A recent New York Times article highlighted the lives of teen girls as they begin to build a curated social identity around Facebook and other networks. Social media may allow us to take control of the ways in which we want others to perceive us, though it doesn’t necessarily represent how we truly feel about ourselves, nor does it paint an accurate picture of the people in our lives. Is this dangerous, or a necessary way to assert our identity though social “decoration” – our updated baubles and painstakingly perfect selfies holding up the ideal version of our best selves on a good day?
Some might argue that social media is a false way to connect, a shallow attempt at staying queued in when you’d otherwise be missing out, and a contest to see who has a better life. It might be best to imagine social media as an on-going ‘cocktail’ party; seeing a mix of old friends and new acquaintances out socially, chatting casually but not delving into anything too meaningful. In this scenario, you may rarely-to-never confess what you’re really thinking. “Hi Shelly, how are you?” “I’m bloated, thanks, and I just got into a huge fight with my mom about leaving my clothes on the bathroom floor. How are you?” You’re more likely to smile and talk about your recent vacation to Puerto Rico, or the amazing date you went on the night before, or a movie you enjoyed watching with your close friends.
It makes sense that, at a virtual cocktail party where the information you post may very well live on without you on the internet forever, available to people you don’t know all that well, that you might not be exactly forthcoming about the lows of your life. Shouldn’t that be ok?
It’s important to feel confident in the identity you create on-line. Social media, at its best, should be an empowering tool that connects you to friends and family when you cannot be with each other in person, should introduce you to new ways of thinking, and allow you to take control over your best self. It should be fun – and importantly, it should be taken at screen-value.
At any age, it’s easy to take social media too seriously and begin to view life as an alternate reality. It can be hurtful to see your friends out at a party you weren’t invited to (#FOMO), it can be jealousy-inducing to see a classmate post an exceptionally flawless selfie (that has to be filtered…twice), and it can be disheartening to think that everyone is doing something more exciting with their lives or achieving bigger successes than you.
But remember: real life is not so carefully curated, and we all experience insecurities, sadness and depression, triumphs, highs and lows. Social media is a wide, shallow pool and everyone is trying their best to float to the top. As long as you take the time to truly connect with your loved ones, talk to each other often (in person – and in private) about your true feelings, this can help to undercut a lot of the emotional pitfalls of a life viewed on-line.