Comparison isn’t just the thief of joy…

*Originally posted on August 19, 2014*

Comparison isn’t just the thief of Joy. It is the thief that stalks Joy, and creeps into its room in the middle of the night. It is the thief that can beat Joy to within an inch of its life, laughing while feelings of Inadequacy take over.

Social media is a strange, double-edged sword of an addiction. I love Facebook. I can stay in touch with family that I don’t get to see very often, I can see pictures of my cousins’ kids and watch them grow up, I can conveniently plan events, and send the same message to multiple people in a group chat situation. I can watch videos of HHI World Hip Hop competition, and see how well Canada did (C-A-N-A-D-A WHAT!). I can stalk people that I’m not friends with so I can be a part of the gossip wheel (Don’t lie. You all do it. If I haven’t spoken to you since high school, and when I run into you, you call me “Nikita,”and not “Niki,” then I know you stalk me, too.). I can share bits and pieces of my life with my friends, and I’m sure they like to know what I’m up to, too.

But it’s also awful. People want to be my “friend” when I haven’t seen them in real life in years. And then I press “decline,” and feel like a bitch for it. We’re also creating huge files on ourselves for Facebook, the public, and most likely the government, to have. Every “life event” is there; you have pictures of me throughout my life, including me in childhood thanks to #tbt and family members who tag me. You know where I visit, because of the “check-in” feature, and you know who I hang out with because of my “friends” list.

Have you seen the things that Facebook wants to be able to do when you download the app for your phone? It’s terrifying! When you download Facebook to your phone, you are letting Facebook look at your internet browsing history, use your GPS location, use your text messaging (charges may apply), use your phone and look at your call log (charges may apply), use your camera, use your microphone…need I go on? Why do they need access to all of these things?!

But anyway, other than the basic privacy rights that Facebook violates we knowingly and willingly give up to use Facebook and other forms of social media, social media is awful because it sets us up to compare ourselves to those around us, and to feel inadequate.

I recently read a great article about representing ourselves on social media. When someone posts a great selfie, smiling, with the lighting perfect, their hair flowing, and their shirt sitting perfectly, it probably isn’t the first and only photo they took. How many selfies does it take to find the one that is deemed internet-worthy? Yet, we post the flawless one to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Insert-The-Newest-Social-Media-Site-Here, and that perfect version of ourselves is what people see, and what we want them to see. We don’t write Facebook posts about how boring our lives are. “Sitting here in my sweatshirt and not-matching t-shirt, no make up, hair in a bun, stuffing my face with popcorn and chocolate, while being bored and watching Netflix, wasting hours of my life repinning on Pinterest.” Nobody does this.

What will you see instead? “#nomakeup” pictures of people looking flawless “first-thing” in the morning, and “Going to bike the seawall today!” status updates. Pictures of people at parties, with new clothes, fancy drinks, and seemingly awesome social lives. You’ll see new life events of friends, like, “So-and-so just started working at their dream job,” and, “So-and-so is having a baby!” Don’t forget the ever popular, “So-and-so is super happy and getting married, and there is no sign of any financial struggles; they’ll have a perfect, stress-free $30 000.00 wedding, and live happily-ever-after, and you will not!” Okay, so the last one doesn’t say all of that. But isn’t that how it feels sometimes?

I’m just as guilty of this. We put perfect pictures on social media, and we post happy and exciting status updates so that we can show the world the best version of us. Who doesn’t want to have others be envious of how awesome our lives are? But it isn’t healthy. I am 24 years old, and I sometimes have to remind myself that the perfection I am seeing online from “normal” (read: not famous) people is only half of who they are. It’s easy to look at the way people represent themselves online and assume that that is how they are twenty-four hours a day. And when you forget that it’s a construction of what they want you to see, it can make you compare your average life to their seemingly exciting and perfect one. And that’s when the trouble starts.

Why am I not gorgeous like that all the time? Why didn’t I curl my hair today, too? Ah, shit. They lost a lot of weight while I’ve been sitting on my ass. They are going to a dinner party, and I’m just going to work. I’m not at a fancy restaurant; I’m just laying in bed in my jim-jams. Drinks on the patio again? Where are my model-esque friends and extra cash today so I can sip wine at the newest not-pub-not-restaurant-restaurant? Look at so-and-so being so strong in the middle of all of their family struggles. I bet they never cried once; how selfless! Why am I so weak?

We compare our everything to everyone else’s little-bit.

And what scares me about this is how inadequate it can make me feel at twenty-four-years-old, and what that must be doing to teenage girls. I have come a long way in the self-esteem department, and I have the brain to analyze this and truly understand that the perfection of girls on Instagram is a false construct. Thirteen-year-olds might not understand this. Even when you tell them, they probably think you’re old and you just don’t get it. How do we teach them about self-love when social media and comparison have become such a huge part of their lives?

I used to think that we need to take the focus off of body image, and really reinforce intelligence and talent in girls. Instead of saying, “Wow! You look so pretty!” we need to comment on the book they are reading, or the picture they’re doodling. But then I watched a Ted Talk that talks about how we need to deal with making young women feel beautiful first. The woman in the Ted Talk says that feelings of physical inadequacy stop young girls from trying new things, and from doing what they are good at. And this really resonated with me. I have always wanted to do tumbling. I wanted to learn to do backflips and be super flexible and all of that stuff. I also always wanted to take ballet. But I never did either of those things because I’d have to wear a leotard and leotards are tight and I was chubby andthat would be unthinkably embarrassing. I also hated speaking in front of large groups. I’m not bad at it; I like presentations for class (I’m a teacher, after all). But I hated it because everyone would be looking at me, and I was chubby and I felt like that is what people would focus on. Not feeling pretty stops people from doing what they want to do. 

So what do we do? I really don’t know. I guess my own acknowledgment of my own feelings of inadequacy in the face of social media is a good place to start. If I can understand and remember this, maybe I can teach this to others when the time comes. Does this mean I’m done literally putting my best face forward? Absolutely not. You always dress like you’re gonna run into your worst enemy, and walk like there’s three men walking behind you. But I guess the lesson here is to remember that we all have another half of our lives that is just as boring and average as the next.

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