the internet self and the comparison game

there was a time when i would ruthlessly compare myself to any girl i could lay my eyes upon. and more degrading was the fact that it had become a habit running on autopilot.

i compared myself to my best friend who was so much more popular and fun-to-be-around than me. i compared myself to the girl who freely engaged in her creative process and secretly wished i would allow myself to do that, too (she was a writer whose story i loved in Chicken Soup for the Soul. i both liked and was jealous of the mess she was. even her mess seemed prettier than my own). i compared myself to the girl who had long, paper-straight, shiny hair because i had wavy hair that styled itself differently every day without me having a say in it.

come up with any parameter. i would’ve already detected it and would be busy evaluating how far below or above i stood on the pedestal with respect to the girl in front of me.

now with our lives fitted into the square space of  a photo on a screen + the collection of a few words in a caption, it’s hard not to question where we are at in our lives. “woah. they jut went on this trip that looks to be so much fun. where have i been in the past few months?! nowhere except to that boring relative’s place.”

“another photoshoot and she looks so beautiful in this one. and here i am masquerading as an African hippopotamus in blue jeans.”

“when will i ever be able to look as good as that and have as many followers as her? when will i ever be complimented by random internet strangers about how beautiful i am?”

there is no end to how low we can put ourselves and our lives when we compare it to someone’s social media feed.

the underlying (false) belief is: we are only as good as our social media acceptance and as unworthy as the person in our feed is perfect.

i have done this myself countless times. i simultaneously love the pages i follow and cringe away from them, too. they are a good reminder of the elements i want in my own life. but, at times, they also end up being an all-too-good reminder of what my life is not. and my life definitely doesn’t seem as great or exciting or love-filled as theirs.

it’s why i prefer to delete instagram from my phone at times. once you start following someone’s life and walking with them as they grow their feed, you can’t help but compare where they are going with where you are currently at. even if both of you are complete strangers from different countries with no intersecting values or aspirations.

the reality, though, is this:

a) a social media feed is not someone’s whole life.

just in case we forget this sometimes, the photos someone posts on social media do not tell a 100% true story of their life.

you can fake a smile for a photograph or steal a really good set of words to masquerade as a caption, but at the end of the day, no combination of both of them is ever going to be complete enough to tell the whole story of any human’s heart. it’s simply what they choose to show to the world. and guess what most of us would show to the world? our happy, perfect, wise selves.

we don’t know what struggles they face, what questions unsettle their hearts, what loves they still ache over, or what they secretly pray for at night. do not make the mistake of assuming that their Internet self is all there is and that who they are is summed up in 337 posts since April 19, 2015.

b) social media is just a way for us to feel like we are seen, heard, and liked.

that’s all social media is (for most of us): a machine generating instant gratification.

a comment can only make you happy for so many days.

2,567 likes aren’t going to matter if, at the end of the day, you have no one to truly call your own.

and true self-esteem and self-confidence aren’t built on the foundation of likes or the no. of ‘you are beautiful’ that you receive on a post. they are shallow and their glitter fades away all too soon.

the real question is: do you think of yourself as beautiful? do you actually ‘like’ yourself? and not just the instagram version of yourself you curate for others to see. or the one you build with captions and quotes. but the actual real you that is both kind and insensitive at times. the one who isn’t so figured out. the one who isn’t really eloquent or all that brave all of the time.the one who probably hides behind a screen.

can you like yourself and call yourself beautiful when the world isn’t around to comment so or give you a thumbs up?

also, a couple of disclaimers:

a) i am in no way against social media or the usage of it. i myself have met and bumped up against amazing people and conversations that wouldn’t have happened if there had been no social media. but, i really do think we need to introspect and see the effect it is having on us.

are we spending too much time scrolling through another’s life to have no time to build and think about our own?

are we investing more in what we look like on the Internet (becoming that perfect girl/ boy with the ultra-interesting feed) or in building character and substance offline?

have our relationships simply become food for our captions or are they actual connections that support us and make us happy?

b) social media can be a creative outlet, too

there are amazing communities and artists and interesting humans to be found on these platforms. and for some people, they can really throw open new doors. but again we need to ask ourselves:

are we merely watching from afar and consuming what others create or are we ourselves getting our hands and hearts dirty while creating? there is only so much inspiration we can inhale from a feed. when are we going to do the work is both inspiring and ends up inspiring someone else?

also, you might be interested in reading what Hozier (definitely my man) has to say about it (all of his interviews are worth reading, btw):

“We are in a self-obsessed moment of mankind. Everything is marketed towards the idea of the self, but not the real self, rather what you want people to think you are. Social media is an advertisement for the superficial extroverted self. I’m uncomfortable with selfies and status updates documenting mundane pieces of my life which I don’t think should be of interest to anyone else. The idea that people would spend some of their own human experience discussing the most trivial everyday experiences of somebody else’s life, I find that strange, and very sad in many ways.”

and while we don’t have to share Hozier’s strong emotions about how sad it is to discuss someone else’s social media life, we can remember 2 things:

a) the internet self is not all there is. in fact, it isn’t even the tip of the iceberg of who you are. it’s going to get lost when the internet crashes somewhere betwixt 2050 and 2070 (i firmly believe we will face a technological apocalypse one day. when aliens arrive, perhaps)

b) there is no point in allowing yourself to compare. are you really going to compare someone’s 1/32nd part of truth to your complete one? someone’s highlight reel to your behind-the-scenes? they are bound to be different of course. a much better use of our time would be investing in our own unique talents and finding new ways to challenge ourselves. building connections offline and engaging our imagination instead of letting it die a slow death at the hands of our social media addiction.

you can then post about your imperfect, still-coming-together life later. but only if you want to.

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