September 15, 2016: On Instagram
Tiny little apps on your phone; a means of staying in touch with old friends or distant relatives; an evolving form of storytelling; arguably the most popular news outlet of this generation; a place to share cute pictures that you don’t want to keep to yourself; a source of community and encouragement through minuscule hashtags; a mask for bullies to hide behind; addictive, fast-paced, overwhelming; humorous, informative, comfortable; something that has become so deeply ingrained in our day-to-day lives that its merits and evils often go unexamined.
In the first month of college, I spent way too much time on Instagram.
I scrolled through picture after picture after picture, then I went to the Discover page to scroll through picture after picture after picture, then I checked my own profile to revel in my own cute pictures, then I refreshed the home page and scrolled through picture after picture after picture. Repeat a thousand times, and you’ve got Haley’s typical afternoon for the past month or so. I fell deep into the comparison trap, and most days, I would’ve sworn to you: everyone else is having more fun than me.
Look. Look at their new friends. Look at the party they went to. Look at the organization they got in that I didn’t even get to interview for. Look at their sorority sisters. Look at their boyfriend. Look at them having the perfect freshman year while I sit in my dorm and cry and eat a giant Costco bag of pita chips all by myself.
Social media is a lot of things. It’s a way to publicize events, which I get to use for the PR Committee on the University Program Council. It’s a way to tell stories, which I get to do through webseries like Northbound and the upcoming Away from It All. But it is also a liar. Social media will tell you that everyone else is pulled together, picture perfect all the time. It will convince you that you are the only one feeling alone or struggling to make new friends. It will persuade you to close yourself off, to assume that everyone else is okay, to put on a mask that makes it seem like you’re okay even when you’re absolutely not. It’s part of the reason why, when my roommate came home one night and saw a massive pile of tissues on my bed because I had been crying, I lied to her and said I was fine when I was really far from it. Social media is a liar because it makes you feel less than.
So as I get into the swing of things, what I want to say to both myself and my readers is this: You are not less than. Everyone else does not feel happy and cute and put together all the time. We all have bad days. Freshmen: we are all struggling with at least one thing in the transition to college. Humankind: we are all struggling with at least one thing in life. We feel messy and broken and confused and sad and elated and determined and heartbroken and joyful and down in the dumps and frustrated and just okay and not okay at all. We call our parents crying or wish we could call our parents crying but want to act tough instead. We feel like life is a fight but on Instagram we treat it like a movie night. Red carpet outfits, filtered tan skin, only showing the edits. Glamorous.
My life isn’t glamorous right now. I called my parents crying two weeks ago and told them that I couldn’t handle it anymore and I wanted to drop out of Auburn and come home. I refused to pray and left my Bible unopened for several days. In the past week, I’ve been doing so much better; I’m back at it journaling to Jesus as He reminds me of the truth that He makes me able. I’ve found a women’s ministry where I really want to dig in and stay awhile. I am learning to choose faith over fear as I try to figure out this thing called college and this thing called life. But I am still working, still struggling, still experiencing the growing pains of a new season of life.
Instagram led me to believe that no one else felt the way I did during my first month of college. No one else ate snacks for every meal in their dorm room because they didn’t want to be in the dining hall alone. No one else looked at new sorority sisters and wished they had rushed so they could have an instant family at college. No one else spent nights scrolling and feeling more and more alone with every clever caption they read. No one else felt like the first month of freshman year was absolutely not what they signed up for. No one else felt less than.
Such were the lies of Instagram. So in the past week or so, I’ve leaned way back. I’ve tried to slow my roll and hold back my tendency to scroll. In doing so, I’ve realized for myself what many wiser people tried to tell me: Everyone else feels the same way I do; we all just hide it behind a filter. Everyone else feels alone sometimes. Everyone else feels less than sometimes. Everyone else is struggling with something, whether in the transition to college or in life in general. Instagram is not an accurate reflection of anyone’s life, because it only shows the best of the best. Our lives look a lot more like a collage of beautiful and broken moments. Our stories are not perfect. They are messy and marvelous intertwined, with a good ending.
Please, remember that social media is a liar. Remember that they aren’t having more fun than you just because their pictures of this weekend look like it. Remember to look for the miracles in it all. Remember that when you find them, they don’t have to be filtered into perfection in order for you to share them with the world. Remember that you don’t have to be edited to be enough. Please, remember that you are not less than. Really, you are more than. You are more wonderful and loved and worthy than Instagram will try to make you feel. Remember to slow your roll and stop your scroll every once in a while. Remember that who you are is thoughtful and important and flawed and needed and imperfect and angry and disappointed and joyous and smart and good enough. Remember, when social media lies to you, the truth that you are good enough.
(“The Freshman Fifteen” is a year-long blogging project posting every fifteen days of my freshman year of college. Follow along for life updates, deep thoughts, and everything in between.)