The Truth About Social Media Through The Eyes Of An Influencer
The world of social media seems endlessly glamorous and exciting, especially for a young man with an Instagram profile of 100,000+ followers. My Instagram page has brought me endorsement deals, modelling opportunities and even offers to go on television shows such as Love Island and Big Brother; both of which, to the relief of my parents, I declined. However, my Instagram also brought me anxiety, depression and stress. Not so glamorous now...
Social media is a wonderful thing that seems to offer opportunities and adventures. It provides a chance to connect with people all over the world, to discover upcoming brands and see what your role models are doing, and so much more. But social media is extremely detrimental to your mental health, and I mean seriously damaging.
The average teenager spends 2+ hours on social media every day; that’s more time than you spend eating, for some of you more time than you spend exercising too. You scroll endlessly when you’re bored, seeing your favourite influencers drinking Long Island ice teas from a coconut on a beach in Florida while you’re stuck in bed on a Saturday morning with minimal ambitions for your day. What you don’t realise is that the influencer you’re admiring has spent an hour taking 400 similar photos, photo-shopped them and stressed over thelighting. Iam telling you because I’ve been there and done exactly that.
They then post this photo, and value themselves like a product on a shelf, based on the amount of likes they receive. Likes have become a currency for happiness and followers have become our generation’s newest attraction; the attention sets off the serotonin in your head like a bullet, giving you a feel-good factor and sending your self-confidence through the roof. But sadly, if you don’t get a satisfying number of likes and followers –and most people don’t –you just end up feeling unwanted and desperate. Now be honest with yourself, have you ever deleted a photo because it didn’t get the likes you were hoping for and got a bit disappointed? Exactly.
Being a male model, I would see photos like these and feel I had to compete. I would alsoconstantly feel that I was not good enough. Despite knowing the pictures had been edited, I fell deeply into the trap. Instead of looking in the mirror with confidence and feeling good about the look I had worked hard for, I was trying to complete the impossible task of satisfying every watchful eye at the same time. I didn’t let myself eat the food I craved or drink on nights out; even though it was during my first year at university which involves an incredibly social and alcohol fuelled culture. I felt even I was missing out even more.
I counted calories, counted my steps and ran away from carbohydrates in fear. I let other people objectify me and I objectified myself so that I felt fairly empty because I forgot how to be me and to do the things I enjoyed. I was hell-bent on keeping up a certain image.
You might look at a picture of me and see a confident, good-looking, happy young man; but the truth is, I work in an industry, where every day I have to think about how I look. I am one of a very insecure group of men, whether many would like to admit it or not.
As my Instagram following grew, I created another account. I had been following so many people, mainly big brands and celebrities, that I didn’t see what my friends where doing and felt even more disconnected.
I then unfollowed everyone I knew on my modelling account to create a distinction between work life and my actual life. This however, caused total uproar. I woke up the next day to about 20 people asking me why I’d unfollowed them; some people even said, “I guess were not friends anymore” and got so upset about it. What I thought were friendships, based on love and enjoyment, were actually all based around a digital following. I ended up feeling more lost than ever before.
The pressure on young people to play a certain role or to look a particular way is bigger than ever before; knowing that I had 100,000 people watching me made me feel squashed and as if I was constantly being judged. I felt so much pressure to be someone I wasn’t. I completely lost sight of myself.
For anyone who knows me I’d like to think I left a mark wherever I went. I walked down my school corridors with confidence, feeling pretty fearless and with a drive and determination to succeed in every aspect of my life. If I wasn’t trying to avoid school-work at every possible opportunity I was chasing girlsand in the gym trying to feed my vanity.
But then my Instagram took off after school, and I become lost. Going into modelling I thought it was going to be great, so many 19/20 year old women and a good time! In fact, my Instagram following is 75% men, and I’m continually sent things I really don’t want to see. Spending so much time on social media made me extremely confused about everything - including my sexuality - due to the environment I found myself in.
I’m not saying that social media it’s going to “make you gay”; for a start if you are gay, fantastic - I’m a huge supporter of the LGBT community. The point is, I became so subconsciously invested into an app on my phone that I lost sight of who I am as a person, what I stand for and what makes me happy. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who spent so much time comparing myself to others, and find myself wanting. It is such a waste and so bad for your mental health.
So, I gave up social media for a while and went back to it after a long break with a new approach. I deleted Twitter, I unfollowed the celebrities and the big brands on Instagram and put a cap on my daily usage. I use my Instagram account to spread awareness, to support causes and to occasionally make a bit of money. But giving up social media for a short time was the best decision I’ve made. It opened my eyes. I began to value myself again, to be ambitious; I felt reborn and safer.
I’m not telling you to delete social media, I’m telling you to be more cautious. You don’t have to follow someone because your friends do. You don’t have to have a six pack because society demands it or because a Calvin Klein model has it. I stopped looking at my phone the first hour of every day when I woke up; it meant every day could be a good day because I started it healthily and right. I stopped going on my phone when I was bored and got stuck in with the real world, and real people instead. I even started reading books and wanting to learn.
It’s very easy to get lost in the whirlwind that social media threats, especially for those between 18-22, who are either at university or college, when you’re at the stage in your life where you’re really not sure what it is you want to do. It is therefore very easy to be envious of those you see online and obsess over what you don’t have, rather than be grateful for what you do.
At the end of the day, the digital world means very little. If someone hacked into software and deleted Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and the rest, young people today would feel lost. Many wouldn’t know what to do and the withdrawal symptoms in our society would kick into overdrive. Stop sitting on your phone at social events, leave it another room; people are around you. Get stuck in reality, not lost in your phone.
I want to leave you with this quote from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club; “we buy s**t we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like”. Have a long think about this quote, and next time you reach for your phone to post a photo, or spend hours in front of a mirror taking a selfie, ask yourself; why am I doing this, and who am I doing this for?