kardashian’s.
Because the majority of us know we cannot ‘compete’ with celebrities and the whole glam squads and professional camera crews that go into creating their’perfect’ images. But we know that neither do our mates and so what they post online seems so much more attainable.
But the lines can become blurred when it comes to the thousands and thousands of bloggers and Instagram influencers that there are in today’s society. Because reality tells us they’re just ordinary people just like you or I. However, their blog photos and Instagram grids often depict editorial style photos that give any celebrity or magazine a run for their money. In fact, many top influencers even hire professional photographers to help create their perfect images. Bloggers, creators, influencers are the new celebrities but ones we think we can relate more to and possibly recreate the same style of photos. And yet for anyone else trying to get a photo at a busy tourist attraction it would look like your typical tourist photo, surrounded by commuters and many other tourists all trying to get a photo too but a blogger can convince you it’s a quiet country road where you won’t see another soul for miles.
What it seems is a big ideology of posting on social media is that people really want to go one better than their mates in terms of their social media stats and an even bigger ideology again is that not only do people want to be doing better than their peers but they want to be doing even better than their own previous posts. As though we’re only as good as how well our last selfie fared. A growing want for more likes, more followers, more #goals comments. And it is because of these ideologies that we see selfies become more curated, more ‘perfect’.
We live in a time where teens won’t pose for photos with their families for memorable occasions but will post all day long on Snapchat with a flower crown or dog filter obscuring them. No, teenagers being camera shy is nothing new, however, for a generation that feels so bereft without their phones and the need to be online it doesn’t take a genius to work out that there’s a disconnect.
Many feel they cannot post themselves as they are but need feel they can only post photos in full makeup, edited, photoshopped, to apply filters or transformed by a Snapchat filter. And as well as the plethora of editing apps you can even buy all kinds of gadgets to help you create the ‘perfect’ selfie, such as ring light attachments or light up phone cases. Then there are phrases like ‘Insta worthy’ ‘grid goals’ and even people that are deemed both of these things being told they’re “doing a great job.” And all justified because they’re “doing it for the gram.” A whole market of products that are feeding on people’s insecurities.
The irony is of course that we know the truth behind our friends ‘perfect selfies.’ We know their skin isn’t as clear and smooth as the beauty filter they’ve applied conveys. Or that their hair only looks so full because they’ve put it all to one side. We know their stomach isn’t as flat as photoshop or good angles would have us believe. Or as toned, chiselled or full busted as body contouring help to create.
And I’d hazard a guess that if you were to ever meet certain Instagram ‘influencers’ in real life you may have difficulty recognising them because they look different than their online photos.
As another great article on the topic so fantastically put it:
there are masses upon masses of people who utilize it [socia media] as a means of projecting an idealized version of themselves out into the world – an avatar of the person that they wish they were, rather than who they are in reality.
Now in absolutely no way am I saying that people shouldn’t post selfies, I myself post selfies from time to time. Even a fair few none ‘Insta worthy’ ones. And yes, I’m going to like and comment on a photo of a friend when I have a genuine reaction to them documenting a happy moment. People should absolutely document the times they feel beautiful and confident. The difference is whether the feelings behind the filters and makeup are genuine and whether they’re posting a photo for their selves or posting it to elicit a response from others in the form of likes or comments.
I have to say all this worries me. I’m not a parent but I know many that are who express concern about their children using social media and I would most likely feel exactly the same. There, just seems to be no grounding in reality and excuses like “Instagram isn’t real life” are bandied around too easily. Correction, Instagram is what you, yourself want it to be. Instagram or any other social media site does not override your free will or act of its own accord. But if you dare to disagree then you’re also deemed a jealous hater.
What is so wrong with real life? No, it’s not always perfect or photographic but it’s real. It worries me this yearning for gratification and validation based on appearance which again has no basis in reality. Because none of this fake validation can make you feel as good as learning to love the real you ever will. Not even getting over a thousand likes or being told you’re perfect by complete strangers. We need to build our confidence and self-esteem on solid ground, not hollow unreality. But more on that topic another day.
What are your thoughts on the subject? Let me know in the comments.
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