You Don't Need To Be "Insta Famous": How to Bow Out of the Comparison Game
I had just finished scrolling through my social media in between classes a few weeks ago when I came across an article that made me stop in my tracks—it was about a young woman who Instagram-ed herself into financial ruin, sinking $10,000 into debt for the sake of gaining followers. It spoke to the issue I've been grappling with for the better part of a year now: Why do millennials feel the need to be social media stars and how can you avoid this comparison trap?
To be completely honest, I hate Instagram, but I understand it's a necessary evil for business purposes; it's one of, if not the most, popular social media platforms in the world with a reported 800 million monthly users as of September 2017. The app is dominating its technological field with marketing tactics and complex algorithms that often go a step further than any other platform. Every time I open it, its developers have seemingly added a new feature that makes it appear to be a melting pot of all other photo or video apps (e.g. their Snapchat-esque "story" feature).
Where its original intent was to be a photo sharing platform for "instant" moments, it has now morphed into a world of filter-perfect personal branding, unachievable illusions of wealth, fame, and beauty that no longer capture raw "instant" moments but calculated half-truths of individuals fallen prey to the trend.
Such individuals' profiles instigate, knowingly or unbeknownst to themselves, dire issues of narcissistic personality disorder, body dysmorphia, and depression, to name a few. And because of the accessibility of the app, children and teenagers worldwide are increasingly exposing themselves to these perceptions of false reality and accepting it as the norm. Contemplating the psychological damage that must have on them, as well as adult users, makes me long for my parents' pre-Internet era where the only opportunity you had to judge another's appearance was if you were standing right in front of them.
These issues have spiraled so out of hand over the past few years that counterculture movements have arisen on the app to combat them: some users make a name for themselves by sharing their stories of struggle, of the desire for Insta fame and the pain it caused them, and supportive user communities have been built around them as a result. In other words, there's a light and dark side to everyone's favorite app, but the question that persisted for me was how to maintain your integrity while using it. When I took a four-month break from the app last fall, I tried to find the answer. What I found instead were a few realizations that collectively helped me bow out of the game of comparison, at least more often than not:
If the app doesn't bring you joy, don't use it. There are other platforms out there that might better suit your interests. Go without it a few weeks and take notice of the difference in your mood.
If someone's posts don't bring you joy, don't follow them. It doesn't have to be dramatic or a sign of ill-will toward that person, as some people often make it out to be. Just think about if you saw that person at a restaurant. Would you want to run up and hug them and say hello and chat, genuinely, about the ongoings or their life? Or would you cower behind a potted plant and shirk away unseen? Our culture often pressurizes individuals to be politically correct with everyone and everything at all times, but it's more important to protect your happiness and self worth.
Don't post false representations of your current mindset, or appearance. If you're unhappy, share why in whatever way makes you feel comfortable, but don't force content to make it appear that you're living your best life and are super joyful about it. Weaving those visual webs of false happiness can be so detrimental to your emotional state. Take a day off from scrolling your feed and put yourself first. That goes for photoshopping, too. If you're unhappy with the way you look, don't try to cultivate a perfect fabricated version of you to manufacture higher self esteem. In the end, all you're doing is worsening your opinion of your true appearance by setting an impossible standard of beauty. It won't be easy by any means, but taking those difficult steps to embrace your imperfections privately until you feel confident enough to post a photo without photoshop or excessive filters will do more for you than any number of likes on a photo could.
Whatever you share, be sure it aligns with who you are and what you believe in. This was the most important truth for me to wrestle myself to when I rejoined social media last semester. I realized that if I couldn't be vulnerable on a surface level with my social media followers, then how was I to learn to be vulnerable on deeper levels at times when it really mattered to be so? I now think of my Instagram as a continual testing of my capacity for truth and vulnerability with others, not so much that I betray my own privacy but enough to build up courage within myself to lead a life I'm proud of, one that aligns with my integrity and the person I am and hope to become.
Look beyond the photo. Lastly, make the effort to look beyond the photo and caption of someone you would typically compare yourself to. Even if they aren't willing to highlight their struggles or be vulnerable in the public eye, instead of judging them or assuming their lives are sheer perfection, take a moment to humanize them and envision the intricacies of their inner story. Their false reality has a very real undercurrent of truth that you may never be witness to, but it doesn't mean it isn't there. It doesn't mean they don't face the same vulnerabilities you do.
In the end, I hope every person striving for perfection comes to the realization that being social media famous does not secure happiness, success, fame, or self-love, and no amount of followers will ever compare to true friendships. Take it from the woman who found herself $10,000 in debt. I doubt she'd say it was worth the followers she garnered. Even if it was, those individuals aren't likely friends by any means—even the name "followers" suggests people who are watching what you do, where you go, and how you live your life so they can compare it to their own, plainly out of a need for security within themselves. It's a desire we all seek.
The more we open ourselves up to empathy and widen our perceptions of what's real, the easier it is to stop comparing our raw moments to someone's highlight reel.