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Instagram: The End of Self-Esteem?

“Can I see your phone?”

Everyone with some kind of smartphone has been asked this question at least once in his or her digital lives. Next, there is probably some kind of snooping, whether it be through text messages, photos, or Instagram. This past weekend, while at a family dinner with 21% phone battery, my nine-year-old cousin, G, asked to see my phone. I reluctantly handed it over and continued eating my dinner. A few minutes later, I turn to see her going through her Instagram account and liking every picture from my account. When asked what she was doing, she replied, “I need you to like all of my Instagram posts.” To this, I asked, “why?” and she said, “Because I need a lot of likes!!!” In response to this almost frantic necessity, I asked her, “Why do you need lkes?” She seemed to have no other answer than “because I like when I have them.”

While it seemed as though she didn’t have a reason for why she wanted a higher number of likes on her Instagram posts, the reason seems clear- the more likes, the more “friends” you have, making you more “popular” by fourth grade, and even college, standards. It is not uncommon to be asked by friends to like their pictures. It seems that when someone posts a picture, he or she needs validation

The next night at dinner, I had a similar experience with G comparing her Instagram account to a ten-year-old’s account. She scrolled through this girl’s account, narrating how many likes each picture got. This young girl’s pictures sometimes had over 100 likes, which, according to my cousin, means she has really made it in elementary school. This idea of the more likes you have, the more self worth you have is not foreign to me. I’ll admit that if I post a picture to Instagram that gets under 11 likes, I contemplate deleting the picture. Once you hit 11 like on an Instagram picture, it shows the number instead of the user names of the people who liked it. This represents when your Instagram image has hit a certain level of credibility.”

The culture surrounding social media of spending hours of time deciding how you should present yourself to the world has changed how people look at themselves. According to blogger Ian Chee, “In a study MRY conducted on Millennials’ technology behavior, one young woman noted passionately the need to reach this number. “If I don’t hit 11 likes, I take down the post after a day — it’s just too embarrassing to leave up there. Nobody likes it.”” This shows how people rely on the response from others. If they don’t get enough likes according to their standards, they would rather delete the photo than share it. The importance of sharing the photo with friends is greatly diminished by the embarrassment of not having a good response.


“Which filter should I choose?”

Though someone critically looking at him or herself is not a new idea, I am extremely surprised by how judgmental my nine-year-old cousin is, both towards herself and towards other people. After I take a picture of her, she is quick to assess it to make sure it is up to her standards before I’m allowed to post it anywhere. She then evaluates the Instagram filters to make sure she looks her ‘best.’ This idea that a filter or photo altering can cover up insecurities is new in everyday use, but extremely relevant in the generation that grew up with social media. This obsession with controlling how other people perceive you has carried over into daily life, and I clearly see this in all of my younger cousins.

While family dinners and holidays used to be my older cousins and me playing pranks on our parents and each other, or putting on performances and signing autographs, my younger cousins all bring their iPads and iPods, ask for the wifi password, and sit on the couch managing their Instagram and other social media accounts. Another one of my younger cousins, S, who is eleven-years-old, spent Palm Sunday taking videos of her trying jelly beans from a bag of mixed good and bad flavors to post to her Instagram account. These videos didn’t go up without at least two takes and a filter, though, demonstrating her need to manage how she is coming across to her peers. The caption of each video was “like this if you want me to post another one!” showing how much she relies on the validation of others through social media to control her activities.

When talking to one of my aunts, it became obvious that G’s familiarity with how to change someone’s perception of you has lead to a decrease in her self-esteem. My aunt informed me that while driving to the store one day, G “looked in the mirror from the backseat of the car and went, “oh my god, do my cheeks really look that chubby?”” She was being extremely critical of her unfiltered, unedited appearance. In a world where even a fourth grader can easily alter their appearance to change how their peers see them has lead to insecurities in young children. Steve Furtick, New York Times best selling author once said, “One reason we struggle with insecurity: we’re comparing our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.” This applies to Instagram and social media as a whole, because we compare ourselves to other people based on how they want us to see them.


Instagram Rules

Although this is the first time that I have seems such a direct example of the negative effects of social media, it is not the first time that I have come in contact with this need for a large amount of “likes” on a post. “Instagram pacts” are becoming increasingly popular. The rules of these types of pacts are clearly stated: 1. You like all of my pictures, and I will like all of your pictures. 2. If you do not hold up your end of the pact, I have the right to text you, call you,come to your house in the middle of the night, take your firstborn son, etc. Personally, it is not uncommon to wake up to a text reading, “PACT *cough, cough.*” Even if there is no formal “pact,” friends are expected to like their friends posts.

Multiple bloggers and Instagram users have created lists and articles for how to gain followers, and how to please them and get more likes. The fact that people have taken the time to put together these lists show just how reliant we are as a society on the validation of others, even if they are strangers. Hashtags allow people you don’t even know to find you on Instagram, and many suggest the use of hashtags to gain likes. This need for like as validation is interesting, considering that likes that come from hashtags are from strangers and often spam accounts.


Instagram + Likes = 🙂

Instagram likes, and positive responses on social media in general, seem to tell a person just how much he or she is worth. Not only is this idea relevant in the generation that was born into the regular use of smartphones and tablets, but in the generation before as well. When talking to one of my friends in general, I notice this need for what is considered a strong online presence. Recently, this friend, who is nearly twenty years old, sent me a text saying, “Is my insta pic stupid? I hate deleting photos. Maybe I shouldn’t, right?” but when I replied, “no, it’s fine,” she was still having doubts about how that particular picture would be perceived by her “followers.” “But I still don’t now if it’s good. I’m having regrets,” she responded, and a soon after, “I just deleted it,” reveals just how much thought goes into maintaining the public’s image of a person through social media.

Even I am not immune to this preoccupation with how I’m perceived over the internet. No one who has a regularly used Facebook account can honestly say they have never “Facebook stalked” themselves to see how he or she would come across to a potential love interest or new friend. And no one can honestly say they have never critically looked though someone else’s profile. It seems that there is a direct correlation between the amount of twitter or Instagram followers and the quality of “real-life” friendships.

Has social media, Instagram in particular, lead to users being over critical about themselves, therefore lowering their self esteem?



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