Even if we’re really not, it’s just easier to say we are. This perpetual superficiality is all too real. It’s fueled by the looming and continuous presence of social media and the pressure it brings to make our lives appear better than they are.
Critics of our generation comment on our incessant recording of each and every moment with a camera. But in truth, it’s usually only the positive moments that are deemed camera-worthy. Fancy dinners, exotic vacations, new hairstyles and bright smiles grace our feeds, and glowing comments accompany them.
Two popular social media apps, Instagram and Facebook, provide completely different platforms, yet both cast a glimmer of positivity, happiness and prosperity that isn’t always representative of reality.
Instagram is the go-to spot for catchy captions and perfect outfits. Priority is placed on aesthetic, number of followers, profile pictures and likes. Pictures are carefully chosen, edited and filtered before being posted, and though slightly infiltrated by parents, Instagram hosts a user base mostly composed of young adults and teenagers.
Facebook, however, is a generational crossover of young adults posting life updates for extended family, parents sharing their children’s accomplishments and older adults sharing political blogs. Ironically, it also tends to be the sole digital space where people feel comfortable enough to share health updates, and it offers a glance into lives that aren’t all roses and sunshine.
One of my friends from high school fit the Instagram stereotype of perfection and having it all together. She’d been accepted by an high-caliber university, she’d starred in multiple theatre productions and was a gifted singer. We’d fallen out of touch since graduating, but I assumed she was doing well, considering her Instagram brimmed with smiling pictures, new friends and new experiences.
A couple months ago, scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across a lengthy post that detailed her rough transition to college, her mental health struggles and her ultimate decision to transfer schools. I’d known her for years, but she’d never mentioned any of these problems.
Instagram parallels the way many of us live our lives, tending to filter out anything negative and leaving users in a distorted reality — one that, at this point, we don’t even question. It’s a bit curious why Facebook remains one of the few sites that somewhat values transparency. Perhaps because it happens to be one of the older social media websites, or perhaps because it allows users to detail life updates in a place where words are dominant over pictures.
I’m not a social media expert by any stretch, but the occasional candor of Facebook seems to be missing in the course of everyday life.
It takes effort to delve beneath superficialities. Granted, time proves a restraint when college sidewalk encounters last six seconds at most, but I’d tend to guess in other circumstances, we could all try a bit harder. Think for a second about how many times a simple exchange like this unfolds, even over the course of a single day: “Hey, how are you?” “Oh, I’m fine, you?” “Stressed.” “Oh, yeah, same, so much to do.”
I am at the point where I tell my friends they’re not allowed to tell me, “I’m fine,” if they’re not fine. I don’t mean it in a rude way, but rather, as an effort to display that their feelings, positive or negative, do matter. “Fine” is such a mundane, useless word that wears a facade of positivity. I associate “fine” with a cloudy gray-blue day, or a subpar meal. “I’m fine,” hardly suffices for the emotional complexities human beings endure, depending on the moment and the situation.
The funny thing is, once I announced that a two-word response didn’t really answer my question, my friends began talking more honestly and feeling more comfortable doing so. A lot of us live in fear of admitting that we’re having a miserable day and not only having to explain why, but having to deal with the reactions of those we confide in.
Clearly, sharing personal stories with those other than close friends isn’t going to happen. Unloading stressful situations on others requires a level of trust and an understanding that the friend is going to attempt to help, or at the very least, care enough to listen and validate what’s being discussed.
So let’s try to place a bit more trust in both ourselves and our friends to step outside of social media reality distortion to understand that life sucks for all of us sometimes, and it’s OK to admit that.