Being one of many female Instagram addicts, it didn’t take long before I felt the pressure to get likes. Although social media has opened up a wonderful world of opportunity for us, it also creates problems when used to determine our self-worth. I discovered Instagram for the first time in 2013, right after I graduated high school. I remember being so excited and intrigued by the app right away. I loved the ease of posting a photo and how quickly you could be discovered by new people. And I loved how everyone used it to post their most beautiful pictures. It seemed like something special. So I dove in head first and became another girl that documents every moment of their life online as if to prove they existed. What should have been a tool to express myself to friends and family or network with new people, was instead something that I had used to measure my self-worth for years. I posted every day, sometimes multiple times in a day, and then judged myself based on how many people “liked” it. Being young, vulnerable, and self-conscious I looked for attention from people on the internet instead of focusing on my real relationships.
Fast forward to today, I’m not only a known “Instagram Addict” by friends and family, but I also took to become the “Instagram Model” type. Then, with my interest in social media and writing, I even decided to major in Strategic Communication which focuses mostly on digital media. I’ve spent years studying media in school, and would then come home to participate in it online. I became an ambassador for six different brands and spent every weekend collaborating with photographers with a shared goal of creating content for Instagram. Simply put, it ended up becoming my entire life. It determined my major, my hobbies, and my relationships over the past five years. Initially, all of the added involvement in Instagram or other social media platforms made the pressure for likes and acceptance even more important. I spent way too much time and energy focusing on how many people liked my pictures to determine if I was worthy. But now, after having a long relationship with the platform and going through the many ups and downs, I’ve finally realized how it has impacted me. And being a young girl in this new digital age, I had to reach a point where I was comfortable enough with myself and not search for affirmation and acceptance online.
I wish I could say that I was the only person that went through this pressure for likes on the internet. Young people naturally feel pressure to fit in and be well-liked by their peers and classmates, but social media intensifies that. It puts a button at the bottom of a photo and shows you exactly how many people are interested in you and what you’re doing. The less likes someone gets, the worse they feel about themselves. The more likes a person gets, the better and more confident they about themselves… at least for a little while. But it doesn’t take long before those 20, or 30, or 50, or 100 likes doesn’t do it anymore.
However, I realized that it wasn’t Instagram that was the problem. Trust me, I would never blame my beloved Instagram for causing my insecurities. Rather, it was my understanding of it. I, like many others, am still new to the internet. As a society, we don’t fully understand the impact that social media has on us yet. But that’s not the technology’s fault, it’s our own. We have to be careful about how we engage on the internet by making sure that we use it as a tool to help us, not to monitor the number of likes or our popularity online.
So how do we get control of social media impacts on mental health and self-worth?
First, have a social media detox. Determine the social media platforms that have a negative effect on your mental health and limit your time or temporarily delete it. Spend that time without social media to focus on yourself and be free from the pressures of social media. I recently watched a YouTube video of a young woman that talked about the pressures she felt from Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube. She said that she likes to delete the apps on her phone for two days every week and take a break. It’s a good way to make sure that you’re not completely immersed in the online world and working on yourself as a person, not just on an online persona and the likes or followers count.
Become conscious of how you engage with social media. Do you spend your time sitting on your phone waiting to see how many people liked your photo or how many comments you got? Do you creep on people you’re jealous of and find yourself comparing you to them? Do you monitor your followers and friends? Social media was not created for this purpose. It was created as a way to share content with people online and connect with people in a new and exciting way, not to make us feel bad about ourselves.
Use social media to help you grow as a person. Use it as a way to find new people that inspire you and make you happy. Use it to meet new people and collaborate with them. Use it to find new locations, events, or actives that you’re interested in. Just use social media to benefit you.
Create content that makes you happy, not to impress other people. It’s a spot to express yourself. Let’s use my blog as an example. I’m well aware that probably nobody will read this aside from my grandma, boyfriend, mom, and possibly my aunt (she’s a blogger too, hi Jill). I’ve never created something like this before and I don’t expect a lot of people to notice it or read the content. But I’m completely ok with that. I’m doing this so that I can write about the topics that I care about and create something that I’m proud of.
Focus on accepting yourself by engaging in healthy behaviors. Instead of spending your downtime sitting on your phone use it to get back in shape, take your dog for a walk, do something artistic, or call a friend or family member. Those are the activities that are good for us and can benefit our physical and mental health so much more than scrolling through a newsfeed.
Photographer: Kenny Knight