It is late. I am lying in bed; the only light is the dim glow of my phone screen, brightness turned down so as not to abuse my tired eyes. I scroll through Instagram, my finger pressed idly up against the glass, photo after photo of tall, lean girls with their lithe forms smiling at a camera, intricately arranged plates of fruit, crowded city streets and picture-perfect sunsets. I tap the screen; a heart appears, creating an instant gratification for the poster. I do not think twice about this. I continue to scroll, wondering what filter they used on that picture, wondering how many shots were taken to get that perfect one, wondering why I don’t look like her, wondering why I don’t have that many followers, wondering why my photo didn’t receive that many likes. I roll over, placing my phone on the nightstand. In the morning, I wake up to the alarm buzzing from the glass and metal rectangle. I open Twitter. And I scroll.
I never understood my addiction to social media until I stopped to consider that I might actually have one. In comparison to most people my age, I don’t use it very much. For the most part, I leave my phone at home when I go out, and have never had trouble feeling like I needed it. Primarily, I use my phone for music and to text friends, both things which could be done on a laptop. So I always felt like I didn’t have this deep attachment to social media that so many reporters speak of and so many parents critique their kids for.
Needless to say, I do. And I’m willing to bet that you do, too.
When you first wake up in the morning, do you immediately reach for your phone? Do you open your text messages or view your Snapchats? I do. I scroll past images of peoples’ brunches, snapshots of tan girls standing in bikinis on sunny beaches, selfies of impeccable eyeliner and perfectly contoured cheekbones. While all of it is no doubt appealing, it is also fake.
In analyzing social media, I had to ask myself what purpose did my content serve. What message was I promoting? Photos of me that demonstrated nothing other than the fact that I knew how to put on makeup and look socially appealing said nothing about who I really was. Photos of me buying things, promoting my recent purchases, demonstrating the event I went to, said nothing about who I really was. I had grown tired of posting photos like cries for help, screaming, “I am here! I am social! I am popular! Someone recognize my existence! Someone tell me I matter!”
So, I quit. I went through the accounts I used to love so dearly and stared at every photo. I asked myself, what does this promote? And if the answer was me, my beauty, or my appearance, I deleted the photo. I am more than a nice filter or a teeth whitening app. I want my content to share interesting information, promote things that matter to me. Scroll through your pictures and ask yourself, "What do they promote?" Do they show you at a party with full makeup on, smiling weakly at the camera? Is it you, standing on the beach in a bikini, poised and posed and filtered? These are visually appealing, yes, but they are not real.
What matters to you? What drives your soul? Ask yourself this now, and then ask yourself what your online identity promotes. Is it true to who you are? Is it an accurate representation of the things you care about, the people you love, the person who lives within you?
Mine wasn’t. I remember scrolling through my photos before I went to bed at night as if I was staring at the pictures of a stranger. The girl in those photos seemed to have a fantastic life, great friends and a pretty face, but she wasn’t me. I looked at the photo, looked up at the mirror, the real me reflecting off its surface. There was such a breach between the two halves of me, and in the gaping crack between the girl I wanted to be and the girl I led everyone to believe I was, I was beginning to lose my true self. I went back through my photos. If the photo wasn’t an accurate representation of the real me, I deleted it, for good. I have never felt so free.
These days, I use my Instagram to promote #NOTYOURGIRL, the non-profit campaign I launched this past year to teach self-acceptance, and discuss the other major part of my life: the literary world. These are the things that matter to me, and for the first time in a long time I feel a connection to the girl in the photographs. They do not haunt me anymore. Instead, I post quotes, links to my website, occasionally pictures of me with friends. But I no longer feel like I have to try to be someone whom others would envy, whom others would like, whom others would respect. I don’t need to feel that anymore, because I respect myself and I love myself and, for now, that is enough. I tightened my flesh over the girl I was and became the girl I was born to be — powerful and all-encompassing, like a hurricane. I want to be beautiful not because I am visually appealing, but because I am alive. And in fifty years, when my youth has faded, I want to know that I have something left.
Those who respond with contradiction to your honesty do so from a place of fear and hatred. They do it from a place deep within themselves that, no matter how they may deny it, aches to possess the courage and strength that you do. Do not let those who disdain your confidence tear you apart; you are more than their insecurities. Be honest about who you are and the rest will follow. All it takes is one person to spark a change. If girls felt more comfortable about posting unedited photos, then they would do it. After all, why do we edit our pictures? For the sake of others, so that they will look upon a screen and believe we are perfect. In Emerita Maia Mayor’s spoken word poem “Perfect” she discusses the desire to be “perfect”, a concept we have made up. She lists endless insecurities and stereotypes, demonstrating the expectations her mother has for her and her inability to match up. Social media allows us to create a perfect moment and receive instant validation for it, and we confuse ourselves into believing our entire lives are made up of these perfect moments.
But we are not perfect. We are human, and while there is a big difference, there is not one that is good and one that is bad. This is the mistake we make, confusing the two. We teach that perfect is good and human is bad, that emotion is bad, that weakness and vulnerability is bad. They are not bad. They are beautiful. It is our fallibilities which make us exceptional, not our attempts at perfection. If we could use social media to teach this, we could spark a cultural revolution. We want to be relevant, and we feel that beauty and perfection give us this. We feel that people will love us if we can prove our external worth.
No. This is not, and never should be the case. Relevancy comes from within, from the things we care about, the things we love, the things that drive our souls and make us human. They are all there, lying in wait inside of our souls.
We just have to learn to set them free.