Social media has had a ginormous impact on the outlook of my life. To begin, I’d just like to make it clear that I am what I would consider a “Facebook Original Gangster.” Without even owning her own cell phone, 12-year-old Hannah used her mother’s number (with her permission, I promise) with a glittery pink cased iPhone 4 to set up her first internet profile, which would then follow her for the rest of her life. Compiled with prom photos, middle school life updates, college achievements, and way too many duck lip selfies, this profile I had crafted as a 6th grader was not like another scrapbook to fill with photographs or a box to put my favorite birthday cards and letters in—it was my first time exposing myself to “the world” so to speak.
Even at that age, my reasoning behind my posts (at some extent) were the same as an older version of myself—to get some sort of praise from others. I remember my very first post to FB was me in a bikini, posing on a rock in the water in Zion Cannon from a family trip to AZ. I remember being a proud middle school girl of my abs I had developed from gymnastics practices and my new purple and pink striped swimsuit from Justice I was wearing. I practically begged my dad to take a photoshoot for me just to post a quick snap shot of that day and to finally have my first picture to post. And just like I find myself doing now, a 20-year-old college student, little Hannah waited for the likes and comments to roll in and add up.
In middle school, I can remember scrolling on my feed with wide eyes looking at all of the selfies and winter group photoshoot posts from girls in ripped Abercrombie jeans and lululemon headbands. I had this constant desire to post in order to achieve what I was seeing from other girls in my grade. And of course, I was exactly like these girls. I had my amazing girl group of best friends, my mom would take me on mall trips in order for me to have cute outfits, and I did fun things that were “picture worthy.” So why did I feel this immense pressure to prove it?
I wanted everything in my life to seem picture perfect. I wanted everyone to see a perfectly whitened smile and a posed view of my life that I was “having so much fun” even if in reality, my time wasn’t as picture perfect as I wanted it to seem. Almost on the verge of tears pleading my brother or sister to capture a photo of me on the beach, stressing over a cute “candid” pic at dinner with some girlfriends, or spending an hour taking 2374 mirror selfies in order to get SOMETHING to throw up on the gram. And this all felt NORMAL at that time of my life.
I filtered my pictures an absurd amount when I was in middle school and high school... and I’ll admit that I still do that from time to time. It wasn’t until very recently that I have started to look back on old social media posts and think “why did I even want to post this?” I would spend more time flipping through the pictures on my phone, picking out and blurring every “imperfection” than I was actually letting myself fully enjoy the moment I just experienced. Whether it was flicks from my trip to London with my beloved family friends, or a picture of me on my 16th birthday, I would base my happiness of the moment partially on how well the post did or how I looked in a quick moment of the day.
Recently, I have felt myself slowly become more self-aware. I am now a junior in college, with my own apartment which has sort of forced me to grow out of my immature shell. I found myself one Sunday evening going through my Instagram profile and realized how many photos I had deleted over the last 8 years of having Insta. Before there was the “archive” feature, I would literally remove any post I thought was not good enough for my profile or my image I was trying to uphold. I wish I had saved those memories and kept them up like some of my other friends have. I have made a vow to be less picky about what I post on my socials, and have chosen to be more real and raw.
I have realized over this time of small growth that Instagram really is just the highlights. The “perfect” pictures you see every day coming through on your feed aren’t real. The moments are. And why would I want to post something where the moment isn’t really something I need to show or something that makes me undeniably happy?
There were a couple weeks last year that I was going through a really hard time. It was very temporary, but I was just feeling really sad. In the mix of this period, I posted a picture of me at a party, seemingly having the time of my life, big smile on my face and all. I can remember looking at this ultra-posed image of me throwing my hands up in a cheetah print shirt and black ripped jeans, an outfit I thought was flexing on absolutely everyone. But when I really took a closer look, I realized that I only had posted it to PROVE something to my followers and to make others think I was undeniably thriving in life---which I wasn’t. Pretty sure I spent that night crying!
I took the picture down. I scraped it from existence. I got a couple texts that day saying “Where did your photos go?” “That was such a good post, why delete?!?” “Put it back up.” My response was simply that it just didn’t make me happy. The post wasn’t for me, even on my own social media. I had only posted it to make others know I was okay, that I was better than okay. I’ve learned that it’s never okay to fake something, that real happiness comes when I don’t plan the pic, and when I simply just let myself thrive in the presence of my silly best friends and my boyfriend who has the sweetest soul.
And now, just this week, I re-downloaded Facebook for the first time in months. For a long time, It was just another app for me to spend too much time on and I had deleted it for a while because I found myself on it too much. When I looked on my timeline, I felt a ping of sadness because I could see mentions I had never answered because I didn’t see them, and connections I had failed to follow through with. I looked back on old pictures of myself with my family and was reminded how much they mean to me, that they truly are my people. I think in the mist of social media perfection, I forgot for a while to include them as well.
When I go home for thanksgiving this year, I am making sure to post with my family, if I post anything. I want to start being more real in my life and there is nothing more real than the love I have for my people (this goes for the friends who feel like family as well). I am happy that I am surrounded by so many people who live life not to post it but to really live it. Sure, I still will filter my pictures a little sometimes. But I am no longer living for a picture or finding every imperfection I have and editing it out of view.
I want to end this by saying that I think we all have a lot to learn from our younger selves. When you are 5, you didn’t pose for a picture hoping to get hundreds of likes. Mom and dad whipped out the camera in a flash of seconds to see your happy face innocently immersing yourself in the little beautiful things in life. You playing in the sand, or eating spaghetti or if you’re like me running in the sprinkler being a wild child. I had NOTHING to prove! And I will forever remind myself that I never will.