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Mental Health

Quarantine Killed My Social Media Obsession… and That’s a Good Thing

Like many Gen-Zers, I've been using social media since I was a tween. My middle school education is best summarized by learning which hashtags would get me Instagram followers at the same time I was being taught how to divide decimals. Sure, being familiar with platforms like Instagram and Twitter is certainly a skill I'm thankful to have in this job market, but we can all agree that growing up with a number attached to your face isn't the healthiest byproduct of these platforms. While the data is mixed when it comes to how social media usage may affect our psychology, it's well-known that a relationship between high social media use and lowered self-esteem has been observed in multiple studies. If you've spent more than half an hour on Instagram, you can probably guess why that might be. Filtered photos, curated feeds and sponsored content make for an experience that prioritizes looking good over actually feeling it. 

As someone who's always been fascinated by the power of these apps and websites, I've been following the data for years. Not that it at all stopped me from falling into the same trap. Worse, I knew that downloading Facetune was a slippery slope, and keeping track of what times of the day I got the most engagement was asking for troubleand I did it anyway. As Instagram grew into the financial monster it is today, I evolved with it. All the study data in the world couldn't hold me back from brutally comparing myself to the stunning influencers making money off these apps. 

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Then, the pandemic happened. For the first time in our lives, we were all forced to stay at home and put a clamp on our IRL social circles. We collectively dove into zany TV shows that might've never held our interest before (like Tiger King and Love Island), guesstimated how long it would be before we could go to functions again and got better acquainted with our apartments. Most importantly, though, we realized how draining it was to keep up appearances on our social media handles. #TakeMeBack and #ThrowbackThursday recycled pre-pandemic posts quickly died out, and my social media obsession met its grave alongside them.

I'm not sure if it'll ever be resurrected. Seeing my idolized celebs do IG Lives from their bathroom floors in the same type of wrinkled athleisure I've been bumming in while trapped at home has sort of ruined the mystique in a good way. Watching everyone's curated feed fall apart has been uniquely cathartic and inspired me to be more carefree in what I post because I know firsthand how damaging the comparison game is. Witnessing people bend over backward to keep up the illusion of their flawless content has honestly been hysterical and made me realize how astoundingly dumb I think it is to spend so much time filtering your real life.

It's okay to be sort of losing your mind right nowlife is becoming a bigger mess by the day. Any pressure we might feel to keep up appearances is doing us all far more harm than good, and it's time we start taking that more seriously. The only accounts I haven't muted right now are the ones who are shamelessly living their quarantine lives because I think their attitude is a healthy one we all need to embrace, not just while we're trapped inside but once this is all over, too. Deconstructing the isolating social pretenses these platforms have created is the first step in killing our reliance on them and building a new era of genuine connection with one another, which every year we need more and more.  

Though, of course, I wish our situation wasn't so intensely stressful right now, I'm personally incredibly thankful for the opportunity to abandon the performance, and I invite you to do the same. Trust me, a selfie of you in ugly sweatpants is way funnier anyway.  

Francesca Ott-McKay is a senior at VCU majoring in Psychology and double-minoring in Religious Studies and English. She hopes to pursue a career in clinical psychology that will allow her to continue her passion for writing YA Fiction.
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