I’d be deluded if I told you that I don’t care about how my image is perceived on social media. In a way, I’ve formulated all the images on my Instagram to reflect a life that is not entirely real to my own. I mean everything happening in the pictures is real, but every shot has an element of perfection about it. My stance, the lighting catching my cheekbones, a fake tan that makes my arms look toned or a filter that blurs the pimple I got after eating a whole pizza and some churros two nights before. I’m not insecure and I’m not obsessed with my self image, but there is something about the selfie that makes us feel like we have to meet a certain set of criteria to be worth something.
The same can be said for all of my friends and all of their friends. Somehow we have been groomed into believing that there is a standard we must meet in order to be valid on social media. Be cool, be witty, be fun, be thin, be beautiful but certainly don’t be awkward, unattractive or bloated. It seems our social media presence is a complicated web that weaves into our own self value and validation with everything based on quantitative constructs such as likes, followers, shares and retweets.
David G. Schlundt, an associate professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University told Elle Magazine that putting all of your self esteem into social media as a validation tool is damaging and although image dissatisfaction is manageable for most of us, unhealthy behaviours such as extreme detoxes and body dysmorphic disorder can arise when this validation becomes an obsession.
The same can be said for other devices designed to measure and quantify movement and body patterns such as sleep, heart rate and even menstrual cycle tracking. While all of these measures are useful and in some instances life saving, they all fall into a global phenomenon called self-quantifying. The quantified self is essentially “a collaboration of users and tool makers who share an interest in self knowledge through self-tracking”.
Devices such as Fitbits, Myzone belts, Jawbone as well as apps that track everything from water consumption to ovulation give us an outlet that allows us to associate quantities everyday actions or behaviours in order to ultimeately improve ourselves. But like the issue of social media validation, these measures can be damaging when the numbers we have generated don’t weigh feasibly with our expectations.
Drinking five glasses of water instead of eight does not make you a bad person. Doing under 50,000 steps in a single day doesn’t make you failure. Eating over your recommended energy intake according to an app doesn’t mean you have to run 5kms everyday for the next week to achieve your fitness goals. Just like getting 11 likes on an Instagram post doesn’t make you ugly, or not good enough or unpopular. Start living, start doing, start being and stop looking at numbers to get an ego boost. Surround yourself with people who’ll feed your mind, who are interesting and self driven and who value you on a basis other than numbers.