Self-Confidence and Instagram: Our Writers Share Their Struggles with Social Media
It’s easy to feel alone in your struggles with Instagram, Twitter, and other social media these days. Everyone seems to have their life figured out, has time (and money) to travel to exotic locations, and has a professional photographer on standby for high-quality Insta-posts. We want you to know that you’re not alone in feeling insecure. All people struggle in some capacity with self-image and confidence, and those struggles can be amplified by what we see on our feeds. We may be nonbasic girls focused on authenticity, self-confidence, and badass makeup, but we feel self-conscious about Instagram too.
I’ve had social media for less than half of my life. I was a teen when the inundation of sites like MySpace became rampant, and it’s hard to remember a life without it. I’ll never forget the first feeling of “FOMO” as a young teen seeing photos on Facebook of a party I wasn’t invited to. As a vulnerable, emotional, and hardly put together adolescent, social media felt like the end all be all. I quickly learned that I, and everyone else, had a chance to be seen. We could write our own narratives. I may not have been invited to that party, but look over here at the “fun” I’m having. This hasn’t evolved much within the various versions of social media we’ve seen since. We’re still projecting the images of the lives we want to portray.
I’d like to think I don’t put the same agency into social media as I once did when I was a naive adolescent, but I’d probably be lying to myself. Even my anti-aesthetic take on Instagram is a choice I’ve made to appear hyper-aware of the falsehoods projected on the app. I don’t find myself comparing looks or parties to others as I once did, but I still feel a connection to my own self-esteem and the image I portray. Do I appear employable? Am I funny enough or will my crush like me? In the digital age, it’s hard to separate the self from the online. And frankly, it begs more questions than I have answers for. Do we put our phones down? Is all social media bad? How will this shape younger generations? I’m not quite sure. Now excuse me while I go add my morning coffee to my Instagram story with an ironic quote.
In the early stages of social media, I felt like it was always a competition between me and the rest of the world. I had to have the graphics and the backgrounds that no one else had on sites like Bebo. Then Facebook kicked in and it was all about having the most friends – which usually meant having 100s of people that you had never met or casually spoken to once or twice as a “friend.” As a teenager, I was quite self-conscious of myself and for a few years, Tumblr definitely fueled this idea that to be liked by everyone you have to look a certain way, dress a certain way, listen to a certain type of music and so forth. It became less about being an individual and was all about falling in line and becoming a carbon copy of something that wasn’t real.
The images we see on social media can so easily be taken out of context, to the point we aspire toward “goals” such as lifestyle and relationships based on 2-D images. We interpret what we hope to have for ourselves without actually knowing the story behind that image. When I realized this, it became less about being what I saw and more about who I wanted to be as an individual. I have a story just like those people in the images, but I have to decide how my account is going to define what people see on my social media.
In being introspective about my own experiences with social media as a young woman, the way I often approach navigating the world of online comparisons is through placing a heightened focus on expressing gratitude towards both myself and others. Predicated on the idea that if we all in our own personal lives place value in celebrating those small day-to-day victories, it becomes easier to feel happy for – rather than envious of – others when they share their own. I feel we as a generation can do more to take back control of our self-confidence and self-esteem with regards to how we use social media.
It’s important to understand that every luxury we are afforded in this life should be used with moderation in order to maintain a healthy balance. So, when you’re not feeling your best, make sure you’re managing the amount of time you’re spending online. Furthermore, on those particularly bad days make a conscious decision to refrain from pouring over your favorite supermodel’s glamour shots on Instagram, and instead take a second to look in the mirror and remind yourself why you’re thankful that you are you and nobody else. We all deserve to be celebrated, and there’s nothing vain about wanting others to share in your achievements – always keep this in mind. Slowly but surely you’ll notice that all the noise and the pressure to “keep up” will start to fall away.
