"Macara Nigra Self Portrait" Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

“Macara Nigra Self Portrait” Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

We live in a decade where Instagram likes have nearly replaced face-to-face compliments. If a selfie gets more than 30 likes, then you feel that surge of confidence-boosting validation and it’s going to be a good day. But on the flip side of that, if an Instagram selfie gets less than 11 likes, then your self-confidence drops exponentially and you find yourself re-evaluating every aspect of that (recently deleted) Instagram selfie. Why was it so unpopular? Was it the angle? Is it because your hair wasn’t straightened? Are you actually a hideous ogre that no one likes?

There have been several studies to suggest that social media is killing self-esteem, primarily because comparing your own pre-polished life to the post-polished life of all your social media friends will bring you down. A well-known study at the University of Salford last year reported that half of their 300 participants experienced anxiety because of social media. In addition to that, a quarter of the participants reported having relationship problems because of social media. The overall study concluded that social media can be a very heavy influence that contributes to lowered self-esteem.

It’s obvious that self-image is a crucial factor in the young generation today. Kids as young as 10 years old have Instagram accounts now, and are already being taught that they must present themselves in the best light, with the best filter. Not only are extremely young individuals being indoctrinated into this newly flourished image-obsessed era, but adults are changing their whole lives and values based on their social media presentation. Instagram accounts are like a resume, a way to let peers know that you have had certain experiences, that you have certain qualities, and that you are a certain amount of popular. How else would everyone know how awesome you are? They just need to see that picture of you skydiving or that picture of you studying at Starbucks and already they know that you’re adventurous and you work hard.

This obsession with managing and maintaining a self-image may be cause for alarm. The stress of keeping a social media image is an unnecessary cause of anxiety and envy, but it happens to practically every social media manager. You see someone else’s highlight reel and suddenly feel bad about the un-filtered life you live. You fret over getting that picture so you can post it to Instagram and get those precious likes to validate your coolness. You take a hundred selfies so you can choose the best one. And then you review your Instagram cluster of pictures to make sure it is representing what you want. And in the midst of your self-managing, you constantly compare what you’re doing to what your Instagram followers are doing. It’s a full-time and full-stress job creating and maintaining that social media image.

It’s easy to say that this is unhealthy, but can it be stopped? Social media is now a very important part of most people’s lives. It’s how they share their lives with friends from high school. It’s how they express their personality. And it is becoming more and more important as the years go by.  At this point, the role of social media in a college student’s life is so essential that there is no way this generation is going to go cold-turkey just because some studies show that it may be bad. No, the social media ball started rolling a long time ago and it’s going to keep on rolling.

But since the social media monster’s roar will not be silenced, it’s important for people to adapt to the new image-obsessed era without giving up important aspects of their lives, like face-to-face social interaction or personal privacy. Instagram is a part of life now, but don’t let it control you. Focus more on what makes you happy and not what your Instagram followers will “like.” Regulate what you share. And remember that all of those images you scroll through have had just as much time put into them as yours have.

Take the reigns of this social media era like a pro. Build your image; go for it. It’s maybe even necessary nowadays. But make sure you aren’t sacrificing your real happiness in order to establish a carefully assembled Instagram happiness.  Make sure you are nourishing your actual life and not just fueling an image.

Brenna Dilger really hopes this article gets at least 5 comments, otherwise she insists we take it down.