Double Lives: Instagram vs. Reality

Like if you find yourself comparing your life to online friends!

I’ll admit it! When I scroll through my online newsfeed and see what all my friends are doing, I’m instantly down. It doesn’t matter if I had the most fantastic day in years, within the first thirty seconds of being online I can see that someone is having an even better time than I am… and they’re wearing a cuter outfit.

Plus they have some exciting news to announce about how they just got offered a job, are going on a lavish vacation, are buying a puppy… or whatever it is. I see people’s highlights from their life and think “my life isn’t that exciting,” “I can’t afford to buy that,” “I never get to travel that often.” This way of thinking is so prominent now, thanks to social media. We all post our picture-perfect moments, while our peers scroll through and become envious of us, and we become envious of them.

I recently read an article online by Maureen Callahan about this topic called “Our Double Lives: Dark Realities Behind ‘Perfect’ Online Profiles.” The article discusses how this phenomenon is known as social comparison theory and it means that we measure our successes and failures in comparison with other people. The article shows many examples of people who appear to have a wonderful life on social media, but in reality, have a very sad story behind closed doors.

One example Callahan mentions was a 19-year-old named Madison Holleran who was a very popular student at an Ivy League school, and a star athlete. The image that she maintained online was incredibly happy, with pictures of her beaming smile surrounded by friends. But when her mom said, “Madison, you look so happy at this party,” she responded, “Mom, it’s just a picture.” Then on January 14, 2014, Madison posted a gorgeous photo of the city with trees strung up with lights. Just an hour after her post, Madison leaped to her death from the top of a parking garage. Her family kept her Instagram account to remind teenagers that the life someone has online doesn’t always resemble the one that they actually live. What we post on social media are only the highlights of our lives. The most beautiful moments that we love so much, we want to share them with the world.

It’s important to remember this when scrolling through someone’s feed and beginning to feel that envy of their life. But what we are seeing isn’t reality. You don’t see pictures of them struggling through hardships… you see them with a cocktail in their hand while they’re sitting on a beach in Hawaii. Now, people are becoming more and more aware that the life people live online is filtered and edited. But what we don’t talk about as often is how it affects us emotionally as the viewers AND as the person who is posting. How the constant comparing ourselves to people on a timeline causes feelings of loneliness, depression, and a low self-esteem. Simultaneously, there is an overwhelming pressure to keep up with our peers on social media by capturing photos that meet the exceptions of friends online.

Callahan also mentions that another woman online has been putting herself in thousands of dollars worth of credit card debt trying to maintain her image. She buys new clothes for photographs and spends money on random props for photos. She even has a side of her apartment that she keeps looking perfect and clean just for photos.

The point is that we are driving ourselves crazy with social media by trying to create a persona that isn’t real and by analyzing the people we follow. It reminds me of the first episode of Black Mirror where the main character is constantly trying to create a perfect life online but is making herself miserable by trying to impress other people. By the end of the show, the pressures of impressing other people ruined her life. I think that at some point we’re going to have to find a way to be on social media while dropping our double lives and being true to ourselves. I wouldn’t be surprised if the way that we present ourselves on social media didn’t change, that eventually, an anti-social media movement may emerge.

What are your thoughts? How do you compare yourself to others online? Is there anything that you do to lead a double life? Or do you have ideas on how we can change? Comment below and tell me your thoughts!

Read Callahan’s article here.

Photo by: Kendid Visuals. 

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