I remember the exact day I made my Instagram account.
It was the first social media account I had ever made. I was in seventh grade and a little late to the social media game. I was eager to connect with my peers in a new and exciting format.
I would feel left out in my classes when other students would reference something they saw online, and I felt as though joining the newest social platform would somehow allow me to better fit in with my peers.
I enjoyed following my friends and sharing photos of my own daily experiences. Circa 2012, these daily experiences involved highly-filtered photos sitting in locker pods and poolside photos flipping my hair, trying to re-create the latest trend. I felt as though I was finally part of something that everyone else was doing.
However, just days after creating my account, I realized that this realm had opened up an entire new batch of things to feel insecure about.
For most of my middle and early high school years, it seemed as though my worth was deduced to my following-to-followed ratio and the amount of likes and comments that I was receiving on my posts.
As someone who feels the urge to have it together all of the time, posting pictures allowed me to prove to my followers that I was happy, successful and that my life was something worth sharing.
On the flip side, every time I saw one of my peers post their own successes and happiness, something within me told me that somehow their happiness was better and that their happiness outweighed mine. I was convinced that somehow if I wasn’t happy, that was my own fault. Being unhappy was wrong.
Over time, I have grown and come to realize that likes and followers don’t determine who someone is as a person. I do, however, feel as though there are still many aspects of the social media world that breed a toxic insecurity among my generation.
Much like the posed, curated photos my seventh grade self posted, it seemed as though there was a second wave of this phenomena as my peer group began leaving for college.
Every August and early September, during my last few years of high school my feed was flooded with people happily posed in their dorms. Posts of new friends and “real parties” made it seem as though everyone I knew was ecstatic leaving their home lives behind, painting a picture of a seemingly fantastic new life.
I too am guilty of putting on a facade. It seems nearly impossible not to when everything else surrounding my social media world is a bubble of so-called perfection.
This is what I mean when I say toxic. I don’t think that sharing happy moments and successes is by any means unhealthy, but rather the lack of posts revolving around the negative, albeit real, aspects of one’s life portrays an inaccurate imbalance.
I mean, who wants to share with upward of 1,000 followers when they fail a test, get in a fight with their friends or just have a bad day?
I’m not saying that our feeds should be full of negativity either, but I do feel it is important to create an understanding that what surrounds our feeds is not the full story.
I often wish I could go back and tell myself in seventh grade that the snapshot of joy I was seeing on my feed didn’t mean that my peers were never unhappy. I wish I could remember, even now, that social media is not an accurate depiction of others’ lives.
It’s okay to not be happy 100 percent of the time.
I also wish I could share this message with younger generations as social media is only continuing to grow. Similarly, to those who are about to embark on their freshman year of college, it’s okay to feel like you don’t have it all together, because in reality, no one does.
It has taken me years to realize these things. While the social media climate has changed drastically over the past decade, there is still much work to be done. I see now that the snapshots of happiness portrayed on social media are just that, and they are part of a much larger picture.
Madeleine Sheifer, ’21, is an associate lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]