Can We Attribute Our Unhappiness to Social Media?

This is old news by now, but does the name Essena O’Neill ring a bell? No? In case you missed out on her video that went viral last November, I’ll give you a semi-quick rundown on the seventeen minute video. You can also check out her video here

Amidst tears, O’Neill draws attention to how “fake” she believes the social media world has become and how unaware the average viewer is to what really goes on behind the beautiful, yet highly unrealistic images viewers see on a daily basis. She claims her departure from this impractical world should serve as a wake up call for all her followers.

She tearfully continues on with her video (sans makeup) arguing “culture creates validation and insecurities” and later begs viewers and social media personalities to create content that isn’t based on “views, likes, or followers”. Furthermore, she launches a tirade against the business behind sponsored or paid social and posts, a current hot topic for those interested in law (and more particularly, fashion law). This topic has recently forced one of our independent federal agencies, the Federal Trade Commission, to pay more attention to how they can protect consumers on social media in the future*. More on this below, but back to O’Neill’s video for now.

While watching this young Australian’s video, I found it shocking to think someone could blame many of their insecurities on apps that pubescent Silicon Valley geeks dreamt of in their parents’ basements (I’m only half sarcastic, here). Could social media really be blamed for this young woman’s unhappiness?

This brings me to my question for you today: does quitting social media remedy the true nature of our unhappiness?  Is this truly going to help fix negative feelings you have toward yourself?

O’Neill believed this was the answer. Soon after posting her self-declared “last Youtube video”, she proceeded to delete all her social media sites save for one, Instagram, but only after deleting two thousand photos off her account. Keeping a few select pictures, she quickly gave new captions to those that remained with newer, brutally honest captions:

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She later deleted her Instagram account as well.

After she made these changes, O’Neill said she hoped to start a movement where the average viewer could realize their self worth isn’t determined by their physical attributes or social media influence. Just because O’Neill thought she wasted many years living a lie didn’t mean others should as well.

This being said, there’s many varying opinions on whether social media serves an overall good purpose or not. We see lovers connect, celebrities make millions, and teens cyberbully others all within seconds of a simple flick of the thumb. It’s simultaneously amazing, yet terrifying.

Personally, I admit I’m no stranger to unhappiness which I can partially attribute to social media, and on a deeper level, my deep rooted desire to be perfect. I can definitely admit I’ve felt validated after reaching a new high of “likes” or “views” on social media platforms, while also feeling crushed when a new profile picture doesn’t get as many likes as I would’ve thought. Was I not thin enough? Had I not marketed my post effectively? Should I feel embarrassed to post a selfie? As my Pop Culture professor so wisely said, “I receive likes, therefore I exist”. Any “like” I’ve received has given me validation. Though I know this ultimately to be false, it’s hard to continually remind myself of this over and over again. I’m sure many others would agree.

In saying this, I realize I’m part of the problem I’ve created for myself. I’ve spent HOURS clicking through photos, scrolling down my home feed, and stalking girls I don’t know, obsessing how I’m not as pretty, thin, or worry free and happy as they seem. How can I realistically think another person’s life is trouble free based on photos they are able to manipulate? All my own photos are edited, retouched, and manipulated to catch me in both the best lighting and during the most flattering “picture perfect moments”. How is fair to assume their photos haven’t been as well?

I seem to get the most likes on the most perfect photos of myself and my behavior seems to continue to snowball into what could resemble a highly predictable lab experiment as a result. People like following people who look happy and pretty. It’s inspirational. I accumulate likes, therefore I am. More happy photos, more likes. More likes, more happiness. It’s a vicious negative feedback loop we’ve created for ourselves.

So should I abandon my Facebook, multiple Twitter accounts, Snapchat, and Instagram in search of this ever elusive happiness I’ve been chasing for a large portion of my life? I’ve tried. For a couple months I wasn’t on Facebook, I didn’t enjoy Snapchat until a year after it became popular, and quit using my beloved Twitter because I didn’t think I could handle the responsibility. We’ve all had friends who express their distaste at the world of social media and delete accounts only to reinstate their profiles some odd months or weeks later.

So does unplugging our lives make us happier in the end?

I’m not so sure. I’m not so sure we’ll ever know the answer, or whether there even is a “right” answer (don’t get me started on existentialist theories). Finding happiness may or may not be as simple as deleting your accounts if you’re disconsolate. Quite simply, this is a discussion up for debate and it’s a highly personal and contested matter. I understand deleting accounts out of inactivity, but deleting based on lack of self esteem?

Though there’s no simple solution to this complex problem, I firmly believe we have the power to be part of the solution, not the problem as social media users. I think it’s time to stop viewing social media as an untamable beast, because we have the opportunity to control what we post and what we view to an extent. We have small opportunities to put a positive spin on what we see every day!

