In the age of social media and constant validation, are we losing ourselves to the filters?

by Kika Otiono, Associate Editor

Kika Otiono Associate Editor

Instagram Culture is Damaging Our Self-Perception

I don’t have any social media on my phone. I stay connected with my friends using only two apps: WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. I first deleted and/or deactivated my social media profiles in 2017, starting with Facebook. These days, I use Facebook and Instagram intermittently, but I’ve permanently deleted my Snapchat and Tumblr.

Whenever I tell someone that I don’t have any social media, I often face an onslaught of questions including: “What made you delete them?” “How will we stay in touch?” and “Don’t you miss out on things?” My answer is simple: I deleted social media because it became apparent to me that it was toxic.

I’ve been told that I’m a bit of an extremist. After all, in the age of social networking and the growth of the personal brand, what’s the point of being absent from social media? How do I keep up with the news? How do I remain updated on all the new memes and trends?

I often ask myself the same questions, because my relationship with social media is complex. On one hand, I am usually riddled with FOMO – the fear of missing out. The fact of the matter is that I sincerely miss out on interesting events and networking opportunities because I avoid Facebook and Twitter. Conversely, my Social Media Purge has made me a healthier person. What began as a means of curbing intense procrastination became a gateway for improved self-confidence and a greater sense of wellbeing: I began loving myself (and my body) more; I started going out with friends; I developed a gym habit; I experimented with cooking; I read more books; and I listened to more audiobooks, podcasts, and music. I thought about it and realized that the benefits of deactivating my accounts outweighed my FOMO.

More than anything, I decided to delete my social media because I became worried about the ways in which these platforms are fundamentally changing our perception of ourselves. I think Instagram is the perfect example of this, because of its stifling positivity. Scrolling through my Instagram feed these days is exhausting, because I’m no longer enamoured by it. The relentless focus on perfection, curation, and aesthetics is hard for me to handle, especially after being away from it for long periods of time.  

In 2017, the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) conducted a UK-wide study of 14- to 24-year-olds that required them to rank the biggest social media platforms based on their quotidian effects. The report discovered that out of the big five platforms (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat), Instagram was ranked lowest for mental health, followed by Snapchat. I felt this way too, which is why I deleted my Instagram app first. I felt inundated with pictures of perfect bodies and perfect lifestyles. I noticed that every time I opened Instagram, I left the app feeling worse. The study also found that Instagram may result in higher levels of loneliness, depression, and sleep-deprivation. Isn’t it ironic that a platform meant to connect people leads to increased isolation and anxiety?

These consequences are important to discuss and think about. Now more than ever, we are communally engaged in daily expectations of perfection as the norm. According to Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego University: “young people, especially, look at the so-called ‘highlight reels’ people post on social and compare themselves, so they may feel depressed or negative emotions as a result.”

I don’t think Instagram is isolated in its influence, but it is uniquely toxic in that its mode of communication is primarily visual. The issue with Instagram is the widely-accepted notion that a relentless production of manicured content could be realistic. The mass democratization of visual media on Instagram makes it easier to compare yourself to others because it seems like all of us have access to the same tools and the same platform. Not everyone can look as glamorous as a Vogue model, but there is an implicit assumption that aesthetic media on Instagram necessitates comparison and reproduction.

Instagram has dramatically changed the ways we interact with each other, and most importantly: with ourselves. Today, we are surrounded by social media influencers with sponsored posts that are considerably more insidious and effective than traditional marketing. Influencers include government workers, doctors, lawyers, university students, and professional models who intersperse their ads with posts that are precariously realistic. What comes to mind is how quickly young people plunged thousands of dollars into the 2017 Fyre Festival scam after watching ads featuring Hailey Baldwin, Kendall Jenner, and other media celebrities. The profound calamity of the Fyre Festival required an audience that yearned to emulate the lifestyles of models they saw everyday on Instagram. As Orge Castellano puts it in his Medium article: “Instagram, just like advertising, sells a product that enhances our constant obsession with perfection, ideal happiness, and gratification…Instagram provides us with endless distorted versions of what beauty, love, relationships, friendships, and happiness looks like in real life.”

In my opinion, the fallout from Instagram is complex. There are other things to consider such as the downfall of ‘call-out culture’; the disturbing trend of photo-editing apps; the sexualization of young women on Instagram; and the influence of colonial beauty standards. Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s fair or productive to paint Instagram as the Big Bad Wolf, because it also provides an exciting avenue for communication, human connection, and self-expression. Moreover, I’m not sure if everyone should get rid of social media like I did. But after the immediate gratification of a “like,” what else is left? How much do you like yourself?

If you’d like to read more on this subject, here are a few links:

Orge Castellano, Instagram: Beware of the Toxic Culture Behind It. Published February 4, 2019.

Alex Herne, Instagram is supposed to be friendly. So why is it making people so miserable? Published September 17, 2019.

Allison Fox, Instagram Is The Most Harmful App for Mental Health. Published May 24, 2017.

Hannah Flint, I Survived the Fyre Festival – And It Proves We Need to Wise Up About Social Media. Published February 6, 2019.

Tiffany Ferguson, The Normalization of Facetune is Problematic. Published January 22, 2019.

D.A. Kirk, Calling Out Call-Out Culture. Published May 12, 2018.

About the writer                                                                                                                                                                                                   Associate Editor Kika Otiono is a 3rd year student in Carleton University’s Humanities and Biology Combined Honours program. She is passionate about the Carleton community and helping other students, thus she is involved in numerous initiatives. She currently works as a Facilitator at Carleton’s Centre for Student Academic Support (CSAS) and serves as a department representative on Carleton Academic Student Government (CASG). Kika is an avid reader and loves learning about productivity, habit-formation, financial ownership, and literature. You can reach her at [email protected].