The other day I bumped into an old friend who I hadn’t seen since school. Seeing me, she looked surprised and said ‘you’re here. I thought you were off exploring everywhere’. The only thing that would have given her this impression were my social media accounts. I rarely post on Facebook; I change my profile picture from time to time, but this is only when I have dressed up and gone to a party. When I upload photos on Instagram, they are always of the better parts of my life: holidays, parties, beautiful walks in the countryside. It really got me thinking about my social media portrayal and how it doesn’t necessarily compute with my current everyday life. Realistically, I am a recent graduate who is missing uni and struggling to find work in my chosen field. I spend most days looking on Indeed, Total Jobs, and LinkedIn applying for jobs and seeking work experience. But to others, I am having a ball.
If this is what my social media portrayal is, then what about the other people that I follow? Surely it’s the same for them? I, like so many of us, spend a lot of time scrolling on my phone looking at people who are in beautiful places and thinking how much I would love to go there too. I envy the amazingly toned bodies of the fitness people I follow and the delicious meals they create. I wonder how they have the time and money to do multiple yoga and body barre ballet classes a week. I see my friends who have managed to find their dream graduate job and who are having the time of their lives in London. It’s difficult for me to remember that what I see is only a snippet of their lives and that the photos that go up aren’t necessarily a reflection of their entire experience.
Recently, due to my friend’s comment and the new channel 4 TV programme The Circle, I have been made more aware of the power of social media. If you saw the TV show you would know that there were various people pretending to be someone they aren’t in order to gain popularity on social media. It really got me thinking about how most of the time, we are so quick to trust everything we see. Even if what is posted is true, and actually happened, it is so easy to create a story around the pictures. We may feel that their whole life is amazing, but, again, people only tend to show the exceptionally great parts. Many people post photos from when they went travelling a year ago or of the meal they had last week in a restaurant. This all leads to the false assumption that they are always out socialising and having fun right now, whilst we may be sat at home in our pyjamas on a Friday night. It makes us want more out of life, like more holidays, more new clothes, more make-up etc. This can mean we lose sight of what is right in front of us and cause us not to appreciate what we have in our lives in the present moment.
Yesterday, as many of you will know, was World Mental Health Day. This also got me thinking about how social media may make it even more difficult to spot someone who is struggling. As I have mentioned before, Facebook and Instagram allow people to only share fragments of their lives, which then encourages them to be perceived in a certain way. This can make it even more difficult to spot when someone needs help because they can hide behind their social media personality and pretend they are okay.
With regards to health and fitness, it can also be quite disheartening. Getting a toned body takes a while, I know. However, the skill that many fitness fanatics have when photographing their progress makes it look nigh impossible. They breathe in to make their waists look tiny and tense to make their abs look more pronounced. They may even edit their photos on an app, or take a photo when they first wake up only to post it at the end of the day when the people who are looking have just eaten a heavy meal. Sometimes, fitness gurus post what they look like when they aren’t posing a certain way. However, most don’t and it’s easy to get caught up in thinking they look exceptionally bloat-free all of the time.
So far I have only addressed a few negative aspects of social media. However, there is a lot to be said for its benefits too. Without it, myself and thousands of others wouldn’t be able to share our experiences and our blogs with you. Similarly, it would be a lot more difficult to keep in contact with the lovely friends I met at uni. I also speak from experience when I say that platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter can be really helpful when trying to keep track of new vacancies or work experience opportunities in your chosen field. And as well as making us desire things we don’t necessarily need, it can allow us to keep on top of new fashion styles and promote beautiful places worth seeing in different countries across the world. For small businesses, it can be a great way to advertise and reach out to a larger audience too.
So it’s not all doom and gloom! But it is important to be aware of the power of social media. I encourage you to try to see your profiles from a different perspective. Are you being perceived the way you would like to be? Similarly, if you find yourself comparing your life to someone else’s through what you know about them on social media, just remember that you don’t know half of what happens behind the scenes. I know they say a picture paints a thousand words, but how much of the story we create about other people’s lives is actually true?