This story on BBC about Essena O’Neill, a very popular Australian social media celebrity, helped me stand back once again and re-examine the effect that social media has on our lives today. A while back I posted about happiness and turning off social media, and that was quite some time before I finally closed my own Facebook account. I had closed it once a few years ago and found I did not even miss it, but when I found out that friends and family were informing others of important life events such as the births of babies, etc., I decided to re-open the account. In retrospect that is what we now call FOMO!
It is pretty frightening to see the negative effects social media has had on our lives. Of course it has been used for many wonderful causes (i.e. Ice Bucket Challenge) and even political changes worldwide, but the daily effect on our lives is less obvious and, in the long-run, potentially quite harmful. I re-opened my Instagram account a few months ago because I wanted to be able to follow inspiring and beautiful photos (namely food photography and National Geographic), as well as to follow a handful of famous people that I admire such as Michelle Obama and Mindy Kaling. I follow a few friends and it keeps me somewhat abreast of the happenings of their lives. I also have three or four blogs that I follow pretty religiously. Oddly, two of them are fashion/lifestyle bloggers, even though I have very little personal interest in the fashion world. I simply enjoy looking at the beautiful photographs they post and the clothes they wear, even though I myself would never drop the amount of money on products that they do.
It was not until later that I learned that they get paid ridiculous amounts for each post and name brand that they tag! The more followers they have, the more money they rake in for each post. It is essentially gilded advertising. We expect typical celebrities to pay top dollar for high-end items; they do it because they can. But when a non-celebrity posts photos of their beautiful things and perfect lives, it leads to followers believing they too can and should aspire to own and experience the same things. When I learned that these home bloggers were making upwards of $1 million per year this way, I was shocked. Some blogs openly discuss that they are a business and include posts on a variety of topics, some of which are very deep and personal. I always assumed the fashion blogs were just hobbies, not full sources of income.
Going back to Essena O’Neill, her obsession with social media and pursuing the approval of followers began around age 15. Her concerns with body image started at an even younger age of 11, and this is a common theme these days that young girls are already thinking about dieting and achieving the unhealthy thinness that is plastered all over billboards, magazines, and TV ads. I have long hated watching TV ads in general (for two reasons: one is that obviously their only goal is convincing people they need a product they do not need, and two is that they waste so many precious minutes of our lives! I wonder how much time we spend over a lifetime watching commercials), and I especially dislike the ones in which a bikini-clad supermodel is chowing down on a fast food chain’s burger. Really? That is just preposterous.
After years of posting “lifestyle” and fitness shots, Essena has decided to close all of her social media accounts. She deleted over 2000 photos from her Instagram account, and updated the captions on the remaining photos to inform her followers that she was paid to post a product/clothing brand. She shows incredible emotional maturity for her age, noting that many of the photos were not candid or portraying her in her everyday life. They were staged and photographed perhaps 100 times before choosing just the “right” shot, and in essence not REAL. They make followers feel that they have to live up to standards (standards which are quite expensive as well – I make a comfortable living but would never feel good about spending thousands of dollars on a handbag or a pair of shoes). And if one cannot live up to these standards, then one begins to feel “less than,” and the normal insecurities we all feel snowball out of control.
Perhaps it is time to stop following those “social media celebrities” (even the term is ridiculous!) and focus on more fulfilling life activities instead of spending hours addicted to our screens. Perhaps it is time we find the true joy in our daily lives, experiences, and relationships rather than deluding ourselves that others’ mundane snapshots are what we should aspire to.
What are your views on social media, branding, advertising, and self-fulfillment?