Let me know if this sounds familiar: Your friend just uploaded an album to Facebook or a few photos to Insta and you instantly tear through on a detagging rampage: “Do I really have that many chins?” – detag. “Omg WHAT is my hair doing?” – detag. We’ve all done it, and with good reason – we want to put the best version of ourselves out there for the world to see. But is the best version of you on social media really you?
Editing and curating your pictures online is just one way that social media alters reality. You’re definitely not alone in doing it, but we sometimes forget that fact and see others we envy looking ah-mazing in every photo, which can lead you to have unrealistic standards for yourself, or worse. Chances are these folks are doing the same thing as you: weeding out the “bad” pictures in favor of only the flawless.
We curate our social media personas to alter not only our physical images, but our social images as well. If you think it’s lame to hang out with your family and want people to see you as the social butterfly you are, then maybe you don’t post that family shot from the most relaxing vacation in favor of posting a picture of you and the girls dancing the night away at the latest and hippest music festival. You might choose to post this pic even if you didn’t have such a rocking time because there was so much drama in your girl group, the music was too loud, and everyone was dripping sweat all over you by the night’s end.
Regardless of how you felt in the moment, others will only see that you were at the hottest event of the season, and you’ll get bonus cool points for that, right? Sometimes it’s not only the choice of photos we post that we use to alter reality, but the timing of posting them. Did you just break up with an S.O. and decide it’s a good time to start posting photos of you and very attractive others? Or did you and your best girlfriend have a big blowup so you went back and “liked” all the photos of you with your mutual friends so they spring to the top of her feed in an attempt to remind her that you’re still queen of the group?
Outside of the pictures you post to send a message to the world, there’s also the actual posts you post. Your statuses, tweets, photo captions, snapchats – all of them are part of your image and can be (and often are) used to alter reality. Often times we’ll accentuate the positive in our lives and avoid discussing the negative in such a public forum as social media. By only posting the great things that are happening (“Who has two thumbs and just got a sweet gig at the Apple store that comes with a stellar discount? This girl!”) and avoiding your possibly negative, but most likely just boring life events (who cares that I took my dog for a walk, did the dishes, and watched three hours of Pretty Little Liars?), you are altering your image so people see you as more fun, and your life as more exciting.
The jury is still out on what this altered reality that we spend so much time in does for our mental health and well-being. Several past studies have reported that increased Facebook use goes hand-in-hand with lower self-esteem. Part of this could surely stem from comparing your own life to the (altered reality) lives of others. Of course if you compare your real-world life to everyone’s social media lives and see them having epic adventures, you may feel a bit down and possibly get a twinge of FOMO. However, a new study from Facebook contradicts past research and says that the social network can actually make you feel happier! Their research showed that the more positive words we see in others’ Facebook statuses, the more positive we become as a result because good moods are contagious! And of course there are other benefits to social media use, such as a greater feeling of community and support.
It’s clear that we need some more research into the effects of being immersed in these alternate realities. However, there’s no need to stop being positive or putting your best self forward on social media. Just remember that others are doing it too, so don’t take everything you see on social media at face value. Everyone in your feed isn’t prettier, cooler, or more fun than you; they’re only showing you their best stuff. Don’t let the altered reality of social media make you feel bad or change your actual reality. The people who know all sides of you – good, bad, and boring – are more than just those folks on your feed, and they don’t care about the social-media-you; they care about the real you.