How social media creates unrealistic expectations of us

Written by Millie Bower, 23.

For as long as I can remember, social media has been an integral part of my life. I remember reading an article written by the Independent last year, which said the rise of social media has meant that we as a global population are more connected than we have ever been. I let that sink in because I had never thought of it like that. As a twenty something graduate, I have grown up alongside the rise of social media. First, it was Facebook and then Instagram and YouTube, and I am amongst the generation where it has become the ‘norm’ to spend a large part of your life online.

Facebook has become some sort of political playground for people to score points

I remember when I first signed up to Facebook, I was twelve, so I, along with most people had to change my year of birth to show I was thirteen. I never really did anything except send messages to my friends, and of course my parents made sure all the privacy settings were switched on. It was just a bit of fun and it never held any relevance in my life, I only signed up because everyone I knew was on it, (maybe everyone is an exaggeration, but you get the point). I was always quite private growing up, which living in a small town where your Dad is a police officer and your Mum opens a coffee shop, isn’t easy. It seems now I’ve gotten older, and with the way society has evolved, particularly with today’s climate of Brexit, Trump and Covid-19 (to name just a few), that Facebook has become some sort of political playground for people to score points.

I realised it’s ok to speak up for what you believe, that there will be people that disagree but that shouldn’t stop you

I always feel like there is such a divide between older and younger generations, as there is often a perception that older people have more experience and therefore ‘must know better’. I don’t believe that is always the case.

Of course, older people have lived longer, but sometimes that causes them to be close-minded to very serious and relevant issues in today's society. They often believe us 'younger folks' don't know much about politics. While that may sometimes be the case, I find that broad position to be insulting to the young people trying to speak up about desired changes to the society we live in. When I was younger, I never spoke my mind very much; it was like I was afraid for people to disagree with me and I just didn’t want to stand out…my brother was always the extrovert in the family! But as I have gotten older, and moved away from home to London, I have realised that it’s ok to speak up for what you believe, that there will be people that disagree but that shouldn’t stop you.

Having said that, I have done my share of Facebook un-friending as I’m not an argumentative person, it isn’t healthy for me mentally to see certain people posting or sharing racist content or belittling people who have different political views to them. It’s just not worth it.

For me growing up, Instagram almost gave me the ability to build an identity

YouTube and Instagram are, probably, the two social media platforms that I spend most of my time on. I am a photographer, so as well as a personal Instagram I also have a photography one. I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram, it is such an incredible platform as it allows self – expression, connects us with people all over the world, and enables people to have a voice and can power social change. For me growing up, Instagram almost gave me the ability to build an identity. I loved taking photos and particularly when I moved away for University it allowed me to stay connected with relatives all over the country.

I often feel like social media shouldn’t be blamed for the negativity that society has created. If it wasn’t Instagram or YouTube, it would be another platform in some form, society has evolved in a way where it is normal to look on your phone and instantly feel low self-esteem or low self-worth because you happen to be looking at a picture of someone you follow with the ‘perfect’ body and ‘flawless’ skin. It is such a toxic habit to get into and it has almost become normal to pick yourself apart and rebuild this image in your head of what you think you should look like, how you should act or how you should live.

You shouldn't forget to live in the present while you're planning for the future

As a young woman growing up in society today I can tell you it’s hard, I often don’t think I am doing well enough in my life or my career because I am constantly seeing young influencers who seem to have it all figured out (of course I know that they don’t, but your rationalisation goes out the window when you start down that way of thinking). I always feel like I should be ten steps further along, that I often forget to appreciate where I am. Don't get me wrong, I think aspirations are great! I firmly believe that you can always look to the future and you should set yourself goals, but that you shouldn't forget to live in the present while you're planning for the future.

Sometimes I think that’s where social media impacts the unrealistic expectations that I often put on myself. I am 23 years old, I graduated University 2 years ago, moved to London 5 years ago, got engaged to my best friend last year (cringey I know) and we’re currently planning our wedding while I work for a company that I love. The reason I have written that down is because I often look at Instagram and my life and I think that I should be buying a house, or planning a family, or that I should be at the peak of my career with my path set for life. That is the negativity I feel from Instagram that I struggle with sometimes. I'm so happy with my life currently but it's hard to filter out the self-doubt that creeps in while I'm on social media.

It’s the idea that you shouldn’t portray anything less than perfect on social media, that you wont get as many likes or followers, we become so consumed by the images portrayed online that it becomes natural to pick out your flaws and compare yourself to others. It’s almost like a desire to fit in is hard wired into all of us, but when you filter out the ‘bad’ bits of your personality, you lose the ‘good’ too.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be able to swear off social media for life and I wouldn’t want to either. Instagram and YouTube are such incredible platforms, I just need to use them to my benefit and learn not to become consumed by them.

This contribution was written by Millie Bower, 23. Visit her profile here to find out more about the voice behind the words.