A huge part of my job is tied up with social media. I post every day, and spend hours scrolling through feeds full of friends, other bloggers, celebrities, and everything in between. I ‘have’ to do this, but the chances are that if this wasn’t my job I would still have similar habits, as I always have. To an extent I could probably be considered a ‘social media addict’, whatever that means.
I also have pretty poor mental health. In my case my poor mental health has been in no way caused by my social media use or presence but, in the same way that other areas of life do, it must affect and inform it. I am certain that social media and its omnipresence, while it can be a force for so much good, can also take a real toll on our collective mental wellbeing. There are many levels and nuances to this discussion that I could not even begin to cover in this post, especially when it comes to issues relating to fat-phobia, homophobia, transphobia, white-washing and racism – things that I am privileged enough not to have to experience directly, online or otherwise. But overarching all of that, affecting potentially anyone who uses any form of social media, is the curse of comparison.
At a talk I attended recently, when the subject of social media and mental health was broached author and model Juno Dawson said that she finds herself scrolling through Instagram and comparing herself to trans models, like herself, in particular. Instagram has done a world of good for diversity but we are still falling foul of comparing ourselves, consciously or otherwise, to people who we perceive to be like us but in some way better.
I love following slightly ‘aspirational’ people, bloggers in particular. Most of the time it drives me and inspires me to better myself and my content. But every now and again it gets me down, and if comparing yourself to others makes you feel bad, then that can negatively impact your mental health. So often a discussion of social media and mental health boils down to the message that you should not compare your life to the lives portrayed by the people you follow on Instagram. But what happens when you start comparing simply your own Instagram account with someone else’s, or you own writing with someone else’s? And what happens when you are making your entire living off the representation of yourself online?
The problem for me here is twofold: firstly it is quite difficult to get away from comparing yourself to other bloggers. It is something that I would imagine almost all of us struggle with every now and again, especially when experiencing periods of bad mental health for other reasons. Secondly, while I try to act honestly and with a degree of integrity in everything I do, it is sometimes hard to reconcile the idea that I am living off my online image with the fact that I might be contributing to the problem of unrealistic representation on social media. Potentially I am both a victim and a perpetrator.
A cute photo I post with my boyfriend doesn’t show the fact that our relationship can sometimes be challenging, I don’t live blog my therapy sessions on Instagram stories, and some of the hardest times in my life are documented on my social media profiles not with total honesty but with outfit photos.
This dress reminds me that I spent a day shooting beautiful photos in Kew Gardens but running off to vomit every half hour because of the state of anxiety and shock I was in.
This selfie reminds me that I spent that afternoon crying in a park.
I distinctly remember making this photo black and white to hide the red blotchiness of my face, and changing my top only to get straight back into my pyjamas for the rest of the day.
So yes, we all know that an Instagram account is not an accurate representation of the entirety of its owner’s life, but looking after your mental health while online is a much more complex than just that.
To an extent there is pressure on us all make our lives look good online; as a full-time blogger whose livelihood depends on my online life, that pressure is increased dramatically. I ‘must’ curate my Instagram feed to be equal parts perfect, aspirational and relatable; I ‘must’ also not allow my Instagram feed to appear too curated; etc. A lot of my own mental health issues are tied up in a difficulty in accepting failure or fault, so these pressures can often exacerbate my existing problems.
Self-care needs to extend to online. You should seek out and fill your feeds with people who make you feel good on the internet, just as you should in real life, and shun those who make you feel bad, be that because of how they speak to you or simply how the way they portray their life makes you feel. Take some time away from social media if you are having a tough week, mute somebody whose tweets you find exhausting or triggering, block a toxic ex. If a blogger makes you feel more negative than positive, just unfollow them. It isn’t that big a deal, I promise.