Last night in yoga as we concluded our shavasana, the instructor recited the poem "Picture Perfect" by Erin Hanson. The poem is about his obsession of photography as an act of capturing a moment, but realizing that, in his fixation, he had been missing out on the experience of living in the moment. Initially, I was shocked at the novelty for me that was poetry in my yoga class, but when hearing the words of the poem, I couldn’t help but think about how valuable the story was, especially in today’s digital age. The final line “...But you remember life much better when you don’t view it all through glass,” echoed in my mind as I rolled up my yoga mat. The poem was new to me, but frankly, the topic is something that’s been on my mind for a while.
We’re a generation that’s being defined by glass screens. Much like Erin’s delivery in his poem, we seem to be a society that is obsessed with capturing moments of our lives in a singular source of media. The digital world has become integrated into our human chemistry. Sometimes we even allow apps like Instagram to dictate how we spend our day and if it looks exciting enough to our social audiences. This mass social media transformation has played a pivotal role in how our society has evolved. Various industries are now able to market their products or services through social media. Consumers have been exposed to the dark realities of large corporations, making transparency and company ethics a more apparent issue than ever. Figures of entrepreneurs and girl bosses have risen from these platforms and inspired others to do the same. And diverse and strong communities have been built, allowing people from across the world to feel like neighbours.
Undoubtedly, there’s been a lot of progress made but I can’t help but feel a little bit icky when I catch myself being absorbed my screen, only to look up and see that everyone around me is doing the same. It’s times like these that I start to consider how invasive my iPhone has been on my life. Somehow we’ve gotten to a point where social media has become a tool facilitating exploitation on many levels.
Firstly, there’s been the utilization of social media as a news provider, where speed and dissemination have been prioritized over factors such as accuracy or even legitimacy. This has broken my trust. Then there’s the eerie infiltration of advertisements. I kid you not, I’m convinced my phone listens to my conversations because if I’m ever out talking to somebody about getting new boots, minutes after I’ll be getting adverts for them. This has further broken my trust.
But perhaps the largest issue, and the one that I feel most infuriated by is the deplorable attitude social media has on self-esteem. And this has not only broken my trust, but it has hurt me. And while I might have paranoia about a ‘big brother is watching you’ situation when it comes to any of the above issues related to the presence of SM, I personally think we’re all to blame on this third one. We’re all somehow contributing to this race in which we virtually scream out our achievements, showcase our success, and emphasize our physical beauty. Social media has become a place of sharing and communicating, but it also has turned into a venue for extreme exposure of the ordinary individual, giving them agency to become extraordinary or celebritized.
What doesn’t seem to be addressed enough is that this portrayal is essentially a filtered edition of one’s existence. We take photos in certain places because they’re popular, because we saw that so and so went there and we need to go too, so that everyone can see that we’ve also been there. When our hair looks good and our outfits are striking, we need to take a picture of ourselves, to anxiously await the likes and comments and screen-to-screen validation that fulfil our sole reason for posting.
Somehow, we began accepting that this edited ideal of one’s life has suddenly turned into the norm. The social norm. The definition of cool. Now we have the conception of social media influencers, with hundreds of millions of followers, and the celebrities who previously had been so untouchable on any kind of ‘pedestrian medium’, each of which are perhaps the source of the suggested ‘cool’. Each of which have meticulously curated their social media presence to a point where they’d never be caught dead without a bronze glow or a quintessential hourglass shape. All of their hundreds of millions of followers see this and ultimately worship it. They convince themselves that these are the trendsetters and what they do is completely cool.
Trends are no longer harmless when they begin to affect young people and their body image, self worth, and overall identity. I’ve found myself getting lost on the Instagram search page, obsessed with the outfits of influencers clad in designers I couldn’t afford with legs longer than I could ever dream of. I can easily spend so much time fixated on these people, completely ignoring the fact that they’re trained in being photographed and by now know their best angles. Nevertheless, I am influenced. I ask myself why I don’t look that good in a bikini. Why can’t I have cheekbones like that? Why am I not yet a successful female entrepreneur? I put myself down and think of ways I can be more like them and less like myself. I put this stupid amount of pressure on myself to be something unrealistic, because at the end of the day I’m competing with somebody’s manicured facade. The worst part about it is that I do this all without even realizing how its infiltrated my thoughts, and somewhere down the road I begin to lose a sense for what my identity even is.
I want to knock the idea into the heads of other people (but mostly into my own head) to stop trying so hard to fit into society’s uniform definition of cool. The best favour you can do to yourself in life is to just be you. Embrace that and adore it. You’re the best person at being you, and that’s a treasure. Why do we try so hard to be somebody we’re not? I mean, isn’t it kind of obvious that there’s no way you can be an expert in a body that isn’t your own? You won’t understand the equipment. The instruction manual will be an entirely foreign language.
In the moments that I catch myself being myself, there’s a rawness and a purpose that isn’t motivated by what my next photo post on Instagram will be. These moments are meeting my best friend to eat lunch in a dingy food court, facetiming my boyfriend for hours and just making funny faces at each other the whole time, laughing to tears when I spend time with my wonderfully chaotic family. Sometimes they’re even just wandering around the city on my own, admiring Toronto, while smiling to myself at the really good podcast playing in my ears. But sometimes they also are really negative things that are happening in my life. Sometimes I argue with the people I love. Sometimes I get quite sick. Sometimes I get really bad pimples! But hey, that’s real life!
None of this I can truly capture in a photo. This is all the stuff that I have to live through and experience, and this is something I’m coming to realize. I’m learning how to value each moment of the roller coaster of life, the highs and the lows, and accept them for their ephemeral presence. Just like Erin Hanson reflects, a photograph does not illustrate the entire moment. It does not factor in the thoughts and the feelings and the smells and the sounds. Let this be a reason to remind yourself that social media is a gallery, but it’s not a reality. Don’t let it dictate how you run your life. Don’t allow it to sculpt a figment in your mind of an ideal “cool” and lose sight of yourself. I urge you to try letting yourself be yourself. Trust me, there’s nothing as liberating as that.
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