At Be Your Own Muse, we are all about celebrating one another’s achievements. But more importantly, we aim to acknowledge and celebrate the journey of getting there, and we recognize that journey is not always a pretty or simple one.
As May is dedicated to mental health awareness, we want to send the message that it is okay to struggle, and that it is more than okay, it is brave, to share that struggle with others and ask for help. It isn’t easy to be vulnerable, but it is necessary if we are to feel understood, truly loved, and supported by the ones we care about and who care about us. We are better than we know at disguising our internal day-to-day battles, and for that ability we can not blame the ones around us for not noticing.
I recently read ESPN’s article “Split Image” on Madison Holleran, the former Penn track and field runner who took her own life early last year at the age of nineteen. The unanimous response from the community after the tragedy was one of shock and disbelief: she looked so happy. She had everything going for her, she was a beautiful, accomplished student athlete at an Ivy League institution with a loving family. Everyone pointed to her social media accounts, particularly Instagram, as “evidence” of this happiness. Pictures of her at parties with friends, inspirational quotes, action shots from track and field meets. All perpetuating the notion of a “typical” freshman in college: I love college, I love running, I love my friends and family.
And it got me thinking. Do you ever really see genuine sadness or struggle displayed on Instagram? Sure, there are the usual #Mondays posts and the photo collages of your recently deceased family pet, but with those somewhat trite exceptions, I come up with few examples. It seems as if we have all agreed that with the ability to filter our photos, we need to filter the genuine emotion out of them as well. Like we don’t want anything too real clogging up our feed.
I am certainly guilty of this too. When I was studying abroad in London, arguably one of the most beautiful and engaging cities in the world, a bout of depression came unexpectedly. When it was happening to me, I felt guilty for these feelings when I knew that I was in such a privileged position with so many once-in-a-lifetime cultural opportunities at hand. But there were quite a few mornings when I couldn’t even get out of bed, even at the prospect of a wonderful visit to the British Museum or a night out at the local pub. And there was nothing I could do to “snap out of it.”
But did my social media accounts reflect this daily struggle? Of course not. Naturally, all of my social media updates during this time period were filtered, in more ways than one. Any outsider would’ve assumed that I was having the time of my life spending the semester abroad in Europe. And that’s exactly what I wanted them to think. Because society encourages the belief that happiness is a choice, I felt weak and inadequate for not having the “strength” to choose to be happy. I was embarrassed and ashamed to share my struggles.
Social media, and Instagram in particular, gives us the ability to freely and limitlessly edit and fine-tune our online persona and “personal brand.” We have complete control over how our followers view us. And the majority of us chose to display a curated life of our choosing: pictures from exotic travels, sentimental family pictures, nights on the town with our best gal pals, the amazing dinner our loving boyfriend cooked for us #blessed, etc. This is all well and good, except that Instagram has clearly started to trump reality in terms of what people actually believe about someone.
Not only are we being deceived by our Instagram feed about what our friends are up to, but we are clearly getting some sort of flawed self-satisfaction in creating our ideal imaginary lives and flaunting them to our followers. It’s “Keeping Up With the Joneses” via iPhone snapshots and Photoshop. It’s an illusory competition that no one can really win, as everyone knows deep down that it is all a facade. But this facade is taking a toll on our collective sense of self as no one feels they can measure up. Not only that, but it’s masking real issues that no one is comfortable addressing because filters don’t work on mental illness; it is never pretty.
Instead of gauging our friends’ moods and progress from social media, let’s indulge in some real conversation. Let’s throw some authenticity and real human connection into the mix of jumping-in-front-of-street-art-in-five-inch-heels pictures. Like, that photo is beautiful, but who took it? How much do your feet hurt? How many strange looks did you get from passerby? If that sad image of a Saturday afternoon doesn’t bring you back to reality just a tad, I don’t know what will.
I’m not suggesting a complete and utter renunciation of social media or the types of pictures we post. I am all for travel pics and capturing the good times. We all know how nice it is to be able to backstalk yourself when you’re feeling blue and indulge in a little of your own self-created delusion. I’m just suggesting that we take all of it with a grain of salt and that we stop posting images that convey how we are “supposed” to feel when it’s really quite the opposite. It’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to not look like you’re doing okay. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. We need to eliminate this stigma. Let’s start the discussion here.