Something that’s been at the forefront of my life for a while, but specifically the past three weeks or so, has been the process of turning social media from a source of negativity into a source of positivity. It’s really easy to get sucked into it, and to play the comparison game. Something I have to do practically every time I check social media is pause, take a deep breathe, and remember that social media is never an accurate depiction of someone’s life. Even the most honest instagram accounts aren’t sharing every moment of their day, or explaining every facet of their personality. You can’t know everything about someone from their social media, and you have to remember that to keep from falling into a pit of comparison.
This internal conversation over social media started a few weeks ago with an actual conversation between me and a few of my roommates. We were playing the game “We’re Not Really Strangers,” which if you’ve never heard of it, look into it because it’s amazing, and we drew a card that asked something along the lines of, do you think my social media is an accurate portrayal of who I am? We all answered definitively, no, for our own social medias and for each others. We started talking about how frustrated we felt by social media, because we simultaneously saw how ridiculous it was, but also felt we let it have power over us. We talked about how we’d all in some way or another tried to turn ourselves into the people we see on instagram, because they seemed to be having the time of their lives, but what happened actually is that we’d lost ourselves. I thought of how many times in college my friends and I had said things like, can we go out tonight? I need to post a cute insta. How insane, right? The concept of doing something for the instagram picture. We talked about going to clubs, and how we all felt like it was something we were meant to do because on instagram, everyone looked like they were having a blast every time they went out. And we felt like they was something wrong with us because we weren’t having that experience, we were just taking the photos. How many photos have I been in where someone yells candid! and we all start fake laughing like it’s the best night of our lives. It was like at the same moment, we all came to the realization that really, no one was having as good a time as it seemed like they were. Almost all of us were just doing it for the insta, and really, how fucking sad is that.
A little while later we drew a card that challenged us to do something outside of our comfort zones sometime within the next week. I instinctively dismissed the card, as did one of my other roommates, but our third roommate stopped us, made us pause, and suggested that we all make a post on instagram that reflected something honest about ourselves. The idea sent a thrum of anxiety and excitement through me—be authentic on instagram? Crazy! But we all agreed, and spent the next week figuring out what we would post.
I spent the next week delving into traumas, forcing myself to break down pieces of my life that I wasn’t ready to get into. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to understand my deepest pains, and I wanted to feel confident in sharing that pain with the world. Obviously, this didn’t work. I started writing four or five posts that went unfinished, because I’m not in a place to finish them yet. It was extremely frustrating, because I couldn’t tell if I actually wasn’t ready to share these things, or if I was just scared to be honest on instagram. But then one day that week, I was doing my morning beach walk, listening to an episode of Brené Brown’s podcast, and she started talking about the concept of root shame, and something hit me—my root shame popped into my head, and I felt a million other words coming right behind it. I pulled my notebook out of my bag, sat down in the sand, and wrote. I wrote nine or ten pages, feeling like the words wouldn’t stop flowing. Everything I was writing felt so right and true and freeing, I couldn’t stop. I’d found something that was true to me, that needed work, and that I was ready to talk about openly. It was a completely groundbreaking moment for me, and it filled me with this immense hope that someday, I’d feel this way about all my traumas. That I’d be able to write about them effortlessly, talk about them effortlessly.
Let me be clear: though the first wave of writing came effortlessly, the rest of this process did not. Actually editing what I’d written, rereading those words, going over everything in my head again and again, was nothing short of painstaking and stressful. It didn’t take long for the anxiety about actually sharing something honest about myself on instagram to sneak back in. I’ve never been shy about my political views on instagram, and I’ve kicked that un-shyness into high-gear the past few months. But this was different. This was a permanent post about me. At least with political posts, with posts about humanity and compassion and human rights, I can put up a bit of emotional distance. This post was a type of vulnerability I had never experienced before—exposing myself to hundreds of people. It felt crazy. It felt irreversible. It felt dangerous. Me and one of my roommates spent the entire day that we planned to actually post our posts editing and making final touches and ensuring everything was all set. When I handed her my laptop to read over my post, my heart felt like it was going to actually leave my body. And when our third roommate got home from work, we read our posts out loud to each other. I don’t know why that was even worse than before, even more terrifying—maybe because actually speaking the words forced me to really claim them as mine. My heart was pounding and I felt it all the way through my body, like everything in me was trying to run in different directions. But I did it. I read it out loud. I claimed it. And then I posted it. And though part of me felt wracked with anxiety over how people would respond, most of me just felt the same way I felt the first time I wrote it all down: I felt free.
