I remember when I first created my Instagram account. I was only 12 years old, and I'd just gotten my first iPhone. Many of my friends were already on the platform and it was the coolest thing to have at the time. Back then, social media just seemed fun and harmless. Little did I know that over the next few years, it would become the complete opposite.

Instagram and other social media sites unintentionally foster an environment of simultaneous narcissism, self-consciousness, and competition. I think that's something we all know by now. But at the young age of 12, arguably my most vulnerable age, these were new concepts to me. Instagram was the first social media site I ever had, and I wasn't used to that culture.

For the first few months of having an Instagram account, I posted hundreds of pictures that you'd expect to find on a 12-year-old's Instagram account in 2013: bad memes, cute animals, cringe-worthy selfies, etc. But as more of my classmates and acquaintances joined the app, expectations began to shift, and we all felt it. Suddenly, the internet was no longer a place to laugh and be happy- it was a place to curate your own image and control how others saw you.

That pressure got to me soon enough. I had a sleepover with my friend and we spent the entire night going through my Instagram account and deleting all of my posts. I imagined people from my school looking at my photos and laughing at how immature and weird I was. I just wanted to start over and make sure I could control what they thought of me.

I think it's natural to worry about what other people think sometimes, but social media took it to a whole new level for me. In my very early teenage years, I'd begun to worry about every little thing I posted and wrote on the internet out of fear that someone would think I was stupid or uncool. That's a lot of unnecessary pressure to live with, and I knew in my heart that my fears were irrational, but I just couldn't shake them.

When I entered high school, I finally began to grow sick and tired of caring so much about my image. I hated having to send a photo to multiple group chats of friends for "approval" before posting it. I hated spending hours editing each photo to make it fit my Instagram "theme". I hated feeling like I had to delete posts if they didn't get enough likes. From all this frustration and exhaustion, something slowly began to shift in my brain. Eventually, I no longer cared if people thought I was weird or different. In fact, I wanted them to think I was different. For the first time, I decided to use social media to show people who I really was, not who I had tried so hard to appear to be.

To accomplish this goal, I had to stop obsessing over every little detail of every photo I posted. No more tireless google searches for the perfect caption. No more making sure I didn't wear the same outfit twice. No more worrying about the number of likes or finding the perfect filter. To put it simply, no more giving a sh*t. After a while, I had a moment of realization. It occurred to me that all of the little rules and expectations I'd had for my social media presence were completely arbitrary, self-built limitations. The only thing that was ever standing in the way of my freedom was myself. Once I realized this, my view of social media completely changed.

Now, I pay no attention to the number of likes any of my posts receive. I post whatever I want whenever I want, and I don't worry about what other people are going to think about any of it. Now, social media is actually fun to me. It's a creative outlet, a place where I can be my weird, unadulterated self. And I think that's more beautiful than any filter.