The news often vaguely ominously informs us that we live in the “Age of Social Media.” I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what this actually means, about the impact of social media upon all of our lives, and particularly about its impact upon Generation Z – those of us born from the mid 1990s to 2010. At the risk of sounding like I’m playing the world’s smallest violin over here, I actually think us Z-listers have it pretty rough in a few respects. First of all, unlike our parents before us, we do not as of yet have a Spice Girls song named after our generation, which I feel is a problem. Spice Girls gripe aside, I also notice that the creeping encroachment of social media in every aspect of our day-to-day experience is something that older generations (understandably) struggle to comprehend. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter can actually prove as damaging as they are connecting. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming, as though everyone else’s life is picture perfect. Sometimes your life can feel like a bad night-club photo. All of your friends look beautiful and perfectly poised, whereas you’re not looking at the camera, have accidentally shut your eyes, and half of your head has been cropped from the photo frame. Unfortunately, real life has no ‘untag’ option.
Something that actress Lily Collins explores brilliantly in
her autobiographical book ‘#Unfiltered: No Shame, No Regrets, Just Me’ is the value of transparency in the age where Instagram reigns and no post is complete without a smattering of hashtags and a flattering filter. I related to a lot of the issues she explores within the novel, as many others within my age bracket will undoubtedly do so. Collins tackles everything from relationship issues to eating disorders, body image struggles, and articulates that gnawing feeling that you’re just plain old weird. She does so with a tact and wittiness that came as both a surprise and pleasure to me. The book was courageous. There’s an incredible bravery in laying yourself bare. Sure, some of the sentiments were slightly saccharine, but the book was ultimately inspiring and uplifting. It made me smile. It made me cry. It was jarring to see some of the feelings I struggle everyday to express articulated clearly on the page by a celebrity that I had admittedly previously admired more for her beauty and style than for her emotional intelligence.
All in all, I think we (myself included), need to unplug and appreciate the value of living #unfiltered. Like Collins so brilliantly says, “We all want to feel part of something greater. But sometimes, though we recognize this shared instinct to connect, we get stuck in our own heads, convincing ourselves that no one else could understand our problems, that we’re outsiders.” Scrolling through an infinite feed of posed photographs, it is incredibly easy to get caught in a spiral of self-hatred and to just feel utterly at sea, wondering if everyone else has been given some kind of manual on how to succeed and yours has gotten lost in the post. ‘I’m not enough,’ we sometimes tell ourselves, getting trapped inside our own minds and giving in to crippling waves of insecurity. In a concluding chapter, Collins lays out a stark sentence that I absolutely adore. “I will never need anyone to complete me,” she states. “I am enough on my own.” This simple mantra is so empowering, and one that we often forget. You are ‘enough’ without any validation from anyone else. You are not a number of ‘likes’. You are not as worthy as your best selfie. There is beauty in the unposed. There is beauty in your ‘bad angles’. There is beauty in you, as you are, even if you cannot quite see it yet.
When someone is brave enough to be transparent about their thoughts, feelings and life experiences, we can often see facets of ourselves reflected within others. To me, there is a complete purity and comfort in looking at someone else and feeling slightly less alone. There’s a serenity that comes with knowing that our dissatisfaction, our problematic behaviours and our insecurities are not unique. And not only that, but knowing that they are common. No-one is permanently living a life that is #instagood.
So, I’m going to follow Lily’s advice, take a chance, and be a little more #unfiltered. As she so rightly says, if no-one acknowledges the inherent artificiality of social media, and the problems tied with the construction of our lives as a roll of staged ‘best-bits’, the more people will grapple with feelings of unworthiness in private. “A conversation can’t start unless someone speaks up,” writes Collins. I will freely admit that for every selfie I post on social media, there are twelve others on the camera roll that I’ve rejected, mercilessly looking for any visible flaw. Each picture is filtered, blemishes blurred, red-eye corrected. I might post a picture of myself smiling in a hot tub on holiday in a bikini, but the day before I was crying in the mirror, feeling lost and completely alien in my own body. I am far from perfect. I am deeply flawed. Sometimes I smile and mean it, sometimes I cry and mean that too. This is true of every other single human being on the planet. We need to be mindful when engaging with Instagram and Facebook. We need to remember that those that we follow are likely only posting the snapshots from a ‘highlights reel’, and that a smile is easily faked. Perhaps we all need a little (or a large) #realitycheck. Social media is not a true representative of reality. So glory in your perfectly imperfect self. To quote Dr. Seuss, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Be true to what you feel, and I firmly believe that magic will happen. Self-love and gaining confidence is a slow process, but I truly hope it’s possible to achieve, even in an age where self-esteem is easily shattered and appearances are deceiving. I firmly believe that when you’re truly happy, filtering your life will become unnecessary and redundant, and Instragram will feel a hell of a lot less important.