Endlessly scrolling through Instagram, you can’t help but start to feel a little bit shitty. Why am I not drinking out of a coconut on a beach? Why don’t I have a bum that looks that peachy? Why doesn’t my dinner contain five superfoods I’ve never heard of? But comparing ourselves to others is nothing new. From women in the 1930s who copied Jean Harlow’s bright blonde bob to women in 2017 wearing corsets to resemble a Kardashian, we can all go a little bit mad trying to look like our idols.
As tirelessly as we try we know it’s impossible to look the exact same as our favourite celebrity. But when we look in the mirror and we don’t like what we see, it’s not always because we’re comparing ourselves to someone else. Now, thanks to image based platforms like Instagram and Facebook there’s one person we compare ourselves to that can have a monumental impact – ourselves; or in fact, the image of ourselves that we’ve projected across our social media.
Think about your recent profile pic, your last Instagram post, your Instagram Story – how reflective are they of your life? Okay, maybe you’re Kylie Jenner and your life is just you pursing your lips in a mirror or maybe you’re one of the few unaffected and your profile pic is you looking goofy with a sibling but chances are there’s a lot more to you than what you reflect online.
And why wouldn’t we reflect our best selves online? Why would we upload a picture of ourselves looking painfully average when we know how great we can look in the right light? But anyone who loves a good selfie (such as the authors of the one and a half million #selfiequeen hashtags) will know that the right light doesn’t just happen. The right light is well and truly hunted for. Heck, now there are even selfie lights you can buy to clip onto your phone and apps like Samsung even have their very own selfie cameras.
But it doesn’t stop there.
So you’ve taken your photo with your selfie light. You’re looking pretty good if you do say so yourself. But you can look better. So you stick a filter on it, make yourself look a little bit more tanned, maybe put the photo in black and white to make yourself look a bit thinner or make your skin look a little more clear. All of a sudden that first photo you took doesn’t look so great after all. You’d look so much prettier if you were more tanned, thinner, had clearer skin.
In 2009 I set up my Facebook account. I was 15 years old and my image revolved around the side fringe I was desperately trying to make happen, the edgiest clothes Primark had to offer (not very) and my black, chipped, Claire’s Accessories nail varnish. All I had to compare myself to was whatever celeb was on a magazine cover that week and while sometimes I had a little cry about how I was never going to look like Nicole Scherzinger in the Buttons video, I was sort of happy to make do with my lot. But without wanting to sound like your granny banging on about how things were different in her day, nowadays teenagers have been carefully curating versions of themselves from the day that they were given their first mobile phone. I feel stressed out that I can’t look as good as I do in my Facebook profile pic more than 10% of the time. And I’m a fully grown adult who should have a grip of what she legitimately looks like in real life by now so how the hell is a young teenage girl going to hold up?
Our social media selves are a façade that we’ve created to satisfy our overwhelming urges to be popular and accepted and yet simultaneously stand out. We can’t help it! We want to feel pretty and special and apps like Instagram and Facebook have the potential to give us those feelings. In fact, recent research at Rutgers University has shown that these kinds of apps release dopamine in our brain so it’s quite possible that we are PHYSICALLY addicted to them. Every time someone likes your photo or status it sends a message of positive reinforcement to your brain – it makes you feel good. But when you look in the mirror and you haven’t got the perfect light, your makeup is fading away because it’s the end of the day and your face just looks a little bit more moon-shaped in real life – you’re not feeling so good anymore.
If you find yourself unable to meet the expectations that you have thrust upon yourself according to how you think people believe you will look after seeing your profile pic (and I’m talking to myself here), it’s time to take a step back.
Apparently a picture can say a lot – the saying goes that a picture speaks 1000 words. Well, it takes roughly 8 minutes to say one thousand words but there are 1440 minutes in a day – life isn’t 1000 words, it isn’t one picture. 1000 words doesn’t represent you, it gives a rose-tinted glimpse into the photo album that is your life. Stop comparing yourself to Khloe Kardashian, that random girl you came across on Facebook and that fitness blogger that won’t stop posting pictures of all those dried fruit bars that we all know she doesn’t eat. And most importantly stop comparing yourself to a version of you that isn’t real – you’re just you. In that photo you love, in the mirror this morning and even lying in bed with a double chin watching Netflix. Hundreds of people can like your picture on Instagram and you still won’t be happy but it takes just you to like yourself.