As a young teenager, I loved social media. I loved creating an image for myself – choosing exactly how I wanted to be perceived. Of course, anyone that knew me from school knew that I wasn’t who I pretended to be online: a exaggeratedly cooler, effortless version of myself. The hours spent editing my appearance in photos didn’t seem to translate to my real life. Isn’t that unfortunate? My followers online complimented my style while, when around my peers at school, I always seemed to blend into the background. I didn’t feel like people in my real life understood me or saw me in a positive way. Online, I could be whoever I wanted to be – a curated double life.
The escapism that I practiced using social media became addictive. Why would I interact with my classmates when I had access to a whole community of like-minded people online. People who thought I was cool! Me, of all people. What an amazing concept to the awkward kid who sat alone at lunch. I decided to spend all of my time living my online life, while neglecting my “real” life. I was living full time as someone that wasn’t really me, but a perfect, idealized version of myself. I began to feel like a fraud.
Things changed when I realized that everyone did what I was doing to some extent. Everyone wants to put forward their best image online. I noticed that my friends only posted on days when their hair looked perfect or they had a trendy outfit on, and I never accused them of having a fraudulent personality, I was just taking it to an extreme. I don’t think anybody has a social media profile that perfectly reflects their real-life image. I learned that by being such an extreme, calculated version of myself on social media, I had actually been contributing to stigma and potentially making others feel uncomfortable being their true selves online. I realized that I, my photos, and my posts don’t have to be perfect, that I can have flaws and other social media users can pick up on that – it’s not the end of the world. If anything, it makes a person more likeable when you are able to relate to their “realness”. I eventually learned how to balance my two separate lives, and learned the importance of being realistic online.