Selfies for Yourself - Using Social Media to Create Connection and Community
By Lisa Bay
When I think back to what my high school days would be like with the presence of social media, I do one thing: shudder.
I truly cannot imagine having to keep up my social life not only at school, but also after hours in an online social world. Nor can I imagine having to worry about what I look like each day on the off chance that someone might snap a photo that might be immortalized on Instagram. With my own concerns and hesitations that were ever-present in high school, I could only assume these anxieties would be made WAY worse by social media.
“Oh, they hung out after school today without me”… “oh she is way prettier than me in that selfie”.
These considerations led me to write my Masters level thesis on the relationships between early adolescent self-perceptions—how we see ourselves—and Instagram use.
Social networking sites have undoubtedly changed the way individuals interact in their daily lives. It is impossible to ignore the countless news stories regarding the impacts of social media that highlight both the positive and negative impacts of this powerful medium.
With the increased importance of peer groups and concerns about appearance that arise in high school, it seems that Instagram might be the perfect catalyst for additional stress. Perhaps this is a pessimistic view, but one can't deny the increased concern with keeping up their online presence. It seems that no beautifully plated meal goes un-photographed, nor does a café window go un-filtered. And, I will be the first to admit, I am guilty of all of the above. I'm also guilty of checking my phone to see (read: obsess over) how many likes and comments I get…second guessing a photo that barely cracks twenty likes.
Let's be clear: I am ten years out of high school.
This is not to say that Instagram can't be or isn't exponentially important and/or powerful. I noticed this most when I was on the Girlvana Summer retreat last year; our beautiful photos depicted strong women supporting strong women, girls in their elements with crafts and nature, and the raw and visceral experience of being our true selves. It was hard for me to limit my Instagram posts as each photo represented something so beautiful and transformative for me; sun shining on the windowsill altar of our collected items, the smiles of girls with handmade flower crowns, the blurry mid-danceparty shots of people being themselves. It was truly an Instagram haven…until a photo of me went up.
Ally asked if she could post a picture of me after a trip to the beach. I had tied my sarong to a stick and was waving it around like a pirate conquering a beach. Naturally, photos were clicked as the blue and white sarong floated elegantly above the driftwood and faded rocks.
“Can I post this?”, asked Ally. “You can totally say no”.
I glanced at the photo: a full shot of me in my bathing suit. I was resistant. I replied with some type of guttural noise of uncertainty. “I’m not sure…”, I replied. In that moment, I was faced with an ultimate complex: be the strong mentor I was asked to be and face my fears of my body, allowing the pictured to be posted online for all to see. I was quiet for a moment. Part of me, with anxiety floating around in my chest, was sure there must be a better photo of someone else. The other part of me, determined and vulnerable, was sure that posting a photo of me in a bathing suit online was one way to challenge my deepest inner critic.
Another mentor chimed in: “Ya, but look how happy you look!” ...and that was it.
I nodded. “Yes, post it”.
For some, this may have been an easy decision. For me—someone who struggled with their body image since early high school days—this was a triumph. Supported by the sisters and tribe around me, I faced one of my biggest fears. Coming to the retreat I thought Girlvana was about my role as a supportive mentor for these amazing girls. But it turns out it was much more. Girlvana proved to be therapeutic and challenging for my own inner struggles.
I realized that although Instagram can be scary, with pressure to put up attractive and cool photos, it is also a place to be yourself. It is a place to face fears and lean on the supportive community you have behind you. I don’t want people to only be connected to a perfectly filtered sunset or angled profile shot; I want them to be connected to me. Running around in a bathing suit waving a flag of triumph, with a huge smile.