Social Media and Self-Perception

Everyone has gone through an awkward stage.

That awful part of your life that makes you cringe when you recollect the terrible decisions your past self made. Whether it was the way you looked… Braces, frizzy hair, oversized glasses… How you carried yourself… The things you said or the stuff you pretended to like in order to fit in… We’ve all embarrassed ourselves time and time again.

Sometimes I have to close my eyes super tight when I think about these embarrassing moments. As if I can squeeze the memory out of my head. I get squirmy.

There are certain parts of my life I really would love to forget. Like middle school for instance, or freshman year of high school, or any part of high school for that matter. These are times of my life where I was figuring it all out. I didn’t know who I was, I didn’t have friends I could trust and I tried way too hard to fit in. Lucky for me, my time in middle school is when Myspace made its huge breakthrough.

The original look of Myspace.
The original look of Myspace.

With the advent of the Internet and the expansion of new media, my generation has had the ability to direct how others may perceive us by personalizing our own social media web pages. In other words, we allowed people to judge us by what we chose to make public about our lives.

Myspace was my first real social media experience. When I first got a Myspace page, I was 12 years old.  I remember having to lie about my birth date in order to create a profile. I was a seventh grader in middle school. Eight years later, I can’t fathom a 12-year-old having so much access to the unfamiliar realms inside cyberspace. Granted, all anyone needs is a computer and the Internet. Just as these two necessities become increasingly accessible around the world, social media’s popularity is elevated more than ever before.

Social Media Obsession

Social media is ingrained in our lives.

It’s hard for my generation to remember a time before Facebook was popular. Facebook is so simple. There is a universal white background and layout for each profile. There was once a time when things were way more complicated. On Myspace, we had the ability to personalize our web pages by choosing different backgrounds, music and even which of our friends we wanted to be included on our “Top 8” list.  When I first got a Myspace, I got caught up in all of this. For the first time as a tween, I had total control to do whatever I chose.

I went a little crazy.

Almost immediately, Myspace became a bit of a competition for my friends and me. We began to judge ourselves through our Myspace pages. It is the effect of social media; it makes us hyper-aware of ourselves. We all started spending countless hours trying to make our profiles as elaborate as possible with the most original graphics and videos.

I specifically remember how hard it was to learn how to manipulate the language of the Internet—otherwise known as hypertext markup language (html). These were blocks of texts that initially looked like gibberish. Different parts of the textual code controlled a different visual on your webpage. There were tons of sites that designed backgrounds and images and provided the html codes for people to copy and paste into their Myspace settings. Most of them came with a small advertisement that was encased within the coding. I would go through and read the html code and manipulate the design by changing specific colors—like change a border less than a centimeter wide from blue to teal. Or change the shape of my cursor from the standard arrow to an obnoxious flower. I constantly experimented. I even managed to eliminate the advertisement sometimes.

There was one day where I legitimately spent three hours looking for sparkly graphics and their html codes to put on my page. I ended up putting about five gigantic pictures of Tinkerbell, Winnie the Pooh and other ridiculously girly visuals:

WELCOME

Tinkerbell
Don’t you think this says so much about me?
Winnie the Pooh
If Tink wasn’t enough, I bet you really feel like you know me now.

On top of these overwhelming, bright and glittery graphics, I alternated between a webpage background of either pink hearts or bright diagonal stripes. Picture that visual in your head for a second. It’s honestly pretty embarrassing to think about. But it was all out there for the world to witness– social networking allows us to document our lives, including the embarrassing moments.

Myspace made my awkward stage public.  I didn’t realize how ridiculous my concoction could appear to the outside world. I was 12. It was exciting to design my own webpage. I simply found anything and everything I could and shoved the html code into my personal settings. My Myspace reflected my awkwardness. I didn’t really know what I was interested in or what I wanted my page to look like because I still didn’t know myself and how I wanted people to perceive me. All I know is that my Myspace made me feel important. As if I was famous. I was important enough to have an online webpage that had information about me. It contained my interests and even my body type. Myspace made me feel like a celebrity.

I initially got a Myspace to follow the trend and feel included. But I kept it because it provided a medium of expression for me. I felt so lost and unnoticed in middle school. I realize that’s why my Myspace was so ostentatious. I liked how bright it was. I didn’t think anyone really cared about me. So I posted tons of information about myself. I used to take these extensive Myspace surveys and post them on the bulletin, which is what the Myspace form of a Facebook newsfeed was.  The questions were random and could range from the age of your first kiss to your favorite color. Looking back, these surveys were so stupid. I thought they were stupid then too, yet I wanted to follow the trend.

It was the trend of over-sharing.

Facebook

Myspace was less about social interaction and more about personalization for me. I would post pictures of popular shows on my “interests” section so that people would think I liked what everyone else liked. I wanted people to want to know about me. I wanted people to see the version of myself that I could control at all times. I saw my Myspace as a reflection of me. It was my attempt to put the best version of myself out there. Maybe if people saw my Myspace, they would want to be my friend. It was all a giant manipulation.

