‘Social media is putting us all under this huge pressure to be perfect,’ said author Andrew Marshall during a BBC 4 Women’s Hour interview.
I’ve read and heard similar statements many times in recent months. And I couldn’t agree more.
‘Perfect’ people have always existed.
You know… those people who hide all of their negative emotions, don’t speak of their weaknesses, don’t admit they are ever vulnerable and make a lot of effort — but never allude to trying — to look the part of perfect. There were always a few in school, on our sports clubs, at extra curricular, at our church, everywhere. But notice I said A FEW. And those few were always easily avoided.
But Facebook has pulled us all in, hinging on our innate desire to be perfect and drawing us into this world where we can be, and people will ‘like’ it. A world where everyone is ‘perfect’.
It is quite interesting that we ‘like’ each others elated statuses and filtered pictures, and support and encourage the portrayal of perfection that is visible all over our ‘walls’. Because I don’t seem to remember the ‘perfect’ girls and boys being the most popular. For me, at least, the facade of perfection was always irritating — it always seemed to limit the person who wore it and frankly they usually seemed quite boring!
So why do we ‘like’ it so much on Facebook?
Or do we?
Do you actually like when your friend gets engaged to the amazing guy she’s been dating for six months or someone else gets married to a seemingly new guy she says is her best friend in the whole world?
Are we actually ‘SO Excited for ____’ when they get a huge promotion which means a pay rise, which means they will be getting paid way more than us even though they are less well educated, in the traditional sense?
Do we LOVE to see those pictures of girls in gorgeous outfits smiling next to five model-like friends, three of whom are blonde?
Do we enjoy seeing all of the exotic places some people go to that we know we might never be able to afford?
My guess is NO. We don’t actually ‘like’ it! It makes us feel uncomfortable, inadequate, average, boring, one-upped, unloved, unpopular, UNLIKED.
But we still ‘like’ their posts and pictures because we don’t want our jealousy to be apparent. And we hope that the more we ‘like’ the things that we should ‘like’ but actually loathe, we might actually start liking them, and being happy for others, and being secure with ourselves, we hope. Conditioned liking — that’s what I call it.
And what do we do with all that pent up jealousy? We dig in our own shallow pockets of amazingness and pull out something to ‘share’. And all the hyperboles to go along with it. We might even repeat something we shared before like: ‘my wife is the most gorgeous woman in the world’ (this sort of post being ok as it holds the pretense of complimenting someone else when actually it feeds our own egos).
And as a result, Facebook thrives on the currency of our jealousy. Literary critic Parul Sehgal said this during her Ted talk called Ode to Envy. Do have a listen.
That reactivation of your account plus rebound of 200% more posts about all the brilliant things in your life, even after you told everyone Facebook was ridiculous and superficial and brain rotting and you were going to delete your account forever — THAT rollercoaster of emotions is what Facebook depends on! Our increasing need to seem more perfect than the next person, to be more interesting, to be ‘liked’, is the wings to Facebook’s stocks, which have been soaring.
But like most cases of jealousy, if we can recognise what is occurring on Facebook and what drives our online lives before it is too late (before we either melt in despair of our inadequacy or puff up with false pride), and if we can realise that Facebook is not a balanced depiction of people’s real lives, we can start using this potentially brilliant medium to do great things. Like make businesses flourish, uplift people with encouraging words and stories, share helpful and hopeful content, spread the word about talented friends and create strong networks of artists or professionals, stay in touch with our friends and enquire more than what is offered at status value.
I think it also important that we don’t post frivolous statuses that only uplift ourselves. We ought to protect each other from the bloody claws of seeming perfection. We ought to consider what we repost and share, because we are influencing each others lives and moods and ways of thinking.
Facebook is making us all feel pressured to be perfect. But what if we used Facebook in a way that made us all enjoy and appreciate the fact that we are, every one of us, imperfect?
What kind of Face are YOU choosing to put on?