The toxic experience of being a woman in the social media age



Perhaps it’s time we started following people who give us more than just pretty pictures. 

We’ve all read a million articles about how social media can make you an unhealthy, depressed or insecure person. We’re all told that our generation is more anxious than ever before, competing with each other within the vacuous vacuum of our apps.

However, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how social media is gamed to create a particularly toxic environment for women. Or, perhaps more accurately, the way that women use social media to work against themselves.

Modern social media was created in order to compare women with other women. This isn’t hyperbole. Facebook literally started as a way for frat boys (and Zuckerberg, specifically) to find out which girls on campus were single, and then rate them as ‘hot or not’. We were fucked from the start.

Facebook hasn’t become a much better environment since; especially when you take into account how little a response Facebook employs when continuous complaints are made about venomous and dangerous pages like Yeah The Boys.

Add to the fact that Facebook makes us routinely more depressed and less satisfied with our lives, and you have the perfect storm of declining mental health paired with feelings of jealousy and envy.

Predictably, this effect is more pronounced in women, especially young women. In the last year alone, there has been a 68% rise in self-harm in girls aged 17 and under recorded in the UK. This rate is three times that of boys the same age and has been directly linked to self-hate fuelled by increased social media proliferation.

Meanwhile, Twitter isn’t much safer for women. The only network to allow all-out porn, it has become the playground for creepy guys… and Trump. But I’ve been thinking a lot more about the insidious effect Instagram has had on my own well-being lately.

A platform based entirely on sharing airbrushed photos and perfectly pouting selfies – without much room for expressing intelligent thought or sharing important information? It’s a recipe for disaster, especially for women. No wonder Facebook bought it.

Instagram, as a social platform, is based entirely on image: how you look, what you’re wearing, where you’re going, and how much (fake) fun you’re having there. It’s no wonder that, in a study this year, it was found to be the worst social media network for mental health.

One huge US Instagram influencer I follow manipulates her photos so much, that when a fellow follower met her in person, she told me she had no idea who she was. Her face-tuning (and body-tuning) was that extensive.

A local influencer I follow posts photos with a grin constantly plastered on her face, but every time I see her at an event, she barely cracks a smile.

Another appears to be at every single event that has ever been held in Australia. However, every time I see her in person she anxiously asks me about my upcoming event schedule, and which PR she needs to beg for her own invites.

As a woman in her 30s, I should be better at recognising that Instagram is a pretty lie. As someone who has seen social media develop for over a decade, I should be able to separate my own reality from those that proliferate my feed daily. I should understand that, like me, this is the luxurious cream scraped off the top of other people’s just-as-boring lives. This is only the really good stuff, the edited photos, and the best angles.

But no matter how much I try to tell myself this, I fall repeatedly into a cycle of FOMO and self-loathing every time I log on. So, if Instagram makes me feel so bad about myself, why do I use it? Sure, I could abandon Instagram altogether – but that would simply restrict the audience for my voice even further, which is kind of playing into my entire point.

I also love social media as a discovery tool – a search engine that essentially takes the ‘search’ out of finding exactly what I want. But in between all the pretty products and inspirational travel porn, I’ve fallen into the trap of following people who I genuinely would never hang out with in person. Industry people who I’ve actually met, who I find dull, or vacuous, or conceited. But hey, their pictures are SO PRETTY.

And I guess that’s the objective – it’s an old-fashioned and damaging representation of women in two dimensions, in order to farm interaction for shareholders.

Instagram is gamed toward the sexist narrative that women don’t need to be anything more than physically attractive, thin, and smiling blankly at an unnamed audience. And so much so, that your thoughts are cut off promptly after a mere 20 words.

So, perhaps it’s time we started following people who give us more than just pretty pictures. Perhaps its time women more keenly valued other women who have a voice.

Your mental health can only thank you.

Follow Bianca at @_thesecondrow and listen to her podcast at @thefashionpodcast.

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