Over the next few days, friends and people I hadn’t spoken to in years reached out to me, saying that my post had helped them, and made them feel seen or loved or worthy. It was one of the first times in my life that social media had spurred real, positive connections with other people for me. It was then that I realized I wanted to keep doing it—posting honestly, being myself, being vulnerable on social media. It made me feel good, it made other feel good; it really was the first time I realized I could turn social media into something positive. And so since then, I’ve been making an effort every day to be more authentic on my instagram. I actually post about the emotional things I’m going through, about the habits I’ve built to help myself heal. I’ve started posting daily affirmations and talking about it when I have bad days, and though I’m not doing for other people’s responses, the positivity I receive in response confirms what I already know: that being authentic on social media is the only way to turn it into a source of good, the only way to make connections through social media real. It’s honestly kind of what inspired me to create this space for myself—a public space for me to work through things, to talk about my process, to break down what it is that I’m going through. At some point, hopefully soon, I’m going to connect this space to my instagram and link new posts through there. That feels like the truest next step to portraying my authentic self on instagram.
There are a lot of little ways to make social media positive, too. It doesn’t have to be with a giant, gut-wrenchingly honest and emotional post. I went from one end of the spectrum to the other end in a fairly dramatic fashion (hello, I’m a leo). The smaller things I’ve done to change my relationship with social media have made a huge difference. First off, I’ve diversified my feed. I follow people who inspire me of all shapes, sizes, colors, and genders. I follow people who are on journeys like mine. I follow accounts that post affirmations or other inspirational content. I follow activists who help me educate myself, and share resources on where and how to educate myself further. I follow small businesses and artists who I love and want to support. And most importantly, I unfollow any instagram account whose posts make me feel in any way negative, like even just a tiny bit. No matter what, there’s no need to put something in my path that makes me feel bad. Period. There’s literally nothing else to say about it. Hitting unfollow is just about the easiest thing in the world, so do it. There’s also the matter of limiting my time on social media—I have time limits on all my social media apps, which has helped me cut my screen time down to a tenth of what it was before I started monitoring it. Remembering that your life exists in the real world, not on instagram, is probably the best way to keep social media from having power over you.
I guess this is my long way of saying that anything that isn’t authentically you does not serve you. Either change it into something that is authentic, or remove it from your life. Anything that makes you feel as though you have to play a part or pretend to be someone else is holding you back. Let go of who social media has told you you’re supposed to be. It’s a lie. Find yourself, and then be yourself. And let yourself be seen.
PS: the photo connected to this post is something I posted on my story last night after my yin yoga practice. It lists all the affirmations from the practice, and I wrote a serious caption on it about self-love and growth. Normally, I would’ve been way to self conscious to post something like this. I’d never have posted about working on myself, or anything even slightly emotional. But now it’s like second nature to me. Not only that, but I didn’t take a million pictures trying to get just the right angle. I was sitting there on my mat, writing down the affirmations while I sipped my herbal tea, and I thought: hey, this would be a cool moment to share. So I took the picture, put a filter I liked on it, wrote the caption, and posted it. And that was that. Turns out it’s not really as hard as I made it out to be. Turns out being honest and authentic actually feels good. Also, something I realized that seems pretty obvious but actually took me a long ass time to get: anyone who dismisses or mocks your authenticity is toxic. Cut them off. And keep in mind that they’re mocking you because they’re scared to show their authentic selves, so they’re appalled that you’re able to do it. But still, cut them off. Few things are more fundamental to emotional health than boundaries.