By Esme Laster
Have you ever spent unintentionally long spans of time browsing through social media? It goes as follows: You find that spot on your couch after an entire day of lugging around your 50 pound backpack and immediately slip into your usual collapsed hunch that starts off comfortable and becomes progressively crippling. Your body sinks deeper into the soft pills of fabric as you mindlessly thumb through countless images. Your time here grows longer and longer, you forget about your homework, about your dad in the next room, and as he walks towards you to ask how school was, you look up and realize the 30 minutes that just passed.
For many teens this experience is familiar, and this familiarity is frightening. Adolescence is a pivotal period of time where tangled, confused emotions form something phenomenal and concrete: ourselves. Social media disrupts this process of forming of self that is meant to occur during adolescence.
Further, social media is intended to exist in the mind of its user as something personal. Therefore, social media users choose to personalize and tailor their social media profiles to what they believe to be the embodiment of themselves, or often times, what they wish to be the embodiment of themselves. This seems like an impossible task, as the complexity of an individual cannot be captured through a collection of photographs and videos. However, this is not the task the geniuses behind Instagram and Facebook are handing to us. We are more practically given the task of conveying a general image of ourselves, rather than conveying individuality, we are told to convey conventionality. Presenting teenagers with the opportunity to self-curate or self-invent an online identity becomes dangerous when this online identity overrides one’s true, human identity.
As these small moments of “social media binging” accompanied by an afternoon snack and a glass of water become more frequent and more casual, and as scrolling becomes more habitual, our online identity becomes larger than the gleam behind a 4 inch screen, it becomes an obsession.
A prime example of this obsession with our online identities is the popularization of the “selfie”. While there are many variations of the selfie, selfies are most commonly used as a way to present ourselves as attractive. The selfie puts a face behind a username, but this face can easily be a mask. Just as it is easy to create a false image of ourselves through our social media profiles, it is easy to manipulate how one truly looks with a single photo in order to appear conventionally beautiful. This need to establish ourselves as beautiful to accredit our online identities, speaks more broadly to America’s obsession with beauty.
American culture has always orbited around some conventional idea of beauty. Most americans associate a certain face, or name with this idea of American beauty, however, it is often the mass representation of this face, or rather, what is a corporately-curated image of beauty, that rigs the minds of many Americans. It is the mass-deliverance of these images that make American people so susceptible to believing that beauty is a single image, or can even be captured in one image. These images of beauty are tactically curated, and tailored to be believed, these images are more than a long blonde woman with creamy skin and an impossibly straight nose, these images are powerful American commodities: they are bought by the American people, and they are sold to the American people.
Social media functions similarly in that social media allows us to portray a single image of ourselves. Even worse, social media makes us believe that our identities can be expressed through one image, or a collection of images. Social media simplifies and minimizes our individuality, and at a time where individuality is being formed, social media can be catastrophic. So, the next time you feel yourself sinking into the seams of your sofa and aimlessly scrolling through images, break the habit: look up at the ceiling, remember the time, and sit up straight.