Being in the self-acceptance and wellness community means that I’m exposed to a lot of anti-social media rhetoric. We’ve all heard the admonishments of social media: it distracts you from the present, it promotes an unattainable ideal, it forces self-worth to rely on external (and, objectively, arbitrary) praise. Over the past few years especially, we’ve watched article after article, viral video after viral video, image after image roll out demonizing the growing presence social media has in our lives- ironically, being shared through the exact mediums of communication they’re rejecting.
We live in a paradoxical age of simultaneously shunning the usage of social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter in their daily lives, while allowing it to become a pervasive part of our culture. Families stay in contact through Facebook status updates, communities with their own unique cultures emerge on Instagram, live news is spread in 140 characters through Twitter. Once an optional part of communication, social media has now become an expectation of being a modern-day citizen. And yet, we see a remarkable amount of negative media surrounding it despite its viral pervasion.
This past year, a story blew up about a girl named Essena O’Neill– a teenage model with a popular and monetized Instagram page. After years of posting photos of herself, often with promotional material such as clothing or food products provided by sponsors, she made global headlines by publicly quitting social media altogether, and vocally shunning it in the process. She diagnosed herself with a “social media addiction” and an unhealthy relationship with her body, food, and exercise as a result. In a video, she tearfully shared her thoughts on the “over-sexualization, perfect food photos, (and) perfect travel vlogs” that social media promotes.
After quitting Instagram, however, started a website titled Let’s Be Game Changers that aims to share the negative effects of social media. To admonish social media, she turned to another venue of social media.
Here is where I feel a point must be made: any tool can be misused if the intention is misguided.
I absolutely believe that social media can lead to a preoccupation with portraying a “perfect” life- sharing only the prettiest pictures of the most perfect moments, distracting yourself from the present moment to snap a pic to share, flat-out lying about what a picture represents. It’s easy to create an image on social media, easy to shape yourself into something you’re not. It’s easy to share the highlights. It’s easy to lie.
However- authenticity can enhance nearly anything, and social media is no exception. While we only seem to hear about the negative affects of online usage- cyberbullying, hyper sexualization, perfectionism- we almost never hear about the positive ways social media can be utilized. Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr communities have emerged in hoards in recent times, all promoting body-positivity, self-acceptance, and tolerance of others. A decade ago, we didn’t have much say in the media we were exposed to. No, we had not yet taken an active role in creating and seeking out content specific to our needs and intentions- we were at the mercy of the advertisements and promotions that would make the most money, regardless of what they promoted in our lives. Community was never an intent- it was a one-way avenue to profit.
Today, there is an emphasis on seeking the media you want to consume. For every “pro-anorexia” blog or contrived, picture perfect Instagram account, there is now a counter message being preached. There’s social media communities that flood your daily media consumption with messages of positivity and inspiration, that preach self-love and activism, that inform and spread awareness of the fact that, yes, it’s easy to be caught up in the pressures of presenting a “perfect life” to your followers or friends, but it’s also possible to simply share authentically and seek to inspire others to do the same.
This blog and my various social media accounts are, I choose to believe, just another way to speak with authenticity. It’s no substitute for live communication and connection, but I can’t teach a class to someone in Idaho when I’m in California. And if I can have my message heard by just one person who wouldn’t otherwise find me in person, then it’s worth it.
Can social media inspire an obsession with self? Absolutely. Have I found myself picking and choosing what I share on social media, trying to get the “perfect” picture, trying to paint myself in a certain light? Of course. It comes with the territory of running a blog. But I’m lucky that I’m able to see and recognize this when it happens, and actively work against allowing it to pervade my life. And this isn’t a trait unique to myself- it’s something we can all do.
I received a message on my Instagram account once that said, “Your life looks so fun and amazing!”
I couldn’t help but see this as an example of the ways social media can be abused. Yeah, if you scroll through my Instagram you might come away with the impression that all I ever do is take cool pictures in my bra in the streets of San Francisco, eat pretty food, and going for hippie-nature-walks. But those are snaps of single moments in my life: I spend an equal, if not greater, amount of time going to a normal high school or eating plain tuna out of a can in my car on the way to a class that, guess what, I’m not always super jazzed to be teaching at the end of along day, despite how excited and happy I may seem. It is never my intention to create a false impression of my life on my social media, but I’m going to be inclined to share the fun stuff far more than the plain-tuna stuff, and that can be misleading for some.
I think social media provides a beautiful opportunity for connection. The fact that my words can be read across the world in an instant, that the lessons I have learned throughout my life can be passed on and save someone an ounce of heartache, that someone, somewhere, can feel they have hope, is simply incredible. This scale of connection just didn’t exist thirty, twenty, ten years ago.
In a world that is becoming ever-increasingly vast, we are finding a way to get closer to the ultimate goal of a peaceful humanity: one shared community.
Instead of using our social media as a canvas to paint a picture of who we think we are supposed to be, we should be using it as a mirror- a reflection of our lives as we are in this moment. We can choose to create an image of perfection that simply doesn’t exist, or we can share authentically, speak our truth, and invite others to do the same.
Instead of demonizing social media, let’s begin harnessing it for what it can be: a tool of connection. When we are able to understand others, the walls of hatred can begin to fall. When we are able to step into someone else’s shoes and hear their story in their own words and see it through their own eyes, we will be able to go beyond just tolerance and step into something far more powerful: love.
Lead every aspect of your life with an intention of authenticity. Fill your feeds with positive media. What you consume is what you become. What you create is what you inspire. Take an active role in what you fill your mind with, and you will not fall prey to the dangers of social media.