Being "real" online
She was beautiful. Her skin was flawless; her eyes were bright and clear; her poise was effortless. I felt myself shrink a little more inside with each picture. But I kept scrolling, past pictures with her boyfriend, pictures of her dog, pictures of her perfect travels in exotic, faraway places.
Eventually, the spell breaks. But the return to the real world is always uncomfortable. I’m left with a sore neck—dazed from mindless scrolling. But worse than the pain in my neck is the feeling of vague dissatisfaction with my life.
It’s never fun to snap out of it and realize you just spent the last half hour looking at photos of people you don’t even know on Instagram. Why do I do this to myself? It isn’t rewarding, and it certainly doesn’t make me happy.
Instead, each hashtag takes me further away from reality—further into a place of insecurity that is based solely on fragments of other people’s social media lives. These images might be a glossy overview, but they are rarely an actual representation of the day to day.
Every tap, every scroll brings me further into another world where what is important has evaporated—replaced by what is superficial. Relentlessly, it sucks me in, convincing me for a while that this is what really matters.
I often look at how others portray themselves online. It starts out as research to learn good and bad social media practices and usually ends up with me feeling insignificant or envious of other people’s put-together lives.
But one day I started thinking: what if there were people scrolling through my account, thinking the exact same things? What if they wished they had my life, in the same way I wished I had theirs?
The Internet serves as a billboard where you can shape whatever version of yourself that you want—and constantly compare that version with everyone else’s version to see how you measure up. The problem is, eventually you start treating that false version of yourself as the real deal.
Like today, when I checked to see how many Twitter followers I have, as if that somehow validates me or gives me worth. I believe part of that comes as a result of focusing too much on my personal “brand,” or how I’d like to appear, rather than just having the confidence to be the same woman I am online as I am in real life.
Here are a few reasons why I think this is important:
1. If more people attempt to show their genuine selves on social media, it spares the insecurities of others, who might be as envious of you as you are of someone else.
2. It’s a good self-practice. I know I can definitely build a false impression of my own importance based on how others react to my online presence. Taking the time to portray yourself honestly can be an excellent reality check.
3. It can build self-confidence. If you choose to publicly take ownership of who you are you’ll grow more comfortable in your own skin, which can be quite empowering.
What if you made the conscious decision to ensure that how you represent yourself online accurately reflects what your life actually looks like? I’m not saying there is anything wrong with creating an artsy aesthetic for your Instagram page, or that you need to spill your dark secrets all over Twitter or Facebook.
Reasonable filters are certainly necessary, because yes, your future boss will probably review your public social media accounts. However, you can find a balance between being professional/private and being honest in what you do share.
Maybe it’s posting that first, excited photo when you’re freaking out about a beautiful view—rather than spending half an hour trying to get that perfect, posed-but-supposed-to-look-candid shot. Maybe it’s posting photos that are a little more awkward, a little more flawed, a little more human.
Now, if you’re naturally graceful and 100 per cent flawless, obviously I’m not talking to you. But if you're like me, who trips on flat surfaces and never knows what to do with her body when posing, then listen up.
This has, and will continue to be a process for me too. I tend to be fairly private online, and I think that can be a good thing. However, I want what I do share to be as authentic as possible.
And I know I could do better. I still only post the picture-perfect parts of my life. Yes, part of what social media does is celebrate the highlights. But if we turn it into a popularity contest and begin trying to out-do each other, I believe we all end up feeling more insecure.
Social media is a powerful tool that can be used for a lot of good. The key is not to let it take control of your life, or damage how you view yourself. Part of this is just giving yourself some space—put your phone away sometimes!
It’s more important to actually live a fulfilling life than to document one on social media.
But it’s a deeper issue than that. We live in a world where whenever we do something cool, we have the ability to let our entire friend/follower bases know about it. As a result, it’s tempting to want to show off online as proof of our own value.
But no matter how much attention we get, we are never fully satisfied. I think a big reason for this is that we’re chasing after the wrong goal. These things were never supposed to satisfy us.
In the big picture of life, social media success is pretty meaningless. As a Christian, I believe that each human being was created by God for a purpose. Our time on earth is short, but it matters because afterwards we're faced with eternity. With that in mind, how we're perceived online during our lifetime seems pretty pointless.
On a more immediate level too, our relationships with friends and family matter far more, and are far more rewarding, than online followings.
I say this to encourage you to boldly be yourself. Whatever you believe, your days on this planet are limited. So don’t be afraid to share the things that make you excited, even if they’re nerdy or weird.
If you are in a country where you can speak openly, don’t waste that gift of free speech. If you truly think that your opinions or beliefs matter, then share them—even if they won’t make you popular.
But always do so with grace and love, because for every opinion you share, there could be someone else with a different viewpoint, and a world of hurt behind why they think the way they do.