Our generation will go down in history as the ones who launched, and first began to capitalise on, social media, and those following us will be the first to grow up from birth with social media being hugely prevalent in their lives. Sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, have changed the way the world works, connecting people at the click of a button. Statistics have ranked the amount of monthly active Instagram users at 500 million, Twitter at 320 million, Facebook at 1.5 billion, and YouTube too as having over 1 billion. It is safe to say that with the development of social media websites and apps, we have also seen the development of an entirely new, and hugely profitable industry, with the most well known YouTube and Instagram users earning literally in the millions due to their popularity, be that through revenue from advertisements or from sponsorship deals. People who were once sat in their bedrooms making videos on their phones are now running, effectively, power-house industries, with branding deals racking in impressive amounts of money.
As the industry has become more influential and more profitable, a more sinister side has unsurprisingly developed along with it. According to the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine, those who use social media frequently are three times more likely to develop mental health issues. It is more than just social media use that is the issue here, it is the culture that is developing alongside it, of which near enough all of us are probably guilty of being sucked into on one occasion or another. It is intrinsically linked to the ability that we have of presenting a near perfect image of ourselves and of our lives on social media.
Alexis Ren and Jay Alvarrez are great examples of this. Take one look at their Instagram profiles and all you see is beautiful scenery, amazing cars, adoring couple pictures and incredible houses and apartments. From a glance it is easy to see why they have been able to catapult themselves into social media fame, capitalising daily on presenting themselves in a way that is very much fitting with the term ‘goals’ that is banded around social media so often: they are physically attractive, they appear to have a lot of money, and they also appear to be very much in love. Also, unsurprisingly, the comments sections on their photos are filled with proclamations along the lines of ‘I hate my life’, ‘WHY can’t I be them?’, ‘life is SO unfair.’ We are fashioned as human beings to want to succeed in life, to look at another person’s success and want that for ourselves: jealousy is an innate human characteristic to some extent.
There is something incredibly sad and deceptive, however, about this new found culture of ‘Instagram’ celebrities who put out these incredible images of their near perfect seeming lives, with little to no reality thrown in the mix. Reality is, life cannot be perfect, happy and beautiful at all times. Pictures are a snap shot of one tiny moment in time: most photos in themselves are posed, and that in itself is not a bad thing. The danger is that when all we expose ourselves with online is images of beautiful appearances and flamboyant lifestyles, we forget that there are so many other things happening in that person’s life that they are not sharing with the world. Very few of these hugely prominent so called ‘stars’ share any negativity with their followings, which is not surprising given that the reason they have these followings to start with is because of how great and problem free their lives seem.
Endless, continuous comparison and competition between our own lives and those that we see online is clearly having a huge impact on our mental, and in turn, sometimes physical health. One of the leading eating disorder treatment centres in the UK discussed the huge numbers of both fashion and healthy eating bloggers and online stars they had talked to or treated, proving that those behind the success are too being influenced negatively by the immense pressure on image that goes hand in hand with the social world. Young people are growing up completely over exposed to unrealistic body types, unrealistic lifestyles, and unrealistic relationships. A picture can allow you to show off your body and angles in the most flattering way possible, it can allow you to only show the best, most fun parts of your day, and it can allow you to pretend that your relationship is problem free. Nothing we see is as it is, because beauty and success and happiness sell – negativity does not sell quite so well.
The sooner we remember that there is more to people’s stories than what we see in a square image, I genuinely think the happier we will be. There is nothing wrong in itself with following these sorts of social media profiles, because it is nice to see what some would deem as ‘beautiful’ people doing what some see as ‘amazing’ things – it is physically appealing to look at, and potentially gives some people incentive. Neither is there anything intrinsically wrong with posting pictures of ourselves when we look our best, or when our lives are all excitement and joy. I know for one that I use my Instagram as a form of diary in some ways – I love flicking back through and seeing amazing memories or periods of my life.
I just think we all need a bit more perspective and grounding at times, because what is lost in the midst of all of this is the beauty in smaller, more simple things. You do not have to be sat on a beach in the Maldives to see the beauty the world has to offer you, and you do not have to be jumping out of a plane with your significant other to know what true love is and how special it can be. We lose the fragility and specialness in more simple human interactions and day to day experiences when we hold up an entirely unachievable level of success based on how someone whom we have never even met is presenting their own lives.
No-ones life is perfect every second of the day, no matter what it looks like on their social media platforms. Everyone has their own struggles and periods of difficulties in their lives, and to forget that and feel resentment that our own lives do not live up to a reality that is not, in fact, a reality, would be incredibly unfair on ourselves.
Love always, Kirstie x