Social Media, Perfection, and Finding Your True Self

Op-ed

If you are like me, then you feel the constant pressure to engage on social media. For many teens, this is a primary cause of stress. Why? Because teenagers feel the need to constantly produce images of themselves to please themselves as well as others.

Their self-worth is based on the number of likes their photo receives or the amount of public approval they receive per image. Many teens spend hours crafting their social media images, but are we really capturing our true identities?

Desire and Reality: Do We Really Want What We Say We Want?

Social media feeds our unrealistic expectations and warps our idea of reality about ourselves.

In his essay, “The Therapy of Desire: Toward a Revolutionary Philosophy,” philosopher and scholar, Samuel Loncar, shows how people avoid self-reflection. Why? Because they do not want to accept that their lives do not reflect their idealized perception of themselves. The “heart of our problem,” according to Loncar, is that we “want to be ourselves and we want nothing more than to flee from ourselves.” So, we choose to embrace the parts that we approve of and hide from the parts that do not align with who we think we are.

This is why Loncar’s essay explains that we only allow ourselves to see the “desires we approve of at any given moment.” For teens, social media exacerbates this selective way of thinking.

The Dark Side Of Social Media

Many teenagers may have the desire to be authentic, but they also have the contradicting desire to hide their traits that they, as well as others do not view as perfect or socially acceptable. Teens want their social accounts to be original, to show off their own style, but most accounts are more similar than different. Everyone is posting the same things. For example, in summer, everyone is supposed to have pictures at the beach, traveling, or having fun in the sun.

Social media creates a world that amplifies the fear already present in society. People want to be themselves, but in the end, they often conform.

Due to the desire to be liked by others, teenagers often alter moments in their lives. This allows them to create an image of themselves to present to others that they believe represents the idealized teenager in society. However, these altered, staged photos do not represent our lives at all, and they create an alternate life that does not often reflect reality.

Our refusal to accept and realize that everyone’s life is messy means that we are tricking ourselves into thinking our life is actually like the altered images.

However, nobody’s life is like these images. By continuing to frame our lives in a certain way, we perpetuate this toxic cycle of lies. Continuing to copy others' Instagram photos to seem trendy or perfect not only prevents you from learning what you truly value and enjoy, but it also convinces others as well as yourself that this is what your life is really like. This cycle creates anxiety and stress. However, it does not have to be this way.

How Rethinking Our Online Image Can Calm Anxiety

This school year, I am practicing self-reflection. From personal experience, I know putting social media aside and reflecting on my own life is painful, but it's necessary. I’m starting to accept that there are flaws in my life and that that is okay. Spending time with friends and family is more important to me than trying to take a picture that makes me look like what other people want. While completely alienating oneself from all social media platforms is an unrealistic expectation, and I myself continue to use social media, we need to take control of the social media platforms, but how can we do that?

The price of accepting originality means accepting your own life before you show it to other people. Personally, the pressure of social media stressed me out. So, I took a step back and assessed how I could use it in a way that makes me feel good about myself.

Right now, I am not at the point where I want to have to think about every image I post. I realized my social media experience was toxic, and I stepped away from it. For now, that is okay. If I returned to these platforms, I know that I would want to continue posting images that are more false than true; I want to break that cycle in myself.

The good news is that anyone can become more conscious about their social media and use it in a healthy way. However, I know that this is very difficult. So the temporary solution may be to take a step back from posting so that you can assess who you are and how you present yourself on social media.

The anxiety that teens feel around posting perfect images is damaging and unhealthy, but if we could accept that we are not perfect, we might begin to find out who we truly are.

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Sammy Kelner
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Sammy Kelner is a high school sophomore who is very passionate about politics and social justice issues. She is the founder and president of her school’s Key Club and has a podcast called Politically Blonde. She is also a contributing editor for the Marginalia Review of Books. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, traveling, and going to the beach.