I’m in an on-again-off-again relationship with Marky Mark Zuckerberg and the Funky Bunch of Instagram, Snapchat and for certain months of the year, Tinder.
Like all my friends, I treat my social media apps like I do any garden variety 22-year-old with moderately broad shoulders and an HBO Go membership, banishing them from my life at breakfast, then ritualistically ushering them back in when the clock strikes 12. Alas, at the end of the day, the feeds must be scrolled. The likes must be doled out. The people need their thirst traps, and like the humble public servant I am, I must oblige.
That said, I’m not in a position to judge anyone for overusing social media. That’s not what this article is about. Saying that millennials are going hog wild on social media is far from an original stance. In fact, complaining about how much millennials are on their phones could be a track on “Baby Boomers Greatest Hits,” right between the “Burden the Youth With a Massive Deficit Boogie” and “Ballad of Exploiting the World’s Natural Resources (Live at Madison Square Garden).” There’s too much good and evil swimming around social media to explore in a single college newspaper article, so I’d like to narrow in on a particularly pervasive problem — namely, how social media perpetuates already overly narrow and harmful beauty standards.
Let me bring you back to 2009. You’re in your public school’s most luxurious trailer for health class. Frayed posters of crashed cars and police tape scream at you that weed kills while the sweet aroma of your gym coach’s fettuccine alfredo Lean Cuisine slowly roasts in the microwave. You’ve just learned about puberty, drug use and all the basics of sex — excluding just about everything you’ll actually wished you’d learned when first year hits. Nonetheless, your gym coach has just begrudgingly begun a county-mandated skim of the issue of body image, beauty standards and eating disorders designed to captivate your young mind’s attention for the next 50 minutes.
A Powerpoint presentation skips through pictures of emaciated Kate Moss on the runway, models on the cover of magazines and that one film still of Megan Fox leaning over the hood of a car. You know the one. You learn that most images, in magazines and big box movies, are photoshopped, and you shouldn’t believe them.
“You should love your body,” your gym coach barks, yelling a, “Wanna share whatever’s so funny with the class, Martinson?” to the back of the class to meet his daily quota.
The lights come up. The Powerpoint’s over, but as the years pass, you spend less time looking at magazines and more time on your phone, scrolling through your feed to droves of images of perfect people.
Unlike the magazines and movies you’ve heard about, it’s easy to believe these are images captured from people’s real lives. Because you can see a user’s handle, it’s logical to think that this medium is a more realistic, egalitarian one than the professional, manicured photos put forth in international publications and films. It’s easy to believe that all these images are as real as they are readily available.
That’s not always right, though. No one actually looks like they do on their social media. I mean, c’mon. Who doesn’t put forth somewhat of a fantasy version of themselves whenever they post a picture? I don’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just important to be fully cognizant that the images we see on social media are just as removed from reality as those polished, professional pictures. Semi-professional Instagram models and amateurs with FaceTune present such a well-curated image of their lives and bodies that the idea that such perfection is attainable is not only normalized but passed off as commonplace.
Besides encouraging everyone to sideline their social media every once and awhile, I have but minimal wisdom to provide on this topic. There’s just one simple truth I think we should all keep in mind — everyone is a little bit ugly. Whether you’re paid to promote slim teas on Instagram or you’re an actual swamp creature, it’s true. Everyone’s a little bit ugly and that, I think, is beautiful.