A Plea for Authenticity

The obnoxiously repetitive culture on social media has a much bigger impact than just ruining your feed.

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photo by Kristen Kinzler and Alyssa Bruce

The way social media affects its users goes far beyond likes and comments.

By Kristen Kinzler, North Allegheny Senior High School

I am not one of Harry Styles’s 25.7 million Instagram followers. I don’t ever plan to be, not because I hold a personal vendetta against One Direction, but simply because I have no interest. However, almost every time Harry Styles posts, a majority of the girls I follow share the picture on their Instagram story. Consequently, as I tap through my feed, I see the same exact picture of him at least four dozen times.

The same scenario happens when any Instagram trend takes off. Once a celebrity, influencer, or any other figure posts a picture that begins to circulate, it takes over Instagram stories like an annoying, repetitive plague. Whether it’s something as trivial as David Dobrik’s Tesla giveaway, or something of more substance, like an image from the Australian wildfires, the majority of popular posts have the same diffusion.

It starts when one person posts something on their story. Then their followers do the same. Their followers’ followers chime in. And soon enough, it seems that the whole internet has an oddly similar interest in one photo.

It’s great that people are using their own social media page to reflect their interests, but at some point, that interest isn’t entirely their own. It becomes just another popular thing to do. It creates a sense of belonging — like you’re one of the people with a proper, socially acceptable viewpoint. 

We only post our greatest hits, and even those are thoughtfully captured and heavily filtered.”

After all, if you’re posting something everyone else is posting, it must be valuable…right?

Such actions breed an environment that is based upon following others and discourages independent thought. Obviously, this logic can lead our world down many dangerous roads.

I acknowledge that, although I despise many of its aspects, I waste a lot of my time on Instagram. I’ve also been guilty of posting something solely for the sake of appearance. It’s human nature — an intrinsic reaction that social media companies know about and exploit on a daily basis. More than anything, we want to feel like we matter, and hundreds of likes and comments have a way of making us feel relevant.

I’m not saying that social media can’t be used to fill this desire; it’s supposed to be fun, after all. But when we place our entire self-worth on an app, as many teenagers do, we can quickly lose sight of reality.

There comes a point when the facade that we all put on — showcasing only our happiest moments, our favorite things only if they fit in with the latest trend, and our accomplishments if they look pretty enough — becomes extremely damaging.

Instagram, in particular, is often linked to causing so-called “FOMO,” or the “fear of missing out,” and creating unrealistic body standards for young women. This can then lead to higher levels of depression and anxiety.

I never used to believe those studies because it seemed foolish that a few pictures could have that much control over someone’s mood – until this past fall, when I didn’t attend the Homecoming dance. While I thought I was completely at peace with my decision at the time, after scrolling through Instagram the next day, and seeing all the happy couples, big smiles, and beautiful dresses, I found myself becoming very cynical.

Since only Homecoming pictures filled my feed, it seemed like everyone in the school had the time of their lives at the dance I didn’t go to. I closed the app feeling isolated and left out. Of course, I still liked all the posts and commented that all my friends looked great (because that’s another thing we’re pressured into doing), but I did so with a frown on my face. 

The same people who shared the gorgeous photos were also the ones crying in the bathroom.”

To make matters worse, when I went back to school on Monday, I heard horror stories about the dance: tales of heartbreak and betrayal and the special kind of unnecessary drama that can only exist inside of high school cafeterias. The same people who shared the gorgeous photos were also the ones crying in the bathroom.

Perhaps that’s what social media does best: clouds our judgment. We don’t see anyone struggling, because no one wants to post about the bad things. We only post our greatest hits, and even those are thoughtfully captured and heavily filtered.

There is a lack of authenticity. It’s nothing new, clearly, but the longer it persists, the more damage it causes.

So, when I see the majority of people I follow going along with the latest trend and posting the exact same thing, I get frustrated. It’s overwhelming. Everything else is already fake and posed, and now we all have to copy each other’s stories to fit in. The demands just keep rising. What else will social media require us to do to fit in? Where do we draw the line?

I don’t know the answers, and I’m not pretending to. I’m simply saying we need more awareness. In a paradoxical way, we need to care more and care less. We need to think more about our reasoning and agenda for posting a picture– whether it be vanity, awareness, or plain entertainment — but we also need to end the toxic era of perfection. We need to care less about having an impeccably staged photo and do more to share real pieces of our lives. 

That’s where the beauty is. It’s where the connection, the one advantage we claim social media provides us, takes place. In the messy. In the vulnerable. In the authentic.

Post a blurry picture if it makes you smile, and share a photo of a sunset even if the filter isn’t the best. Allow your account to be a reflection of what makes you you instead of a polished award case. Of course, express yourself as you please, but use your opinion as the only metric for what good enough is. 

You can’t really go wrong. After all, anything is better than reposting that picture of Harry Styles for the millionth time.

This story was originally published on The Uproar on January 10, 2020.