Social media sites invite judgment from others. But it also causes us to become the judge as well. We compare our lives to others based on these artificial profiles we create in order to showcase the best parts of ourselves to the world. Myspace became a societal obsession for my generation at the time. The previous popularity is similar to the Facebook epidemic today. We are constantly seeking out information about other people. This mirrors the societal obsession with celebrities. We constantly want to know who is dating who and what dress was worn to such event… We focus on trivialities. And it’s unhealthy.

I’ve done this. I do this.

Social media psychologically legitimizes our existence. Nothing about us is relevant if people cannot read about it online. It’s as if our social media page is our very own publicist. My generation visits Facebook, the contemporary Myspace, more often than any other site. Facebook is the number one most-visited site for young adults according to a ranking done by Google. We want to share information about ourselves. We want people to know about us.

The constant feed of information causes us to compare ourselves to others.  I ultimately end up feeling badly after reading about other people’s lives. It is such a waste of time. I find myself vicariously living through others or wondering why I don’t enjoy the things other people my age seem to enjoy. I’m done reading useless statuses about what my acquaintances are doing. I don’t need to know these insignificant details about other people’s lives. Yet my generation psychologically feels the need to share.

Social media alters our perception on privacy. I used to abuse Myspace and post way too much. Because of that, I feel like I don’t post anything personal today. Yet I realize that my idea of privacy is skewed because of social media. I don’t think pictures of myself are something to be kept private. I don’t necessarily hide what I’m doing or where I’m going. I feel the need to be “private” on my instagram and twitter accounts, but I am uncensored on this blog. Live & Muse is public, but I don’t publicize it to the world. It serves as a diary and a release. Excluding this blog, I mostly post useless thoughts and short updates about what I’m doing. It’s very nonchalant for me. 

Twitter 2Tweets

But I am not a nonchalant person… This is why it’s important to distinguish reality from the persona we create on our social media pages.

I deactivated my Facebook several months ago because I felt so disconnected from the persona I created. I simply don’t feel as happy as my pictures indicated. My Facebook didn’t accurately represent my reality and I felt insincere exposing that kind of falsehood to the world. Especially since I refuse to use Facebook as a type of digital diary. I mock people for doing that. (TMI, dude.) I perceive Facebook as a superficial site for one-dimensional expression. I only ever want it to showcase the best parts of me, when I’m feeling my best. Otherwise, I tend to obsess over other women’s appearances through the pictures they post.

Facebook is heavily focused on pictures. Women in particular tend to post album after album of photos. The constant feed of photos didn’t help my persistent body-image issue. It ultimately made me feel badly about myself and compare myself to others. I hated looking at endless pictures of people I didn’t even know and assuming that their life is so much better than mine because of their physical appearance. Realistically, it’s probably not. We’re all going through hardships underneath the superficial exterior we put out there for the world to see.

I forgot that people only posted pictures they wanted other people to see. The pictures taken at the most flattering angles that make them look the most attractive. The same thing is true for me and my instagram. I only post pictures that I like.

My Instragram

InstagramEven if this sometimes includes quirky pictures, I won’t ever post a picture that makes me feel outright ugly. I’m willing to share this side of myself to the world. It is the best side of me. The days I took the time to get ready. I felt confident enough to laugh at myself (note that the the picture was taken 8 months ago- top right corner). I post less pictures on instagram now because I feel badly about my body. I look at these past photos and feel so disconnected from the girl in the pictures. The girl who exuded happiness and who actually liked her body. I never have the motivation to share pictures anymore. And this is stupid. But the internet gives me endless access to look up pictures of perfect women. I don’t want my photos out there to be compared. I don’t want to be judged and I’m unwilling to put up a false attitude of happiness for the world to see. I much prefer that people don’t focus on me as I work on loving myself. I don’t want to call attention to myself.

I’m sick of triviality and I need a break from social media.

With my Myspace long gone and my newly dormant Facebook, I feel liberated. There is less pressure to enjoy my life because I’m not constantly engrossed in how others are enjoying their lives. I am more productive with schoolwork and I am performing great in soccer. When I focus on what other people post on Facebook, I lose sight of what’s important. I become a spectator of other people’s “happiness.”

I refuse to continue to point out that our society is superficial, and then participate in the superficiality. I refuse to let my self-worth be dictated by physical attributes. I refuse to succomb to the twisted validation of Facebook “likes.” I used to need a Myspace to feel legitimated, and now Facebook makes me feel insignificant. It makes me feel awkward. I shouldn’t have access to everyone’s life. I no longer care to interact on social media through posting endless photos, but I still use it as a medium of expression.

Social media gives me power to express my thoughts. Photos may capture beauty, but beauty fades. We should focus instead on our hearts and characters. We are so much more than our physical attributes. We are so much more than the one-dimensional persona on our social media pages.

Social media does not define me; I define it. It’s an odd relationship.

I guess I’m going through my social media awkward stage.

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