Armed with this positivity, I decided to do my own experiment on Instagram a few months ago. I posted a close up photo of my face, one half with makeup and editing, the other without any makeup or retouching. The response I received was more than I could’ve ever asked for. It was my most popular post since joining Instagram five years ago, and still would’ve been considered it my top post even if it had gotten no likes. It’s possible to use social media for good purposes to outweigh the bad. It felt like I was holding up my middle finger to all the negative feelings that haunted me from this picture perfect image of myself that I had wanted to be.

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The photo I took of myself showing both sides of social media. Perception versus reality.

So even though I’ve dragged you through a lengthy post just to give you no solid answer to the question of whether quitting social media remedies the true nature of our unhappiness, I hope this makes you think. Maybe the question shouldn’t lie in whether social media can make us unhappy or not, but instead on how we can participate in this world with more realistic expectations of ourselves. Yes, bloggers will edit their photos. Many girls will airbrush their skin to perfection, and others will show off expensive meals, new makeup and cars or share lengthy posts of their vacations to Ibiza on Snapchat. This all is inevitable, especially given social is a huuuge, untapped resource for anyone who’d like to market to millennials (at the very least!). I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see many brands add or increase both organic and paid social within the next few years. My only hope is that we all get a little more educated and that the Federal Trade Commission is able to keep up and catch unlawful practices**. However, it’s up to us to get stronger.

Long story short, when Essena O’Neill decided to post her last YouTube video last November, she set off a firestorm of response from her peers and viewers. The question of whether social media serves a positive or negative purpose is too difficult a question to give one finite answer to. For some, quitting social media may help reduce feelings of inadequateness, decrease their maladaptive pleasure seeking impulses, and potential depression. As O’Neill showed, even those who seem at the top on social media platforms can suffer behind closed doors. Their lives and paychecks revolve around likes, views, and shares. But our lives don’t have to.

I’ve felt both positively validated and negatively impacted through what others and myself have posted. The answer we seek may not lie with whether our happiness is a direct result of social media, but instead, whether we’re able to control the intake of information through educating ourselves and constant reminders that this world has the aptitude to seem airbrushed and perfect. I’m going to challenge myself to view the social world as less of an intimidating place, but as a burgeoning market for retailers and promoters. I’m also going to vow to constantly remind myself there’s more to life than a “bikini ready” beach bod or nailing that perfect cat eye. Both are great, yes, but remember that you alone are enough. You breath, you love, you are loved, therefore you are!

xx

Kristin

Please don’t hesitate to comment and reach out, whether you agree or disagree with me. Let’s keep the discussion going!

 

*As many of you know, influencers and bloggers are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to wear, drink, or promote a company’s merchandise, often ignoring the rules the FTC lays down to protect consumers from what they determine to be “unfair, deceptive or fraudulent practices in the marketplace” (per their site’s “What We Do” section). For more information on the FTC, I encourage you to visit their site

**One of my favorite fashion law bloggers continues to call out popular bloggers (L’Oreal’s 15 L’Orealista bloggers, the Man Repeller, amongst many other offenders) for not appropriately disclosing paid posts. Putting #sp in the description part of photos is no longer enough. The Fashion Law’s founder and editor-in-chief explains this all much better than I ever could. Find her explorations of calling out bloggers here.

 

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Retired Life: Now That Volleyball Is Done, How Can I Possibly Exercise If I Hate It?! More Angst From the Mind of a 22 Year Old

Ah, the retired life. Filled with leisure, going to bed at 8pm, and drinking decaf coffee…

Or nah.

So as you (who either know me or have stalked my Instagram- @kristin_hovie omg follow me! <3) may know, my collegiate volleyball career ended late November. My fellow teammates and I swagged out for four games then fell to U-Albany, who we previously beat in 2012 to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament. But do not fret! I was not upset over the loss, as I had “bigger and better plans”.

Namely, not working out for a solid month in spite. Even though I needed time off to mend a torn ab, I did not make any attempt to exercise other than chasing after a bag of Doritos that had blown away in the wind one day. I despised working out. I could not ever leave the gym without beating myself up for not working out hard enough. I never completed enough sprints, I didn’t sweat enough, and I certainly didn’t want to fight grown ass men for a rack so I could at least attempt a few futile squats. Blah blah blah blah. I made up countless excuses and believed that I either would need to nearly pass out to feel like I did something, or just not go to the gym at all.

I completely realize beating myself up and thinking in “black and white ” is flawed. Avoiding working out simply because I didn’t want to feel bad about myself (which is ironic, because not working out led me to having terrible body image anyway) was a lose-lose situation. I’ve struggled with this for awhile. Because I’m bipolar, working out can sometimes be a struggle for me. I’m not professing this to the world for sympathy- honestly, if you played a sport with me, this diagnosis makes a loooooot of sense (smacking myself during practice for not passing a ball perfectly, repeatedly running to the bathroom to cry, bouts of hyperness where I can’t shut up, etc). I say this instead, as a way to connect with others who feel the same way about working out. I know I’m writing for a very small audience here, but if I can help anyone out there, I will have considered myself successful.