Not to brag like an old person, but most of my adolescent insecurities developed offline. My online presence mirrored my actual life: hanging out with my friends on AIM and Facebook and then being weird by myself on Tumblr. The unhealthy part of social media for me was birthed with Instagram. Something about the algorithm created a habit of comparison. It was not often about appearance but of life experiences. “Wow, that person is my age and seems way more put together than I am.” Or “wow, they are on some incredible vacation and I’m binge-watching Naruto, again.” These kinds of thoughts took a couple of jabs to my self-esteem.
Once you notice that opening an app makes you feel bad, things have to change. I think it is important to keep in mind that social media is not all there is to life, even though it is a significant part that tends to feel like it is. I know that I have more to offer than my looks. I know that people’s lives are more complex than the small percentage they present online. I know the only person that should have power over me is me, not some normal Instagram user like myself that I’m comparing my life to. It sounds less damaging than it is, but endless access to information and images can adversely affect people. We have to put more effort into using these platforms in a way that works for us as individuals. Like editing your feed to serve you positively whether it is full of your beautiful friends or all of your favorite artists.
Twitter used to be an addiction for me; as soon as something went down (new album drop or rap beef), I ran to the platform. Recently I’ve calmed down on Twitter. I don’t really use Twitter as a tool to market myself, but to post my articles when I remember to and be nosy about what’s going on in the world. Instagram, is still new to me and for the longest time, I purposely didn’t download the app to my phone. For me, everything went down on Twitter, so I didn’t think I needed Instagram. To this day, I still haven’t posted a picture of myself on the platform. Hopefully, one day I’ll just think f*ck it and hit share. Even with my mystique, I have still been able to connect with brands and people so the platform has proven useful. Only on rare occasions, have I felt bad being on Instagram and for me, it’s more so people just looking like they have such busy lives and me feeling like I’m doing “nothing” than comparing myself looks-wise. Now I make sure to curate my feed to have an equal balance of ratchet and righteousness, and I also implemented an app timer for Instagram. As soon as I go over the time limit, I’m locked out of the app and that keeps me sane.
The increase in usage and popularity of Instagram has definitely been a double-edged sword in my life. I love having a platform where people can instantly publish their creative projects, inspiring photos and just have an outlet to express themselves, but with it’s rise has also been an overconsumption of altered imagery that brainwashes women into what a proper face, body, hair, makeup — the list goes on — looks like. I’m someone whose weight always fluctuates, especially when I’m in and out of relationships and even seeing the world’s most beautiful women like Beyonce and Rihanna embrace their curves doesn’t erase the feeling of thinking something’s “wrong” with me because of the types of bodies and girls I see on Instagram day in and day out.
I think the implementation of Instagram stories increased the amount of FOMO people feel daily as well. I’m definitely a homebody with minimal desire to go out each and every weekend, but seeing people incessantly update their stories to show where they’re at and who they’re with definitely makes me double guess my choices to stay home even when I know I need rest.
My social media usage has really made me think deeper about where I go and when, and assure myself that I’m somewhere because I want to be and not because of who may see me or what “content” I can get out of it. It’s definitely okay to log off now and then and get in tune with yourself and the real world — not just the social media realm of life.
Like many of us, social media has been a prevalent part of almost half my life. It’s pretty much second nature to me, as it’s been a constant during some of my most formative years. I had Facebook and Twitter from an early age but was a teensy bit late to the Instagram party. As someone with a lot to say, and not quite as much to “show,” I always felt like that protected me from the brunt of Instagram side-effects. I’ve always considered myself a pretty “conscious” user of Instagram, reminding myself often that it’s really just a demo reel of everyone’s “greatest hits.” However, while I’ve never been one to get too down over people prettier or skinnier than me on the TL; I’ve caught myself inching closer to that mindset at times. I have some pretty big dreams and Instagram’s constant barrage of people making big moves and doing big things can be inspiring, but it can also make me feel like I’m behind in life.
