Making Social Media do the Work
By Kate Grantham
Social Media. We all have it. Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Tik Tok - chances are, if you have a phone and you’re not a grandparent, you have some kind of social media. Media itself is not a new concept, but social media is different - it offers a personalized experience that the user is in control of, and it can reach us anytime, anywhere. Instead of a billboard or a magazine ad being shown to you, relying on physical delivery, you get to pick what you see, and you can do it from anywhere.
For me, it can feel like I’m lost at sea sometimes, trying to navigate the online social space. It’s a vast ocean with different rigs at which I can dock my raft. A slight breeze or a current can steer me in a direction different from where I thought I was going. A storm can derail my raft entirely from a rig I’m comfortably set up at.
There are studies, such as the one done by Fardouly and Vartanian (2015), that have concluded that there is a positive correlation between social media use and negative body image. The evidence shows that the more someone uses social media, the worse their body image is, and that this relationship gets worse over time. When I saw this study I questioned why they had gotten these results. When we have so much control over what we see on our accounts, why is this negative relationship still so prevalent?
The reality is that social media is so much more than choosing who you want to follow or not follow. There are trends, popular accounts, and spaces that feel special, exclusive, or more highly valued. But why are some spaces favoured more than others?
Social media feels special compared to other forms of media because it is so tailored to the individual. It enables you to connect with people you know, or people you want to know, and feel like you have a meaningful relationship with them. That is how social media was at its inception, and corporations quickly realized that those intimate parasocial relationships had excellent marketing potential, and began to exploit them.
Many marketing agencies will choose to work with accounts that will give them the best return on investment - that is, will make them the most money. Money is made by convincing consumers that there is something wrong with them, and that buying the product being marketed will fix that problem. If an influencer is promoting acceptance and happiness on their account, their followers will be less convinced to buy something, because they are not being told that there is anything wrong with them.
Unattainable and unrealistic beauty ideals are idolized on social media because they are exactly that - unattainable and unrealistic. Consumer culture will try to sell us things with the promise that we will attain those standards. Often the more outlandish the promise, the more it sells.
We have the power to mute, unfollow, or block all the accounts that make us feel less than amazing. It feels odd, because we are so sensitized into believing that the people behind these accounts are god-like figures to be adored. We have been told to love, idolize, and aspire to be them. But what if we didn’t? After all, they are not in control of our lives. We are.
We get to choose what we see. We have the power to curate our feeds to serve our own best interest, and not the best interest of diet or consumer culture. We have the privilege of making our own existence more enjoyable, so why not take advantage of that privilege?
One of the best things I did for myself was take back that power. If an account made me even slightly question my own self-worth, I unfollowed. I cleansed (the only kind of “detox” that’s worthwhile) my feed of the people and messages that did not lift me up. I chose to fill it with accounts that made me feel happy, that reminded me that I was fabulous in my own right.
It isn’t an easy process. It can be hard to come to terms with the fact that some people you follow have a negative impact on your life, especially if that person seems to be genuine and kind. But, you probably don’t force yourself to listen to music you don’t like just because the musician might be a nice person. You can appreciate that that creator is a good person without consuming their content. Similarly, you can recognize that many influencers are likely good people, but that does not mean that you have to follow them. Their content may not be your cup of tea. It may not make you feel good about yourself. It may make you question some decisions you make - decisions that you previously felt confident about.
The rule of thumb that I followed was that if someone’s content didn’t make me feel elated or inspired, I didn’t need to see it. I unfollowed people whose content either sparked feelings of negativity or ambivalence. If I found myself resenting that person because of their appearance in their content, I unfollowed. If I found myself looking at a picture and thinking ‘if only I looked like that,’ I unfollowed. Life is too short to be at war with the way you are, life is too short to question your worth, and life is certainly much too short to consciously choose to consume content that doesn’t elevate you. My social media became a space that I was proud of, that I was excited to engage with, and that reinforced my belief in my own worth and potential.
Hello 🙂 I'm Kate and I'm a PRS volunteer with LGF. I've always had a passion for helping others, and after having my own experience with an eating disorder, I wanted to get involved with Looking Glass to encourage others on their own recovery journeys. When I'm not working or volunteering, I'm either drinking copious amounts of tea, petting any dog I can get my hands on, or re-watching Marvel movies.