A Project for Better Journalism chapter
Op-Ed

#Goals: Striving for Perfection through Social Media

The honest truth is that social media is ubiquitous. It distracts us when we are trying to do homework, we use it to “cyber stalk” others, and we even use it to avoid awkward conversation. Some of us obsess over our online profiles so that they reflect a version of our lives that seems exciting or enviable in order to get as many likes as possible. It is clear that social media harnesses the power to disguise reality and can make it appear that life has to be picture-perfect.

Last year, my mom showed me an article entitled “Split Image” by Kate Fagan. The caption read “On Instagram, Madison Holleran’s life looked ideal: Star athlete, bright student, beloved friend. But the photos hid the reality of someone struggling to go on.” I was enthralled and continued to read. The article spelled out the story of Madison Holleran, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania who was recruited to run track. However, once she started college it became much more difficult for her to balance academics, sports, and a social life. Her father described her as a perfectionist, saying, “She wasn’t feeling like she was achieving at her perfectionist level that she had become accustomed to.” On the night of January 17, 2015, Madison jumped off the ninth level of a parking garage in downtown Philadelphia. She was 19 years old when she passed away. Police found items she left for her family at the top of a parking garage, including chocolates for her dad, two necklaces for her mom, cookies for her grandparents, outfits for her newborn nephew, and a picture of herself as a young kid, holding a tennis racket.

Her friends recounted that Madison’s Instagram account suggested otherwise regarding her college experience. Her account showed her as a successful and happy freshman, masking her struggle with her mental health. Madison did not want to ask for help because she feared burdening others with her problems; when things didn’t go as she hoped, at least she could make it seem ideal online. A college friend recalled, “Sometimes people just post the good parts and maybe those pictures are really happy moments for them. But what’s missing is the in between; there are holes that your followers can’t see.”

I’m in no way trying to bash social media. I enjoy posting pictures to Instagram of my friends and I and fiddling with filters just as much as the next teenager. However, I see a problem in desiring to portray one’s life as perfect to the outside world. In Madison’s case, she was unwilling to admit to her struggles, because her old friends seemed to be leading model college lives. She was able to use Instagram to sculpt an unreal image of herself for her followers.

Social media holds an exponential power to mass-produce images that encourage ideas like a perfect lifestyle, beauty standards, and gender roles. “Instagram models” have risen in popularity, posting pictures of their seemingly perfect bodies, gorgeous vacations, expensive belongings, and attractive boyfriends. Following these models guarantees the presence of their perfected content in one’s feed every time they post. While it’s obviously no crime to follow these people, I urge you to be conscious of the content on social media by remembering:

 

  • In no way should one feel pressured to lead an absolutely “perfect” life, however way the world is defined.
  • Just because someone enjoys posting pictures encapsulating happy moments does not mean they do not struggle too.
  • EVERYONE goes through tough times. It’s unrealistic to think that people haven’t experience pain, sadness, discomfort, or frustration.
  • Never be afraid to ask for help when you find yourself struggling. Friends, teachers, mentors, parents, siblings, guidance counselors, etc. are all a part of your support system. They are there to help you.
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