It’s these mindsets that have pushed so many of my peers into “Instagram-breaks” or social media cleanses. However, I’ve personally found that more Instagram in my day has been a better solution for me. As corny as it may sound when I’m down in the dumps over my physical appearance or my status in life; I make it a point to be an extra conscious Instagram user. I love Bella Hadid as much as the next gal (maybe even more), but seeing nothing but glamorous, flawless, thin white women isn’t good for me or my self-esteem. So, I make it a point to have my Insta-feed composed of mostly people who are beautiful and outside the status-quo or people who look more like me as to not choke on the Eurocentric beauty standards constantly shoved down our throats.
Most importantly, since purposefully following people for things other than their appearance, wasting hours on Instagram has been so much more enjoyable. For my professional or goal-oriented insecurities, I follow a lot of smaller, more personal accounts of people working in industries I’m interested in. So, while I follow major magazine editors and PR moguls who are BFFs with Bella Hadid, I also follow fashion assistants, and assistant buyers to give me a more realistic dose of inspiration. So, when an Insta-story from the front row at Paris Fashion Week sends me into a fit of FOMO, the next one, of some people goofing off in the office, will be there to ground me.
I’ve had an Instagram account since I was fourteen years old. Now that I am twenty-one, I feel a little sad because I can remember specifically how it affected my self-esteem and how I perceived myself amongst my peers at that young age. In both junior high and high school, I felt immensely different from the girls in my classes. They were overwhelmingly white, blonde, and skinny, and I was none of those things which made me feel left out. Seeing the posts these girls made on Instagram agitated these feelings. I specifically remember a girl in my grade who amassed 10,000 followers by the time we graduated. All the girls in the school felt a sudden pressure to gain followers and get the most likes, which defeated the entire purpose of the app, which was to create a fun atmosphere and post photos from your life. On top of this new sense of competition, I began to constantly question myself. Was I pretty enough? Do people like me as much as others?
Eventually, high school ended, and so did the communal obsession with Instagram status quo. However, most young women unfortunately still experience the same type of effect from social media. Reading about Instagram potentially getting rid of the public like count made me feel a lot of emotions. Firstly, I thought, “No way! Instagram is all about likes!”. That is far from the truth and made me realize that the same perception of social media I developed in high school has yet to subside. When I thought about it more, I considered all of the girls in high school now. I thought about how they are going through the same thing with social media, but with the concept of “Instagram famous” and “social media star” being on the forefront of the app, it must be even worse for self-confidence in young women.
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So many things to do that the most logical first step was to paint my nails, completely remove that nail polish, paint them again, and sit in front of a window as the sun was going down so I can partake in a beautiful moment of vanity on my first day off since last Monday.
I have an interesting relationship with social media: my personality and interests directly align with a career as an Insta-influencer or YouTube star, but I am truly terrible in front of a camera. This is something I’ve known for most of my life, and for years, I struggled with creating an online presence that reflected myself and was still up to aesthetic standards. Tough to do when your face freezes awkwardly whenever a camera comes out.
I’ve spent a lot of time comparing what my Instagram feed looks like compared to other creatives– even the people who work at NBGA. My follower count isn’t very high, and neither are my likes, but all of that shouldn’t be very important, especially since I don’t put as much energy into building my social as other people do. I post sporadically, delete and re-upload at whim, and truly use stories to run my mouth and make jokes that only two other people and I find funny. I’m just now realizing that it is perfectly fine for me to use social media in that way. I don’t have to use it the way other people do because I am not other people.
It took a lot of pressure off of me when I made that realization and halted the constant comparisons I was making to other people. I think that if you’re a creative or a visually-oriented person, you’re probably more prone to comparing your work, the things you’re doing, etc., to other people. Social media acts like a magnifying glass that illuminates issues we have within ourselves and as a society. Influencers didn’t arrive with the Kardashians. Women have been comparing and feeling self-conscious about our looks before Flat Tummy Tea and Sugar Bear Hair vitamins became sponsored posts. It’s important to remember that there is nothing new under the sun, and you aren’t the only person experiencing the things you’re experiencing. We’re all struggling to understand ourselves and to find meaning in a world where followers can dictate how relevant you are, and likes determine how attractive, funny, or smart you may be. But, social media truly isn’t that deep and the sooner we get to that mindset the better off we will all be.