There has been a lot of attention paid recently to the fakeness of social media posts, particularly when it comes to portrayals of health.
This re-entered the digital conversation this week with Essena O’Neill’s decision to leave social media. This is because she believes that the world of social media is fake, and pursuing ideals and happiness online is damaging for your happiness in real life.
So, what do I think?
This is incredibly tricky because I think Essena was brave for coming forward the way that she did, and I agree with a lot of the points made. It is true that social media, especially instagram, is capable of presenting a highly stylised, edited and atypical snapshot of someone’s life. It is true that this can be misinterpreted and vulnerable, or not so vulnerable, people may feel under pressure or saddened by their inability to identify with the tableau put before them.
I don’t post every element of my life on social media, and this is not because I am hiding anything, but because I wouldn’t talk about every area of my life in general. If somebody asked me what I’d done that day in real life, then I might well answer that I went for a run and I really enjoyed it, or that it totally sucked. I probably wouldn’t answer that I had a biscuit with my tea, or that I spent 40 minutes after lunch wandering if I was just bloated or I’d outgrown my skirt. Similarly, I wouldn’t post these things on social media. This is mainly because they’re not very interesting, to me or anyone else. This is not me being fake with friends or social media, but maintaining my voice as independent and my own. My instagram is my space to speak, not a confessional booth with every detail of my life.
I can share what I wish to, and what I wish to share are the moments that make me smile, feel proud or feel important to me at that moment in time, and these can be both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. I can feel passionately about running being the greatest thing ever that I must share with everyone, or that I had a shit run which I didn’t enjoy but that’s okay because it’s a part of life. Either way it feels important to me and I have a voice and platform to share it and go through it. I don’t wish to share the moments that don’t feel important or don’t make me feel happy, because I don’t want to dwell on them. In these instances I simply don’t post.
I am reluctant to say that social media in itself is inherently negative. This is because I believe it gives individuals a voice into a public sphere where those voices create real value in brands and individuals. However, more importantly, I believe that it can give those voices an opportunity to hear themselves speak. One of the areas in my life I feel the most confident in speaking about is fitness, and this is because I’ve had so much practice to speak as well as opportunities to hear myself speak, develop my thoughts and opinions and extend these thoughts into ways of thinking. For me this means that my instagram is a way of practising self-awareness, gratitude and pride.
For example, when I started my instagram in June 2014 it was to chart my training as I had just received a charity place in the London Marathon, which I felt very intimated about. However, because I was posting about running and fitness a lot digitally, they felt a bigger part of my life and I became increasingly confident in incorporating both these activities and conversations into my ‘real’ life, and through this holistic mind set I’ve realised the effects of running and fitness in my life. It makes me feel empowered though my ability to improve, show resilience and push myself.
I’m fully aware of the dangers of social media, particularly when it comes to issues of comparison, but I believe that any platform that encourages you to have a voice, give that voice a purpose, and grow confident in using it is a good thing and has the power to be really beneficial. Through my instagram I have digitally met some wonderful people whose kindness has carried through to the ‘real world’, and it gives people a forum to discuss the things they might not want to talk about face to face with their friends or if they have nobody with that interest in common.
Keep your conversation honest, positive and one you want to be in and it won’t detract from your real life.