Ah, social media. The grand blessing and curse of our generation. Before Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr, there was no acceptable place to share pictures of your trendy brunch or foggy nature walks. Unfortunately though, these mediums have become breeding grounds for narcissism and addictions to approval.
Essena O’Neil, an Australian “insta model,” recently came clean about the damaging effects of social media. Having over half a million followers and a decent modeling gig, from the naked eye, it seemed like she had it all. Here’s what she had to say:
“Without realizing, I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status and my physical appearance. Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real. It’s contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other.”
In a culture that so heavily attributes success to how much applause you receive, it’s difficult to be raw and honest on social media. No one wants to see me right after waking up, bedhead and all, so I’m going to do my hair and makeup before taking a picture. No one wants to know what I actually look like, so I’m going to add a filter or two (or five) to my photo before posting it. If I don’t do these edits or get the right angle, the number of “likes” I receive will suffer. Receiving social admiration is addicting, and it’s no wonder that so many girls get caught up in the glamorous-looking lives of others.
What the outside view fails to see, though, is the emptiness that it can entail. As my dear Essena points out, her life was superficial and she was so desperate for admiration that she was willing to exploit her body in tiny outfits in exchange for money and fame.
So the question arises: How do we find depth within the emptiness?
1. Take a hiatus. One of my favorite things in the world is a hiatus. Social media is not inherently bad, but it can be abused. Purging technology from your life for a bit can be very freeing, and deleting a certain app from your phone or simply signing off can open you up to a world you might have been missing while trying to create an online persona. It can also give you time to center yourself on what’s truly important. Take a walk. Call your mom. Pray.
2. Test out some bold honesty. “The world changes in direct proportion to the number of people willing to be honest about their lives.” (You can thank Armistead Maupin for that wisdom.) After Miss O’Neil came clean about herself, hoards of followers did too. We intrinsically desire truth and belonging, and it’s impossible to find either of those when living in internet fantasy. True freedom is found in honesty, albeit scary at times to be honest. Take a picture of yourself with a sincere smile, sans makeup/filter. Rave about a fair trade brand you love. Become an advocate for something. Use social media to promote goodness and social change. Take a few seconds of courage, and you may be surprised with what ripples of change you can make.
3. Realize that to follow Christ is to take a road less traveled. We are called to be Christ to one another, and I can assure you that Jesus never sought praise. In fact, he fled into solitude on many occasions. (Matthew 14:23; Luke 5:16 for example). It’s vital to remember that our faith tells us not to settle for the culture of the world. Although you might miss some earthly esteem, praise will be given to you in Heaven, where it is everlasting and God-given. One could get millions of likes, but it is null in comparison to the love of our Lord. The road to Heaven is narrow, yes, but it is also fulfilling. It is true. Most importantly, it is the sole way to genuine success.