Home from college, I walked into my shared room to see my sister and her friends seated among a strewn lot of clothing on our shag-carpet-covered floor. They seemed to be in an incredibly heated argument about what to wear for their impending “photoshoot” and needed outfit advice.
“Ugh,” my sister let out with a sigh of familiar frustration. “None of these outfits will photograph well. I need a good picture for my Instagram.”
The obstacle my sister and her friends faced is not unfamiliar territory for millennials and younger generations, that have been exposed to social media in various forms since middle school or even earlier. The desire to appear a certain way on the social media platform of their choosing has evolved from a way to share one’s interests and whereabouts with others to a societal norm. An event can no longer occur without the importance of getting a “post-worthy” picture or sharing a video of whatever we are attending to prove we have been there or done that. What becomes of the self and self-worth in this age of sharing one fine-tuned, filtered perspective of our lives with others?
Coming to college last fall, this pressure loomed over me. There was this inherent need to share with everyone back home what I was up to, and to indicate how much fun I was having in this new chapter of my life. Despite the pressures I was facing — struggling to figure out where I fit in at a school 30 times the size of my high school over halfway across the country, or to determine who my friends were — I could hide behind a manufactured Instagram post or Snapchat story. Social media allows for us to display this altered reality to fit a mold society has shaped for us. My persona online did not demonstrate the difficulties I faced in the classroom, the tears I shed over stressful nights or friendship issues. No, my social media upheld an expected façade of someone constantly happy, surrounded by friends, adventuring, and living only the best life a college student at a such a renowned university could.
This is not just a surface-level, adolescent issue, but rather a deeply rooted problem with larger societal implications. Individuals of all ages, gender identities, nationalities, ethnicities and economic statuses are faced with this dual identity crisis. With the maturation of social media has come the implication we must dedicate time and energy to keep an image of ourselves that may be entirely inauthentic. So many of us are guilty of buying into this idea. We sacrifice our opinions, feelings and beliefs to show we are doing “the next coolest thing.” We smile regardless of the may be happening in the background. In maintaining this image, we lose a sense of who we are off-screen. We become caricatures of ourselves in the pictures we share with others. Ultimately, we sometimes forget to show we are not that person, even though it may seem that way to our hundreds of followers.
Yes, there is no issue in taking a picture for the memory, and there are some who use their media platforms for voicing their opinions or advocating for causes, but they are not the majority. Most of us — many of us subconsciously — find the need to demonstrate we are living an enviable version of our lives.
Would you ever post a picture of yourself without makeup or an aesthetically pleasing outfit? Or post a Snapchat story about how you actually are not happy or having a good time? At the risk of sounding bold or oversimplifying the issue, what would happen if we were to try and step away? Perhaps we would have a grand realization that the amount of energy and time allotted to social media is absurd, and that in this time wasted, we have missed out on the opportunities life has presented us. But realistically, we won’t do this.
I am not suggesting there is a blanket solution for this, or even that it is a problem for everyone. Rather, I am stating my personal goal to ease away from this version of myself and the tendency to give into the pressure to maintain an inauthentic persona for all of my “closest” friends on my Instagram or Facebook. Yes, there may be the chance I disappoint my lab partner from the seventh grade with my social media hiatus or realism, but I think at the root of it all, I will be able to get in touch with a truer version of myself. With that, I am pledging to spend more time in conversation, and not on my phone. More time dancing to the music, instead of filming from the corner of the party to post another one of those Snapchat stories. I pledge to live in the moment and continue to work on myself in the present, instead of worrying about how my life will appear in perfectly edited squares.
Samantha Szhuaj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.