As part of this week's campaign to #BREAKFREE from other's approval, Anya Meyerowitz explains how she's taking a new approach to social media...
‘That looks like it will get a lot of likes,’ I think to myself as the sun begins to set over my neighbourhood park and I bend my head and dig around in my bag for my phone. I am in a hurry: I don’t want to miss this moment because then my followers will never know that I got to experience it (#blessed).
I manage to capture the moment, and sit down on the grass where I spend the next five minutes engrossed in filters: adjusting the contrast, then the brightness, then the contrast again. ‘The sunset looks even better on my screen than it did in the sky’ I breathe to myself – that familiar buzz coursing through me – it’s ready to share.
Without looking up again I walk back to my house – phone in hand – waiting. I am waiting for them to come. My admirers, my friends, my Instagram followers. I am waiting for them to envy me, to congratulate me, to give me a virtual round of applause.
I get two likes. Two measly likes. One from a friend and the other from an account called ‘Vivien.love.Jeff’, who turns out to be pushing their fat burning product. My body wants more – it craves that rush as the notification pops up; it yearns for that warm feeling you get when you see Instagram has stopped listing The Likers and clustered them all together: 11 Likes, 12 Likes. Sometimes 13.
I head to bed feeling dejected. Why does no one like my life? Do I even want a life that is so unworthy of liking?
Then it dawns on me: I didn’t add hashtags – I wasn’t visible enough.
Lit up by the glare of my screen, I lie under the duvet, hurriedly adding as many as I can fit. #sunsets #beauty #love…
The next morning, I’ve gained three more. Three.
I delete the image – five likes is just embarrassing. Sunsets aren’t that cool anyway, I tell myself, you know what people really love? People love Eggs Benedict. I’ll have that for breakfast.
That was me a year ago… Sod it, that was me a month ago. I’d go to walk my dog when the sun began to set, sending a myriad of pinks and purples across the sky. And I saw it all through the eyes of others.
I had started to divide things in my life into two groups: things that would get likes on Instagram and everything else. I stopped enjoying either. On one side, I was too busy filtering my fun to actually experience it. The rest of the time, I felt like my life wasn’t pretty enough to filter in the first place.
It was an addiction. I was addicted to likes.
Each new notification made me feel alive, and loved. But when nobody double tapped my photos or favourited my tweets, I felt rejected and alone – like I’d been invited to a party but forced to stand there in the corner, staring at the floor. (Or in my case, probably my phone.)
In many ways social media, in its essence, allows us to #BREAKFREE. It allows us to cross social barriers – to interact with our favourite celebrities and brands in a way we couldn’t before. It means we can join any conversation, or find things out about the world and our friends wherever we are. But we seem to have chained ourselves to it and that – for me – is the problem.
I want to be able to say ‘that’s beautiful’ without needing a virtual crowd to confirm it for me. To recognise, ‘this is a pivotal moment in my life’ and not need to put it through a filter first. I want to enjoy the gut-warming goodness of a god damn bowl of oats without needing to layer strawberries, blueberries and banana over it in concentric circles.
Stopping this comes down to clarifying what is real and what isn’t real online – I can guarantee that much of it isn’t. No one stops in the midst of crying over their failed relationship or to document it – but it happens nonetheless. It happens to all of us. If anything, these are the moments when we actually need the most support – some validation – yet we wait until our puffy eyes are sat in front of a cup of coffee in a quirky mug to let the world see us again.
Let’s stop doing this to ourselves – let’s reach out in our moments of despair. Let’s stop taking a moment that feels perfect and trying to make it look perfect too.
I’m not about to start shunning social media – there are too many positive things about it. But I’m changing the way I use it.
Starting by uploading that sunset again. Five likes and all.