As sunny days and vacation getaways roll in, so does an onslaught of social media content — pictures of amazing views, videos of funny moments with friends, and selfies of sun-kissed skin. It’s a booming time of the year for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and every other platform out there and the human beings that use them to broadcast their lives to the world.
Up until towards the end of last year, I used social media much like other human beings my age — events, selfies, and cool experiences made up my Instagram feed. At some point, though, I started to become less invested in updating and checking on what my “friends” were up to (unsurprisingly, probably around the same time I began to see life differently and think about death everyday). I began questioning why I shared what I shared with the world, and I didn’t come up with the best answers. Take selfies as an example. I had to come to terms with the fact that I would post selfies because I thought I looked good in them — but more importantly, I thought other people would react positively to how I looked in them. I found myself reaching for the front camera in moments when my self-esteem engine was running low on fuel — in other words, whenever I felt like I hadn’t been complimented on my physical appearance in a while. I believed that what I would post would result in a particular response that would make me feel good about myself.
The problem with that was that I was allowing others and their opinions of my physical appearance to determine how I felt about myself. It’s like my perception of myself was once a painting, and posting a picture of myself cracked it into a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece of the puzzle represented a “like” — a piece of my self-image that I had handed over to another human being to determine for me. More likes meant more human beings owning their own little piece of the puzzle.
But what if some of those pieces of the puzzle left? Or a lot? Some would come, and some would go — some posts would be made up of more pieces than others. Was this really healthy for how I determined my value?
The issue goes beyond selfies — vacation pictures show that we’re exploring the world, Snapchats of friends show that we have unique and hilarious human beings in our lives, and Boomerangs of our food show that we’re always having a good time. I don’t mean to suggest that we should all purge our accounts of everything about ourselves; I understand that part of the purpose of social media is to be able to stay connected with other human beings who you may not see often for whatever reason. All I’m suggesting is for us to be conscious of why we post what we post — what are we hoping to achieve from it? Who are we looking to benefit, and in what sense? Are we looking to educate people on an important issue? Do we want to share a funny moment in the hopes that it makes others laugh? Or do we need other human beings to confirm for ourselves that we have friends, eat delicious food, and look amazing while doing it all?
The point to take away here is that MY SELF worth should be determined by MYSELF. With the seemingly inseparable role that social media plays in our lives, it increasingly started to feel like that wasn’t happening, which is why I made an effort to be more conscious of the content that I shared. Even as I began to tone down my social media activity, I realized another angle of allowing others to define my self-worth — would my “followers” and “friends” think I wasn’t doing anything interesting in my life? That I had no friends? That I didn’t look “good enough” (whatever that even means) to post a picture of myself? The subconscious act of transforming the defining of my self-worth from an independent endeavour into a group project meant relying on extrinsic factors to determine intrinsic values — something that’s not only detrimental, but simply unsustainable. As life goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that one’s perception of oneself must remain in one’s own hands. The more pieces the jigsaw puzzle breaks into, the more difficult it becomes to cement it into the whole painting it once was.
The arguments against social media are often based on the effects of an individual seeing what other human beings are doing and how it affects their perception of themselves, but I believe it’s just as important to think about how what we share with the world affects our perception of ourselves. We may find ourselves in a position where we’re not too sure of how “good” we look or how interesting our lives are if other human beings fail to fill up our self-esteem engines. And while it may be easy to become frustrated with them, it was never their responsibility in the first place to determine how we feel about ourselves.
Social media likely aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and I don’t believe they should. These platforms allow businesses to spread the word about their products and services, enable human beings to gain knowledge on the events in an increasingly globalized world, and act as platforms for human beings separated by geographical barriers but tied together by intimate connections to stay in contact. But it’s important for the generation I belong to to consciously think about the content we put out, its purpose, and the consequences it may have on how we see ourselves.
Originally published at medium.com