Before eighth grade, social media was a nonexistent factor in my life and I was perfectly content with that. The closest I came to having an account on a social media platform was an account on Kik, a now ancient messaging system similar to texting that my friends used to stay in contact at all hours of the day.
Even though I had a Kik account, I rarely used it. In fact, I rarely used my fourth generation iPod Touch or my high-tech flip phone at all; I simply preferred not to use technology when I didn’t have to.
Everything changed when my friends discovered Instagram in eighth grade. I was reluctant to begin my journey into the foreign field of social media, but as the months passed, I found myself becoming increasingly socially excluded due to my absence on Instagram. As a result, I decided to give it a chance.
Although creating an Instagram account is not at all something I regret now, at the time, I wanted nothing more than to immediately rescind my decision. I thought I’d felt the worst possible sting of social exclusion when I was the only girl out of seven in my group of friends who wasn’t on Instagram. But, the pictures I saw every day of my clique hanging out without me only exemplified the pain I felt.
I hadn’t known the sting, not until I put my presence out there on social media. Instagram and I developed a negative relationship from the get-go.
If I wasn’t finding out about yet another get-together I wasn’t invited to, I was posting a picture and refreshing the page every five minutes to make sure it got enough likes. If my picture wasn’t popular with a certain percentage of my followers, I was devastated, wondering what I did to make so many followers not like me.
What I didn’t realize back then is that I’m more than a picture. Just because someone didn’t like one of my posts didn’t mean I did anything wrong. Maybe they simply didn’t see it. Or maybe they scrolled past it. Or, God forbid, maybe they actually didn’t like the picture, so they decided not to put a red heart on it.
Today, I know that’s more than okay. I know not everyone is going to like me agree with my decisions or be over the moon to see my smiling face on their feed, but today I know that’s not going to stop me from posting something I like. At the end of the day, my like is the only one that matters on my page.
As an eighth and ninth grader, I knew none of this. Maybe it sounds pathetic that I put so much time and effort in making sure my pictures received enough likes or my Tweets received enough favorites (RIP, gold stars) or retweets, but it was something I had to learn. For a long time, my insecurities prevented me from using social media in the way — I hope — it was intended to be used, and I know I’m not alone in that mentality.
Social media has become one of the most influential, rapidly growing constructs for today’s youth. That being said, it holds an immense amount of power, power which could easily be used positively or negatively.
Finding a Place for Positivity
Over the years, my relationship with social media had fluctuated a great deal. I took a hiatus from all social media, especially Instagram, during my sophomore year of high school, realizing that I didn’t want to have something in my life if all it did was increase my already unmanageable anxiety and downgrade my quality of living.
During my junior year, I decided to give it a second chance, and since then I’ve been working on only using it as a positive influence. If I feel good about myself in a picture, I’ll post it, knowing that the number of likes it gets doesn’t validate or invalidate my perception of myself.
Your followers and the people you follow set the tone for your experience on social media. They’re the faces you see scrolling through your feed, and they’re the people who have the capability to hit up your post with a like, view or retweet.
I’ve found that following certain people and having them follow you in return only holds the potential to create a more damaging relationship with social media. If you constantly scroll through your feed only to find it infused with the negativity of toxic personalities, it can cause you to use your page on a given social media platform to spread that same negative sentiment. Even if it’s unconscious, it can be hard to avoid giving off the same vibes you take in each day.
So, what can you do? How can you avoid being surrounded by this sort of pessimism? If someone isn’t adding anything positive to your life, if all their presence is doing is bringing you down, don’t be afraid to unfollow them.
It seems obvious, sure, but letting go can be harder than you think. People are predisposed to hold onto the past, and they try to normalize negative behavior if they’ve been exposed to it long enough. Change is sometimes necessary, especially in cases like this.
Social media is more than just a launching pad to share your life with others. Contrary to what many people think, it’s more than a big bragging fest to see who had the best summer, who had the most fun on the Fourth of July, or who went on the most luxurious cruise over winter break.
A big part of opening a social media account is to be social, as the name implies, but, if used correctly, an even bigger part can be about building yourself up as a person. Social media allows you to follow things that interest you, become part of communities with shared likes and dislikes, and share who you are with others by embracing the things that make you, well, you.
I take full advantage of Instagram and Snapchat stories, especially when it’s relative to food or positive quotes which resonate with me. I post the most when I’m not feeling particularly positive.
It seems ironic, but here’s why: If I project a certain mentality, I can eventually think that way naturally. Some may call the emotion behind those posts fake, and that’s okay. It’s not fake to me. To me, it’s holding the power to change the way I think in my hands and seizing the opportunity.
If I post a positive quote on a day I’m feeling negative, it gives me something to think about for the rest of the day, a message which will hopefully pull me out of that damaging slump of negativity.
If I cook a meal only to feel stressed at the idea of eating it, I’ll post a picture of it. Not only is a home-cooked meal some serious eye candy, but it also allows me to hold myself accountable for eating the whole thing. What’s the point of posting a picture of a delicious meal, thereby advertising that I ate it, only to not eat it? To me, that’s fake.
Social media and I have a complex relationship, one that I hope to continue working on through the years. In a world that could sometimes use a little sunshine, social media is a good place to start. It’s widespread, allowing us to communicate with people we never could have met otherwise.
Whether you decide to be a positive or negative ambassador on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, that’s up to you. I do hope you go with the positive route, though. Having lived both stories, I can tell you, life is certainly a lot brighter when you say hello to good vibes and kick the bad ones to the curb.
What accounts or pages do you follow on social media platforms to bring positivity to your day? Please share your favorites below in the comments!