”We live in a culture that rewards exhibitionism [and] everyone is judged on their physical appearance. It’s a culture that works against (people’s) healthy self-esteem.” Cossima Marriner. The Age National. July 21st, 2013.
As a teacher and a frequenter of social media, the issue of self esteem and the way we represent ourselves and our lives on line, comes up a lot.
I will never forget, some months ago, meeting a friend for dinner having not seen them for a few months but keeping ‘up to date’ with their life on line. As she sat down I began with ‘…it’s SO great to see you. Its been ages. Facebook’s been telling me things are going well though…’ at which point she began to cry and tell me how awful her life had been since we last saw each other.
Facebook, like so many other social media apps and sites, allows us to choose what we want people to know about our lives and how we want people to see us. For the most part what we choose to ‘upload’ is our best selves; our achievements, social events that we are participating in (and having a great time at) and photos that we are happy to have others see ie photos where we think we look attractive or doing something that we think might give us some ‘street cred’.
As a result, social media requires us to be ‘on’ all the time however being our ‘best self’ constantly is not only unrealistic but exhausting. Life is never amazing all the time and pretending that it is requires even more energy.
Living this way on line also results in experiences such as the one I mentioned above. How can we get support if no one knows we need it? If we are not connecting honestly how are we supposed to have real relationships?
A quick flick through someones photos on Instagram or reading a two sentence ‘grab’ of someones life via a Facebook update does not a relationship make. A connection absolutely – I will not deny that I think social media allows for some wonderful moments with people I love, close by and overseas, but it does make relating much more fleeting, some would even say a hell of a lot easier, the ‘hard work’ and time taken out so that we can, of course, ‘get on with other things’.
What other things are there to get on with though without people and relationships? Though quiet and reflective time indeed so important, connecting with people fleetingly and without honesty can lead to an intense feeling of isolation and loneliness. I recently ended a relationship because it was only existing via emails and texts. Though fun to start it only left me feeling deflated and dissatisfied. Not only did I want the real thing but I was beginning to feel like I was not worth seeing in real life, that this person’s desire to keep relating on-line meant that there was something of me that wasn’t worth making choices about. Of course this is somewhat wrapped up in my self-esteem issues, in my personal filter of the world, but it is a fine example of how our digital relationships and way of being and presenting ourselves on line can effect our opinions of ourselves in the ‘real world’.
There were two articles recently featured in The Age (please see links below) that discussed such issues. One was written by a year 11 student on the subject of ‘Selfies’ and another by Cossima Marriner (whom I quoted above) about social media and its effects on the self-esteem of young girls. Though I would argue the selfie phenomenon and the damaging effect of social media can be felt and experienced by men too, both articles offer insight on how we can rely on social media to determine our self-worth. I know countless people for instance, including myself, who check their phones first thing in the morning and who, when the discussion is opened up about why we do this, offer that they are not only looking to see what they missed over night (what’s happening in the news and the ‘lives of others’), but also looking to see how many ‘likes’ they got on photos or posts they made before they went to bed.
There is a certain level of anxiety that comes with this constant checking and I would argue that’s because of the reasons why we might choose to post something in particular. Even if you’re posting information you believe to be important such as the recent changes to Australia’s refugee policy, is it important to share because it is an issue you feel passionately about and a significant enough a change that you feel others should be educated on? Or are there other motives underlining your share – is there a particular you you would like to exhibit?
Again I would like to state that there are some incredible benefits to social media. The aforementioned sharing of Australia’s recent policy changes and the subsequent on line protests these last few days have been so encouraging on my news feed as indeed it is an issue I feel very strongly about; and the information my friends and I pass on for the most part in this regard so incredibly educational. We also have some incredible dialogues that I’m happy to report bleed into our weekly dinners and coffees; but questions do indeed still have to be asked of what we really desire when we post and when we look to those ‘like’s’ in the morning to determine our self worth.
When it comes to younger persons, people who have been using smart phones and computers since they were at primary school and kindergarten (yup. A kindergarten I teach at has one computer that the four year old’s can access), this is where the issue of social media and self-esteem REALLY comes into play.
In a lecture on given by Mira Danon on becoming ‘Cyber Smart‘ at the University of Melbourne on Friday, we teacher candidates were informed of how the developmental stages young people were going through would effect how they would use and read digital mediums. Eight to twelve year olds for instance are susceptible to modelling and influencing. And of course they are. Modelling is one way of learning. But when you have millions of people ‘modelling’ themselves in an incredibly sexual way through selfies, young persons are susceptible to sexualisation at an age when they don’t necessarily understand what that means. Rather sadly I was recently told by a 13 year old that a girl at her school was labelled a slut because of selfies she’d recently taken. This girl hadn’t ever even had a boyfriend or girlfriend but with Australia’s new laws regarding sexting and the sending of such photos to other people under the age of 18, these once seemingly innocent shots that have more to do with a young persons need to feel liked and popular, can land them with a criminal charge that’s as lasting as the effects of school yard and cyber bullying.