why i'm not my numbers: reevaluating the way i view social media
Let's take a trip down memory lane.
I remember when I first got my Instagram account. My username was hellokittylover24 and I would post funny memes or document my lunch with a blurry picture, topped off with a misspelled caption. Everyone I knew had an account like that. We didn't think about posting bikini photos or showcasing the amazing vacation we took with all our friends. We posted things like this:
And if you think I, hellokittylover24 did not post this exact photo, then you are very very wrong. When I turned 12 or so, I changed my username to ellabela12. I had to spell Bella with one l because ellabella12 was already taken, which was quite devastating. The same kind of content continued, and I followed my favorite celebrities at the time like Vanessa Hudgens, Zac Efron, One Direction, etc. But then – and this is where everything changed – I retired ellabela and switched it ella_malvino.
This might not seem like a big deal, but in a way, it was like telling my followers that I did not want to be referred to as a silly nickname but seriously by my first name. Everyone needed to know I was taking Instagram very seriously. I deleted old pictures like the one above and invested in apps like Afterlite to edit my photos because the Instagram filters just were not cutting it anymore – goodbye Clarendon and Gingham. I realized that following over a 1,000 people when I only had 145 followers was not a good "ratio" and that in order to become the “popular middle schooler” I believed I wanted to be, my Instagram had to go through a major makeover. Thus, I became ella_malvino and posted pictures with my best friends and even put their names in my bio (and we wonder why girls feel left out in middle school). I clearly remember the betrayal I felt when my friends took out my name out of their bios because all of a sudden having your besties names in your bio was so pasé. The new and improved ella_malvino even bought a follower tracker so she could track who would accept her follower request but not follow back. Here's how the scenario between ella_malvino and the follower tracker would go: "HA Sabrina, I see that you didn't follow me back even though we went to summer school together five years ago and guess what, I'm going to unfollow you! GOT YA! Goodbye!"
Ella_malvino dreamed of one day getting to 500 followers like the popular girls had and getting over a 100 likes. But 500 followers quickly changed to 800 and then 800 to 1,000. It didn't stop. When I got to high school I dreamed of one day being a senior who would get so many likes and had the perfect ~flow~ of pictures that all were edited in VSCO. Ella_malvino turned into ellamalvino and worked her way up in the follower count until she made it to 965 followers or so, where she is today.
Not only did my usernames change, but so did the social media climate.
All of a sudden, probably around 2013-2014, Instagram and other social media websites became a representation of your life. The number of followers you had and likes and comments you got demonstrated your popularity and likability. If a lot of boys followed your account, it was a sign of being attractive. You would have to text all your friends and ask whether or not to post something and they would tell you if you looked weird at that angle or if the post was too scandalous. Instagram became your lifeline and if you didn't have a certain amount of followers, you could be branded as the weird boy or girl or not being cool enough for someone. It can be best described as being TOXIC. Suddenly Instagram became a way to determine a person's self-worth, and honestly, it has not really changed in the last five years. In addition to taking over a user’s life, Instagram began to harbor a community of constant self-comparison.
The influx of images of models, celebrities, and influencers available to viewers creates room for senseless comparison, which is proven to cause mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Sure, I occasionally like looking at models like Bella Hadid, Kaia Gerber, and Hailey Baldwin for style inspiration or to see the runways they walk in during Fashion Week, but I don't need to see constant images of them walking from place to place in their designer clothes on a daily basis. I am not saying that everyone compares themselves to the images they see on social media, but I guarantee you have done it at least once before. You might have seen an influencer like Alexis Ren post a bikini photo and looked in the mirror and said "Hey, I don't look like that!" or "If only I had a body like hers." This is not healthy. I want you to remember that we were never supposed to have thousands of photos of models and influencers at our disposal daily. It is necessary to realize that by having a social media account, you are being exposed to so many users that you were never intended to see.
Something that also bothers me is that in a way, these social media platforms are based off a desire to show off how great your life is to your followers. When you think about it, it is pretty self-centered and vain. Most people don't show their off days when they are feeling really down, but their highlight reel, their best moments. There is nothing wrong with that, except us followers can forget that it is not reality. When we compare ourselves to others, we are comparing ourselves to their best day, not their worst, and that is essential to remember.
Here is the sad thing. Hellokittylover24 did not care what she posted. She was confident that her two followers would like her post and that made her happy. There was actually a point in my life where I would delete a post if it wasn't getting enough likes in a certain amount of time – and if you think I am the only one who did this, you are thoroughly mistaken.
Don't get me wrong, I love sharing photos of my friends and having a timeline of important memories in my life. It feels good when you post a picture and someone comments a nice thing about it, there is no denying that! I love connecting with people and seeing their art, writing, pictures, food, etc. But there is one thing that really bothers me about social media: the factor of constant comparison. As I have gotten older I have become better at combating the comparison, but it does slip through sometimes. So, if anything, we need to remember that this whole social media thing needs to be carefully looked at. Young adults should not take this stuff too seriously since social media showcases our best moments which are not necessarily authentic or genuine. Most of the time, these photos are taken with the INTENT to post on Instagram, think about that for a second. Also, if you take anything away from this article, let it be this: these social media platforms do not establish your worth. You are so much more than your followers and likes. At the end of the day, no one will remember how many followers you had so don't get too caught up in the superficiality of it all. Be more like hellokittylover24 and post what you want to post, and don't get too serious about any of it. Be gracious of compliments you might receive, and know that for every person you are comparing yourself to, I guarantee someone is looking at your post and thinking to themselves "If only I could be like them.”