I’ll admit I’m as guilty of this as anybody – when I have a free moment, I like to scroll through my Instagram feed and look at beautifully staged pictures: people enjoying their coffee with their magazine perfectly placed and some fresh berries on the side... outfit shots featuring fashion bloggers in beautiful locations wearing outfits that they may have only put on for the photo op... a perfectly manicured hand showing off dainty bracelets with the obligatory Starbucks cup in hand.
And as a beauty and fashion blogger – I also enjoy creating and posting pretty images on my feed. I love arranging “flat lays” where I photograph makeup products strategically arranged between flowers and jewelry. It satisfies my creative and artistic side – and helps feature products that I’m reviewing from their best aesthetical angle.
But there is an ugly side to all this virtual "prettiness." As a viewer, you may wonder why your life is not as amazing as your Instagram friends. As a creator, you may be responsible for making people think YOUR life is picture perfect while THEIRS is not.
And when you're a teenager, the dangers are even greater. In a time period when self-esteem is still developing, it is easy to be tricked into thinking self-worth is based on how many likes you get on your pictures. Last year, college student Madison Holleran committed suicide at age 19. She was struggling to adapt to her new academic environment and suffered from depression. This was further exacerbated by her social media feed. As she looked though pictures of other college students, she would tell her friends "This is what college is supposed to be like; this is what we want our life to be like." Sadly, she felt her own college experience didn't match up.
The reporter on her piece states a powerful truth: "With Instagram, one thing has changed: the amount we consume of one another's edited lives. Young women growing up on Instagram are spending a significant chunk of each day absorbing others' filtered images while they walk through their own realities, unfiltered."
Sometimes the wall comes down and we can see the hidden side of social media. "Instagram model" Essena O'Neill has gone viral this week. Despite building up a following of over 700K people across her social media accounts, O'Neill grew tired of the deception behind social media and decided to share what it was really like. She changed the name of her Instagram account to "Social Media is Not Real Life" and updated her captions to reflect what was really going on behind the scenes of each "candid shot." Here are some of the truths she shared (pics no longer available as she has deleted her account):
"Was paid $400 to post a dress. That's when I had maybe 150k followers, with half a million followers, I know of many online brands (with big budgets) that pay up to $2000 per post. Nothing is wrong with accepting brand deals. I just think it should be known. This photo had no substance, it was not of ethical manufacturing (I was uneducated at the time). SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL is my point. Be aware what people promote, ask yourself, what's their intention behind the photo?"
"Not real life — took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this. Yep so totally #goals"
As parents, it's important for us to help our children understand that social media portrayals are only a small part of a much bigger story. That picture showing the perfectly dressed mother, flanked by her adoring husband and designer-dressed baby? Teens may comment "#goals," but they don't comprehend all the realities of parenthood - including exhaustion and sleep-deprivation. The beautiful travel blogger being flown to exotic destinations? She's bought "prop" food and flowers, found a willing photographer and used multiple editing apps to make every picture look magazine-worthy. It might be nice to own a closet full of designer bags, but not if you have to trade in your self-respect to obtain it. Participating in social media is fun, but it has to be taken with a heaping dose of reality. We need to understand that we're only seeing the highlight reel of someone else's life - and if it's making us feel bad about ourselves, it's okay to unfollow and reach out to trusted friends and family for support.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to view or create pretty images on social media - it's natural for us to want to see things in their best possible light. But we are all responsible for letting people know that there is MUCH more to the picture.