The other night, I was texting my best friend Madison. She told me about her new obsession, Project Runway Junior, and sent me screenshots of Instagram posts from one of her favorite contestants, a talented “cool girl” named Petyie (who, as Madison says, pulls off the name “without even an ounce of douchery”. Very high praise).
She sent me pictures of stylish garments Petyie designed, then one of her surfing effortlessly in bright blue water. We both lamented never being so cool in high school and thanked God we didn’t have to go through out adolescence with Instagram.
It’s funny, knowing that Instagram and Twitter and Facebook weren’t even things only a few years ago. Sure, I remember being in middle school and my cousin Katie — the eldest of all my cousins, thus the first to go to college — showing us our first glimpses at a Facebook page, but those were back in the days you needed an “.edu” e-mail address to sign up. But the notions of tweeting your every move and Instgramming your every meal are relatively new, and for someone like me, who was self-proclaimed Luddite for a long time, I didn’t even have experience with most platforms until I was well into my teens.
I got a Facebook the month before I started my sophomore year of high school as a way to keep in touch with friends from summer camp. I signed up for Twitter the spring of my senior year, my first tweet to profess my excitement at seeing one of my favorite musical acts live. By the time I got an iPhone, which warranted joining the ranks of Instagram and Snapchat, I could already legally drink. So, as guilty as I am for growing up in a digital world, those crucial years of teenagedom were left largely unscathed by the apps that let your track your friends every moves.
Don’t get me wrong; I love social media. I love when I feel like I’ve constructed a clever tweet or found the perfect meme to respond to someone on Facebook. I love when a filter looks just right on an Instagram photo, and I am guilty, as we all are, of feeling fulfilled when I get notifications of people liking what I post. It’s nice to feel like I’m expressing myself in a way that connects to others. But with everyone posting everything all the time, it can become less of a comfort and more of a stress.
It’s no secret that my move to LA has not been an easy transition. Shuffling from job to job, working weird hours and struggling to find opportunities to meet new people have left me feeling very lonely and discouraged. And yet, when I scroll through my Instagram feed, I see pictures of my friends travelling, working at seemingly fulfilling jobs, going out to fun bars with friends. To see that — people who are living exciting, adventurous adult lives — I feel left out; I feel like I’m falling behind everyone else. When I expressed this to a friend, she reminded me that my Instagram would misdirect others, too.
She’s not wrong. If you look at my last couple of months of posts, you’ll see countless books shaded in flattering filters, which implies not that I spend most of my lonely nights taking solace in books but rather that I seem to have my life so together I have time to read on top of it. If you watch my Snapchat stories, you’ll see the colorful meals I’m making or my countless trips to local Pilates studios, not that for the last couple months, the only four places I went were work, the grocery store, the gym and my apartment. For someone like me, social media morphs from virtual expression to the brave face I put up when I’m too proud and embarrassed to say “this feels like failing.”
And this is me, as an adult who can recognize how social media is warped and that those same friends who look like they’re having a good time might also be struggling with loneliness and doubt. Can you imagine being a teenager facing the same feelings? Feeling left out and lonely and unfulfilled because some people’s social media profiles are livelier and more colorful than yours on top of the pressure to do well in school and get into college and fit into some crowd (any crowd) and hopefully have Johnny from math class to ask you to the dance and generally not be an awkward human being amidst the most awkward stage of life? That sounds exhausting to me. That’s a lot of pressures for one person to handle.
I remember using the desktop computer in the playroom of my house during junior year, seeing a group of friends of mine comment to each other vaguely about how much fun they had together. It didn’t take an idiot to realize that I had been purposefully excluded from a group outing. And that hurt like nothing else I’d felt up until that point. How awful it was to look at that screen and know that I was now the odd girl out and the proof was staring me in the face, mocking me.
But that’s child’s play compared to what kids have to deal with today. You can see your friends having more fun than you on Facebook and Snapchat. With a single search on Instagram, you can see people your age across the world living glamorous lives of traveling and laughing with fabulous friends and wearing beautiful clothes on even more beautiful bodies. Especially in a time where your sense of self can be so fragile, a time that I would say is the easiest to be susceptible to insecurity and self-doubt, how damaging can it be to see pictures upon pictures, videos upon videos, of people you perceive to be prettier than you/worldlier than you/having more fun than you? I’m sure scientists are already working on the statistics of that, but as a person that was once a teenager, I can tell you the feeling probably sucks.
I’m not saying the teens of today won’t turn out okay. Every day, we have celebrities and Instagram models and fitness bloggers calling out the unreality of social media. We have people who are using social media platforms to promote education and positive self-image. Not to mention that in a way, I think we’re all seemed to be programmed with a nostalgia for the past (“Oh, things were so much better in my day…”), but we continued to have great minds and promising leaders in each generation. Hell, maybe the oversaturation of media will give kids today a perspective that we need. It takes time for society to figure out how to use new tools for optimum success… this could just be the experimental period for social media.
But as a girl who grew up as a teen, as worried about being liked and accepted as everyone else, it’s nice to know that I didn’t have to worry about filters or flattering angles or what I can put in this 10-second video that best portrays this good time I’m having right now. I’m happy that I enjoyed those summer nights camping in the backyard, the singalongs on the volleyball bus, through my own eyes, not through a lens, not second hand through a media platform, and not validated by a comment section.
Until Next Time,
Casey Brown | Gal about Town