I was born in the 80s and grew up without social media. This means that I didn’t constantly know what others were doing, wearing, or eating at any and every moment of the day. I would wake up, put on clothes that made me feel comfortable and do my hair in a way I liked. I rarely looked in the mirror. And, whatever I happen to be doing, I was able to be present and enjoy it.
As I went into my teen years, I attended public school and quickly learned that it was unacceptable to wear my hair in a ponytail every day or wear the same style of jeans two days in a row. I was confronted by my peers about everything from my clothes and hair to my weight and skin color. I stopped wearing certain shades and, to this day, hate having my hair in a ponytail.
Fast forward to my late 20s—social media was now in the palm of everyone’s hand and I began to notice that I was spending too much time looking in the mirror.
As I’ve learned to navigate social media and the affects it has on my life, here are a couple things I’ve discovered about myself and my relationship with social media.
In my free time, I enjoyed creating YouTube videos and took the opportunity to create a “fun” challenge video. I challenged myself to go a whole week without looking in the mirror, taking selfies, or even looking at the video footage of myself throughout this process.
Early on, I started feeling uncomfortable and by the third day, I had a full-fledged breakdown. I was crying and couldn’t figure out why. I was depressed. I felt like the only thing that would make me feel better was to look in the mirror. The urge to fix my body, clothes, hair––it was overwhelming.
Unknowingly, I was struggling with perfectionism and still comparing myself to others. Even though I had stopped looking in the mirror, I was still scrolling on social media. I saw everyone’s beautiful body and only remembered all the parts of my body that I despise.
This experience was a rude awakening for me and I began to minimize the time I spent on my phone.
For many of us, it’s common to wake up and before getting out of bed, grab our phone and scroll through social media.
Often times, I have used the fitness accounts on Instagram to “inspire” me to get to the gym and eat better. I think, “If I see someone else eating a wonderful breakfast then I’ll feel 'inspired' to make a beautiful breakfast too."
I use quotes because I wasn’t feeling inspired but instead, I was subconsciously shaming myself into “trying harder” and eating less. I rarely have created a meal that was a work of art. Actually, it’s more common that I feel depressed over the whole idea—I don’t usually have all the right ingredients and even if I did, I have little kiddos to feed and barely have time to make a bowl of cereal, let alone something so nice for myself.
Ultimately, I end up feeling discouraged and put my health on the back burner. Going about my day, I skip meals and then consume carbs late at night. Does this sound like I was “inspired?”
To be inspired means: to create a positive feeling in a person.
Inspiration is not a feeling of guilt or shame.
When I look at certain fitness accounts and the biggest emotion I feel is inadequacy, this is a huge indicator that I’m not feeling inspired. Instead, I’m comparing the way I look and how I eat to how I now feel—focused on how I “should” look or how I “should” eat. This is definitely not a healthy way to use social media.
Social media promotes the ability to build relationships, but sadly, in recent years, social media has become less about keeping connected with friends or family and more about showing others the wonderful parts of our life. There’s nothing wrong with sharing the positive parts of our day—I do this myself. But how often do we start scrolling and find ourselves feeling down…or “inspired?”
We tend to forget that we are comparing our shortcomings to the highlight reel of others.
In early April, I had the honor of attending the Pure Desire Women conference and experienced another awakening moment. Even though I had limited my phone use each day, when I was on my phone I continued to scroll through other’s photos and comparing myself—the way I look, the way I speak, and even the way I think. I continued to have negatives thoughts: “There’s something wrong with me.” “I needed to change to be better…to be good enough.”
As the weekend progressed I thought, “Maybe I’ll just delete everything off of my phone. That way I don’t have to worry about it at all.” But quickly realized, since most of my job is online, if I quit social media, I’m essentially quitting my job. So that wouldn’t work. I then figured, “Well, if I can’t delete it all, I guess I’m just stuck with it.”
Do you see my all or nothing mentality here?
When I arrived home from the conference I prayed about this new revelation, knowing there had to be a healthy option somewhere in the middle. Ultimately, I decided to delete most of the apps from my phone. The social media apps that can be accessed on a desktop were the first to go, along with shopping apps, and some Photoshop apps.
My next step was to unfollow people. This process wasn’t about unfollowing those who shared inappropriate content. They actually had wonderful things to say and pictures to share. But it wasn’t about them. I was becoming more aware of my feelings and noticed a connection—when seeing certain things that others shared, I would go right back to my comparison mode. Feeling overwhelmed, my thoughts were consumed with how I need to change, what I wish I was like, or how I look.
As I began scrolling through to see who I would unfollow, it turned out to be a difficult process. When we are following strangers on Instagram, for example, we get a glimpse into their life. Even though we only see what they want us to see, we begin to gain a sense of connection. By unfollowing these people, it felt as though I was losing a friend. It felt like a bond was being broken when really, we weren’t truly connected to begin with.
In a recent interview done by host, Zane Lowe, he asked his guest, “Where does that come from, that sort of desire for acceptance?”
God created us for connection. But rather than having an intimate relationship with Him and the people around us, we grasp for what feels safe. In turn, we are training ourselves to look perfect, to wear masks, to fit in. Not showing our imperfect selves because it’s too scary.
I lived in many masks for most of my life. When I started on my healing journey, through a Behind The Mask group, I learned why I put on specific masks, the purpose they served, and that it’s okay to take them off.
As I continue in this new chapter of my life—digging deeper, and finding more healing, rather than feeling lost—I have felt so much love and support. I’ve had the pleasure of being surrounded by safe women in an environment that says, “It’s okay not to be okay.”
Healthy isn’t always having everything together. Instead, it’s acknowledging that we are perfectly imperfect.
Sarah is the International Groups Coordinator Assistant for Pure Desire. She has a heart for helping women and students who struggle with trauma and addiction—passionate about bringing Pure Desire to women’s prisons and juvenile detention centers. Sarah is a group leader and speaker, working toward her DTM (Distinguished Toastmaster).