The Magnitude of Perfection Perception
January 23, 2015
Waiting at the eye doctor yesterday, I read an article in People magazine about a beautiful 19 year old college student, Madison Holleran, who committed suicide last year.
Something she said has been playing in my mind over and over. She talked about being in her dorm room late at night, scrolling through Instagram. She was already struggling with depression, but seeing post after post of her smiling, happy friends exacerbated it. “Why aren’t we happy like them?” she asked her roommate.
Suicide breaks my heart on a lot of levels, but the mention of social media along with suicide is…whatever word is 100x stronger than “horrible”.
I talk to parents of teens all the time about how the “numbers” online are critical to understand. The number of followers, comments, likes, retweets, revines, favorites. It doesn’t matter what app it is, there are always numbers to be compared.
I like to do Instagram hashtag searches periodically because I’m a huge nerd. I’m always curious to see how many people are posting about different topics.
For instance, the Super Bowl. It’s coming up. So, naturally, a lot of people are posting about it with the #superbowl hashtag. 1,597,287 people to be exact.
Another search that always yields a ridiculous amount of results is #taylorswift. 7,610,236 photos tagged. A lot of TSwift fans in the house.
But then the hashtags that really intrigue me…#likes, #likes4likes, and #likesforlikes. Those 3 tags total 105,069,221 photos. (Almost 14 times the amount of Taylor Swift posts, in case you were wondering.)
And one more. The kicker.
The tags #follow, #followme, #followforfollow, #follow4follow? Combined, they yield a whopping 798,615,983 photos.
So, to recap, 1.6 million posts about the Super Bowl, 7.6 million about TSwift, and close to 1 BILLION about…me. Like me, follow me. 1 billion posts asking for validation, begging for value and worth from others.
Is your mind blown?
I repeat: the numbers your teens see online are a very, very big deal to them.
But it’s not just numbers. It’s also lifestyle.
Yesterday, I got so frustrated at home with 2 small kids and a special needs dog that I threw a wet diaper. The diaper hit the wall, broke open, and shot weird pebbly filling all over the room. My husband got home from work a few minutes later, and I sprinted out the door leaving behind a note on the counter that said, “Went to the store. Be back soon. Or maybe never.”
That was my day.
It wasn’t my best moment.
And as I scrolled my own social media feeds later that night, I saw picture after picture of smiling children, clean houses, best friends laughing hysterically, high school sweethearts, new cars….a lot of life going well. Not so many of urine-saturated diaper filling strewn across carpet.
And it made me think of Madison.
Her struggle went far beyond social media. Instagram didn’t likely cause her depression.
The perception of perfection she saw in her friend’s pictures didn’t help. It probably isolated her even more. She was surely the only one struggling, the only one having bad days, the only one not loving life as much as she should.
…and then, saddest of all, you see her own Instagram account. She has the very same types of pictures. Her smiling on a cute guy’s arm. Her laughing with her friends. Her in cute outfit. She exhibited the same “perfect” life she was seeing in others. I wonder if she ever made the connection.
This post has little to do with suicide prevention. I won’t even pretend to know what that entails or how deeply Madison was struggling. Or why.
It has everything to do with the very real, very deep, very quantifiable identity struggles our teens face online and the very intentional, very understanding conversations we need to be having about it.
Parents: talk to your teens about who they are and why they are important, outside of something as stupid (yet seemingly concrete and irrefutable) as likes and follows. Talk to them about the filtered perfection they see online vs. the reality of life. It is rarely the same.
Teens: they are never as pretty, happy, unblemished, rich, or popular as they appear in their photos. And as much as I love you, neither are you. Posting about your imperfections…being willing to laugh at yourself…sharing the joys AND sadness of real life…that is beauty. Be beautiful. You are loved.