Usually when someone who knows me well asks me “do you remember this or that?”, I respond with a very sarcastic- “I don’t even remember which class this is, much less what the homework assignment was?” or “who are you again?” I do this because even though I might have remembered then, I do not always. In fact, my forgetful nature presents itself so often that I have decided to act upon my several months of AP Psych and diagnose myself with a very rare, chronic condition called “remembritus.” Therefore, since “remembritus” sweeps my memory clean every few seconds, it’s funny that I could even remember this recurringly random and cringeworthy memory.
It is an image of a paint-splattered, grinning little gremlin, of which I can only deduce is myself, and a decrepit looking paper mache mess with two eyes and a mouth hole cutout. I hold my creation up to my face, laughing hysterically as glue falls onto my no longer white shirt and proceed to make the most awful of sounds, that of which, could only have come from the deepest, darkest monster imaginable.
When I got home that Halloween, my heart swelled with pride for my little recycle bin masterpiece and I excitedly showed it to everyone I could steal attention from, but that night while I was alone in my darkened room, I had to call my parents to flip the mask on it’s back so that I could sleep.
A weird, unseemly memory of childhood exuberance. However, as I think of it now, in the social climate we all reside in, I fear that it is a memory we would not at all think random or weird. Because today, children are not the only ones who wear masks... and the scariest monsters will always be the ones we create- our social media profiles being of no exception.
As we primp and preen, twist and tweak, we metaphorically rip our costumes out from underneath our beds and instead of wearing them for a night, we wear them for years at a time. While using social media we are able to create a perfect image of ourselves by filtering and editing all aspects of our lives until it’s this inauthentic variation. As a result, we compare ourselves to the inflated versions of others and aren’t able to express our true personalities, quietly facilitating negative psychological impacts.
So today, let's fix that: let's first aim to understand why we wear our insta filters like it’s never ending halloween, then determine the chilling effects of these personas, and finally muster up enough courage to open the closet door and take on our solutions.
“Somebody get the cam, Looking so good we should be on Instagram.” That was part of a rap and no i’m not a rapper. I actually stole that line from a song aptly entitled Instagram by popular rapper, Destorm and probably botched the way in which he would have swaggered through that sentence. However, the idea behind including this line was not to launch my diggity dope rapping career but show something even more terrifying- that society is so deeply rooted in the ideology that we have to portray only what we think is the best form of ourselves online.
Dr. Kay Green of the Huffington Post coins the term “ideal self” which is defined as who we feel we should be and is usually driven by competition, achievement, and status. She goes on to explain that this ideal image is what most of us portray on online rather than our actual attributes, characteristics, and personalities- all elements of ourselves that can’t be hidden in real life. And I mean hey, it is completely normal to filter, edit, or even tell a little white lie on our profiles because on social media, there are a lot of people out there who have never met you and have no conscience when it comes to judging you anonymously. So it’s a natural defense to slap on the filters, pixelate your face to the point of no return or pretend to be constantly in a good mood.
But we never think about how these defenses affect us personally. The unrealistic perfection portrayed is only maintained by consistently concealing your flaws. Clinical psychologist Craig Malkin concludes that these masks affect our relationships with ourselves and others deeply, because part of the way we develop a strong sense of self and identity is by being appreciated by others, including our flaws. The whole idea is that we need to feel positive emotion directed towards us with our flaws because without that, they aren’t really liking us, just the mask we’ve created. Malkin goes on to say that when we have negative reviews on our exaggerated profiles, we can’t help but to take them personally because it is still our account.
Additionally, posts on social media often present an idealized version of what is happening, what something looks like, or how things are going for someone. This can lead users to compare themselves to others and think less of their own lives. Recently, a team of government researchers in the UK surveyed social media users and 51% of those asked said that they felt a decline in confidence due to unfair comparisons to others online. Another study conducted by the University of Michigan- Ann Arbour reiterates the same sentiment by noting that avid users of Facebook were overall more discontented with their lives. This goes to show that when we compare our lives to those that seem of a higher magnitude, we second guess our own, which can then lead to devastating effects such as depression and suicide as documented by a 2015 pew research center report.
However, the thing is that when we combine these two social media issues, the need to inflate ourselves and act like Dr. Frankenstein and the need to compare ourselves to others, a distinct problem occurs. We base our lives off of other people who do the same as us- mask themselves.
As a teenager in this day and age, I can attest to the incessant pressure to post online. So much so that when I experienced the worst years of my life, my mother’s battle with cancer and resulting death, I could only share with my peers a plastic, filtered smile. And I am not simply sharing this information for pity points. I know what it felt like to feel completely alone, to scroll through my instagram and see picture after post of my friends looking like they were having the time of their lives and wondering “If anyone has ever felt as sad as I do now?”
But what i’ve come to realize is that online photos are exaggerated and I have also come to notice that I love my life and everyone in this country should to. We all have food, shelter, and a chance to speak about the issues that we believe in- not everyone in the world has those comforts.
Now, I know what you’re thinking- this is a problem but don’t you dare advocate against my ability to post fire tweets. I know I sound like a 17 year old grandmother/ caveman hybrid who is under the impression that the magic picture box, or as they say “computer”, is inherently evil and has people trapped inside of it. I know that trying to discredit and destroy social media is a cheesy, cliche, and quite frankly, impossible endeavor that you have probably heard a million times before. It is obvious that technology, particularly social media, is an entity that has simply become an integral part of most of our daily lives. However, with that said, the negative psychological effects cannot simply be ignored.
So I propose a solution- the mitigation of our masks. In authenticating the way we use social media, we can ultimately lessen its negative impact.
And this all begins with a seconds decision by us. Instead of opening our front facing cameras and immediately turning on the image perfecter, we need pleased with who we see staring back at us- unadulterated. Trying to use less of the filters and adornments that hide who we are from the world and embracing your true self is actually much easier than you think, now knowing that you will not only be improving your life but that of others as well. In the words of critically acclaimed author, J.K. Rowling, “The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made, as far as facts could see, was being ashamed of what they were; lying about it, trying to be somebody else.” She and I agree in that need to be able to love ourselves for who we are when we feel like the most hideous monsters in the world because that is the only way we will have enough courage to take off our masks and live with authenticity.