This past December, I tried to make some changes. (Eh mah gawd! Here comes the turning point- buckle up!) I’m sick and tired of feeling shitty about my body and not doing anything about it out of fear that I’ll never measure up to my own or someone else’s standards. My mom has always told my sister and I to try and eat healthy foods 80% of the time, eat as much leafy greens as possible, work out, and however you look as a result is how you’re meant to be. I could work out like nuts and eat super healthy, but I’ll never, ever look like Candice Swanepoel or Alessandra Ambrosio. It’s just how I am built and I think my mom has a great point in saying what she did. (See her own blog here!)

As many college students do while home on break, I spent a shit-load of time on my computer. I then Googled various ways to exercise for inspiration. I knew I wanted to begin running distance but hated straight up running on the treadmill for 50 minutes, I wanted to commit myself to a daily ab routine, and would like to incorporate weight lifting and/or circuits as well. My search led me to several different bloggers who I follow on as many social media sites as possible. These bloggers were enough to inspire me to work out- they filled their blogs with images of running on the beach in Monaco, doing CrossFit classes in Stockholm, and skiing in Japan. They appeared to be having so much fun working out, eating good food, and traveling. Seeing their Instagram pics of their morning workouts helps me get out of bed every morning to go work out myself- and I don’t dread it in the slightest! Here are my top 3 bloggers:

1.) Janni Delér: 20 something year old Swede who travels all over the world and frequently blogs about her workouts. She has some amazing pictures too that serve as my daily workout (and also fashion) inspo.

2.) Blonde Ponytail: Jess Allen, a badass former softball player at Stanford and former softball coach at Creighton is a NSCA-CSCS cerified personal trainer who has some really challenging workouts that are NEVER boring! I often have to simplify many of her workouts because they are too hard- she has workouts you can do at home, at the gym, on the treadmill…etc.

3.) Alexandra Bring: another 20 something year old Swede who serves as my daily work out inspo. She used to be overweight, then became anorexic, and now trains HARD and has her own line of fitness paraphernalia. She has an amazing backstory. Her blogs are mostly pictures and writing in Swedish, but I love seeing how positive she is about working out.

Top left going clockwise: Alexandra Bring, Blonde Ponytail, and Janni Delér.

Top left going clockwise: Alexandra Bring, Blonde Ponytail, and Janni Delér.

As for what I do now to work out, I’ve found a workout system that works best for me so far and I always keep it subject to change. My brother gave me his cross-country team’s ab routine (here) that I do three times/week as well as their circuit/weight routine that I do twice/week (here) that also includes abs.

The Ab Routine and Circuits: I do the circuits on Tuesday/Thursdays with 45 min of cardio. I do the abs Monday/Wednesday/Friday in addition to an hour of cardio. Courtesy of Macalester Athletics.

The Ab Routine and Circuits: I do the circuits on Tuesday/Thursdays with 45 min of cardio. I do the abs Monday/Wednesday/Friday in addition to an hour of cardio. Courtesy of Macalester Athletics.

I also like to throw in some of the Blonde Ponytail’s workouts (this one here kicked my ass the other day). Altogether, I work out six times a week. Each day I do an hour of cardio (or 30 min when I have lift/circuits twice a week), 20 minutes of abs, 5 minutes of toning exercises (also from the Blonde Ponytail), and 5 minutes-ish of stretching/yoga poses. It may sound like a lot, but I like to mix up my cardio. One day I’ll swim, the next I’ll do a spin class or sprints/recovery runs. By the end, I’m usually beat and ready to go home and drink some tea and have toast with avocado.

An example of the cardio I'll do with toning exercises I do before abs. Courtesy of blondponytail.com

An example of the cardio I’ll do with toning exercises I do before abs. Courtesy of blondponytail.com

This is what I’ve found works for me. I make sure I surround myself with positive influences on social media, eat healthy 80% of the time (the other 20% I usually eat a burger and fries or Taco Bell much to my mom’s dismay), and forgive myself when I’m not able to push myself as hard as some other days. I guess we will see how this goes, I’ve always been one to make big goals for myself and not follow through all the way (damn manic stage) but this time I’m feeling a little better about myself.

I know this post was a little less funny than some of the others, but next post will be funnier, promise. I’m thinking about incorporating some of the entries of my 7th grade diary wherein I signed off as “ACE” and wrote about the angst of not knowing whether my crush knew I loved him because I made eye contact with him that one time… Until then,

KH/*ACE*