If You Aren’t “You” Online, Who Are You?
**This blog post was written by our SGS Ambassador, Abbie Mueller (and only slightly edited by our writing crew).**
Here is a list of things that I do NOT walk around with every day:
- A fan blowing my hair (that I have perfect beachy waves in) perfectly away from my face,
- Flawless makeup with really complicated contouring,
- A photographer taking pictures of me as I stare off into the distance like I don’t know he/she’s there,
- A bunch of people laughing like I just told them a hilarious joke (and, of course, they are also ignoring the camera), or
- An outfit I put together with stuff I happened to find in a vintage shop that looks like I put it together with no effort.
Here is a list of things that I usually DO walk around with, every day:
- My hair is in a messy bun or a ponytail. It is most definitely not blowing back like a photo shoot.
- I do curl my eyelashes and wear some mascara most of the time but the contouring is not happening. I am good with concealer, but you will still probably see a zit.
- The selfie light on my phone case is usually out of battery. Actually, a lot of the time, my phone is out of battery.
- I do have awesome friends but it’s not like we hang out in poses like the opening scenes to a TV show or something.
- I am wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, probably with my school logo, and the same pair of Superstars that are getting kind of dirty but are comfortable.
The other day, I was going through my feed on Instagram. Not counting pictures and things that my friends posted where they looked nice, or were smiling and acting like normal. No, almost every single picture on there from a music or TV or movie star was perfectly styled, perfectly lit, perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect face expression. Can you say “#goals?” And you know what? It’s not like I’m not guilty of that myself. I don’t usually post pictures of myself on there looking like I do when I just got out of bed. Lots of what I post is when I am dressed up at an event, or I’m smiling and looking at the camera, and my hair is done and I have on makeup.
Somehow, Instagram and Facebook feel much more permanent than Snapchat, so I usually try to not be a mess. And, I’ve been affected by what I see in those “#goals” pictures. I’ve tried different makeup tricks, I’ve asked for certain clothes that I see people wearing, and I’ve taken pictures of myself doing stuff that other people do like heart hands and using a dog filter, because they look cool; and let’s face it, I AM a teenager, and people who are “cool” do it, so why shouldn’t I?
Research shows that teens definitely try to create an online “self” that will appeal to our friends, to adults, and to the people that matter to us.
- 40% of teens report feeling pressure to post pictures and content that makes them look “good.”
- 39% of teens say they care about getting likes and comments on their posts. The thing that is easy to forget though is that everyone else is trying to do the same things: look good and get likes, so most of what you see is people with their public face (I saw in an article that a great description of what people usually put on social media is a “highlight reel” of them at their very best).
- 21% of teen social media users say they feel worse about their own lives because what they see from other friends on social media.
- 77% of teens agree people are less authentic and real on social media than they are in real life. The result of this is that it can make people feel bad about their own lives! Photo-based apps like Instagram and Snapchat, and the time people spend on them, are sometimes associated with poorer self-esteem. Are you as perfect as those other people? You don’t see much of the star’s or even your friends’ bad hair days, the no-makeup days, or the “I just ate a giant burrito and I am laying on the couch” days.
In my positive self and body image mentoring program “Self-ValYOU: Promoting Positive Personal Imagery,” I’ve specifically added time in my presentation to talk about this because I think it’s really important. How is it possible to feel good about yourself, if the “self” you are putting out there on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, or any other social media program isn’t really a reflection of you? How are teens supposed to feel good about their normal “selves” if what they see is their favorite celebrities, role models, or peers is always perfect-looking? The good news that I found from my research though was that most teens (a whopping 79%!) aren’t letting what they see on social media make them feel bad about their own lives or themselves. And 74% of the women I surveyed about how social media makes them feel said that social media influences them in a positive way, once they “weed out the braggy stuff that makes them feel bad.”
So I’ve thought about this, and I don’t think you need to be posting pictures of yourself that don’t make you feel good about yourself so that you can say you are real. No one is saying that you need to show everyone what you look like when you just got out of the dentist chair looking like a chipmunk (although that would be really funny), or when you are laying on the couch in an old t-shirt, or when you are plucking your eyebrows.
Instead, I think we just have to work hard to not let other people’s highlight reels make us feel bad about our own awesome, different, not always perfect, real lives. Keep posting pictures of you feeling great about you because they show YOU, and don’t be afraid to post real stuff like you eating a cheeseburger. Log off or ignore when you only see endless perfection in your feed.
Good hair day, bad hair day, what matters is that you are putting YOU, the Smart Girls that you are, out there—and you aren’t letting what you see from others affect what you decide to post, or most importantly how you feel about yourself. And as long as you are doing that, you have nothing to worry about.
Except, Smart Girl, that picture of you with a huge piece of lettuce in your teeth. You CANNOT put that on Insta. Seriously. No.
Smart Girl Note: For more articles on written by our Smarties & Ambassadors, please click here!
Smart Girl Society, Inc., is an Omaha-based nonprofit working to educate and inspire smart & confident girls, women, & families. Through educational workshops, civil outreach programs, and technology & social media research, we work with girls, parents, & educators to true authenticity on social media and in real life. We educate how to remain safe on social media and how to avoid becoming a target of sextortion. We also inspire action for students to focus on their personal brand development, leadership, educational opportunities, and healthy social skills. Interested in learning more? Check us out!