Compare and despair: Do other people’s grids give you FOMO? Quit the envy spiral, says The Residents blogger Lucy Revill.
I’m about to turn 23, am recently single and currently living at home so I can save some money while I complete my degree,” Ruby explains to me by direct message on Instagram. “I feel like I’m constantly comparing myself to my peers who are hitting big life milestones — graduating, getting engaged, buying their first houses…”
I can relate. A newly minted lawyer going through a break-up, I too moved back in with my parents aged 23. It being 2013, it was around this time I bought a smartphone, joined Instagram and started sharing highlights from my life online. Before long I got sucked into the vortex of ‘better’ photos posted by celebrities and friends alike and started wondering why I was broke and alone. All while failing to recognise that with a decent job and a supportive family, I was a hell of a lot luckier than most. Go figure.
Comparison, the thief of joy?
Social media has many plusses, but the price we’re paying is the pressure to be perceived as having a perfect life. One UK study found that, for young women, comparison to others is the main cause of social media-related anxiety. Based on Ruby’s experience, Kiwi women are no different. With every swipe of our thumbs, comparison haunts us.
It’s nothing new, of course. Social comparison has been part of life since Roman sandals and togas, but back then, it was considered a moral flaw. In the Bible, it was a sin to covet thy neighbour’s wife, and the Stoic philosophers believed that social hierarchy was a distraction that made it easy to unwittingly follow someone else’s priorities. But Social Comparison Theory, first put forth by psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954, questioned this assumption. Festinger thought we make comparisons as a way of evaluating ourselves, which evolved from a need to protect oneself and assess threats. This was manageable when we were limited to judging people face-to-face or, later, in books, magazines, movies and on television. But thanks to the 24/7 nature of social media, we are now stuck watching — and evaluating ourselves against — a non-stop reality TV show, starring everyone we know.
‘Girls can do anything’ is a wonderful mantra. Unfortunately, this has mutated on social media to ‘Girls need to do everything, effortlessly, preferably while wearing the latest Two Faced Liquid Lipstick’. Film student Blair, 20, knows. Blair has more than 1000 Instagram followers and her grid suggests a dreamy existence — flat lays showing off shopping hauls, #foodstagrams from trendy cafes, scenic pics in serene locations. But Blair sees other people’s more expensive purchases, healthier brunches and international holiday snaps and can’t help but think she is falling short. “What makes it worse,” says Blair, “is I’m spending so much time on my phone competing with and comparing myself to these people on the internet, that I’m not living my life.”
“Quit the Compareshlager!”
Business and life coach Marie Forleo compares the act of comparison to taking shots of the cheap liquor Goldshlager. “Quit the Compareshlager! The only way to stop is cutting yourself off,” she says, adding that we can’t rely on willpower and must unfollow the people and delete the apps that trigger us. Of course, unfollowing someone with a public profile won’t prevent you from lurking. Cut to you typing their name into the search bar at a rock-bottom moment, and the feelings of addiction and disgust that you used to feel scrolling through their snaps will come back tenfold.
If there are no real-life repercussions (i.e. you don’t sit three metres away from this person at work), the block function could stop your next soul-destroying stalk-fest in its tracks. A short-term social media detox can also be very powerful. Most will find, however, that quitting social media altogether is impractical. It’s increasingly part of our professional lives, and beyond that, it’s the way we connect, follow trends and consume news. What we can take from Forleo, though, is the important role our own agency plays in how we consume content.
Agency and ownership
In a world of fake followers, fake likes, fake lashes, fake lips and endless face-tuning, a healthy dose of scepticism is key to keeping your cool online. More important though, is to figure out why you’re there. What do you want out of the relationship? I found empowerment in starting my own blog and social media channels, both of which allow me to broadcast the real-life connections I make within my community. Rather than mindlessly consuming content, I’m creating my own story and improving my writing and photography skills at the same time. Incidentally, knowing how much work goes into creating a ‘perfect’ image has made me look at others’ from a new perspective.
And what is perfect? It’s certainly not the same for everyone, and perhaps that’s the best thing to come out of the advent of social media. For the first time, we have a platform that allows us to define ‘perfect’ in our own terms. Kiwi fitness influencer Simone Anderson, whose public weight-loss journey has never been about seeking perfection, exemplifies the idea that a healthy body and a healthy relationship with social media comes down to reframing our objectives. As for me, I’ve found that the antidote to obsessively measuring myself against ideals of perfection is to busy myself with friends and family. Don’t get me wrong. I love my online audience. But spending more time in the real world with the people who love me has reminded me what matters most. Screw other people’s priorities — just ask the Stoics.
Words: Lucy Revill
This article originally appeared in Miss FQ Issue 1, 2018.