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7 November 2015

Staying Real on Social Media - Responding to Essena O'Neill and Rachel Brathen

Staying real on social media definitely isn't a new topic today. I'm not going to reveal any incredible truths and neither are the people who led me to writing this post. However, as the owner of a rather personal blog, I feel the need to speak out about what has recently happened in the blogging / vlogging community, and also just because I find it a very interesting subject of discussion.

The big phenomenon of social media started something around a decade ago. YouTube was created in 2005; Twitter in 2006; Facebook in 2004; Instagram in 2010; Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest, and all the others rapidly came along. However, it hasn't been until the last five-ish years that these platforms have become very popular, turning into a fundamental part of people's lives. If I ask someone of my age (21) what the first thing they do in the morning is, there is a very high chance that their answer sounds something like this: "I scroll through my feed. I know it's quite bad, but I just can't help it". So in a way, they will acknowledge that social media aren't good for them, but that they cannot do without, just like eating or drinking.

Of course, this has had positive consequences as well as negative ones, which is what humans apparently tend to notice the most. These include a diffused phenomenon of shutting oneself away from the outside world, especially by the new generation, and namely teenagers, whose insecurity due to their hard life period finds an easy answer in social media; hence, less human contact and more messages, snapchats, tweets.

What is it that makes social media unhealthy though? According to Essena O'Neill, it's the fake image that we create on these platforms that affects us negatively, because this is different and worse than what real life is like.

For those who don't know her, Essena O'Neill is a teenage girl who had a big Instagram account, a popular YouTube channel and the whole package of social media that comes along with it. As many other people in the sphere, she took amazing snaps of herself living an amazingly ideal, photogenic and surreal lifestyle. A very unhealthy image, let me add, for very young girls who looked to her and felt they should be just as slim, as perfect and as cool as her. Some time ago she realised that she didn't want to stay on social media anymore and made a very strong video about it where she said things like:

I've spent hours watching perfect girls online, wishing I was them. When I became 'one of them', I still wasn't happy, content or at peace with myself.

I was so focused on what I thought I should do for others that I ended up just wanting to please and please and please. My content wasn't from my heart. I made myself into a machine that gave others what they wanted from me, never knowing or valuing my true self.

Now she has a new website which I won't advertise here; if she actually wants to leave the internet I'm sure she'll be fine without us sending a huge traffic in her new direction.

Now, I respect Essena's decision. Everyone is entitled to say, do and act like they want to. However, the question that keeps popping up in my mind is, is social media intrinsically unhealthy or do we make it unhealthy? I don't agree with Essena with the point that social media is necessarily hugely different from real life; I think that she made it fake, just like another ton of people out there do to be successful, please others, look amazing, and so on. Social media themselves are not unhealthy if you know how to use them. They are powerful tools that can bring people together, help you learn many things, and just have fun! Just like everything in life, you have to learn how to do it in a way that feels good for you.

We won't be able to get rid of social media at this point! They are too important for us and getting away from them is almost unthinkable. This is why we should learn how to use social media in a healthy way and keeping our image real.

Talking of keeping it real, I would like to mention another key figure in the blogging / vlogging sphere who I find very inspirational, not just because of her amazing Instagram but because of the great values that aims at getting across to her viewers: Rachel Brathen, aka Yoga Girl.

Rachel is a young woman who found in yoga a life passion and relief and has decided since to share it on social media. In her messages she puts herself in a vulnerable position and says some very genuine truths. In her TED Talk that has happened recently, she spoke about the topic of keeping it real on social media. Some of the things she said are:

I started using Instagram not just for photography but for emotion. […] I started sharing more regular sights to my life very careful not to portray myself as a one sided human being.

There is so much love and compassion out there in the world.

We can use the world of social media in a completely different way: instead of being a breeding ground for fear and insecurity, why not use it to create real human connection?

Read the last point again. How great is that? It's amazing to think that through the Internet we could potentially build amazing human connections and spread an extra bit of love and positivity around. This is ultimately the main idea that stuck with me from Rachel's talk and this whole social media discussion. Even if we have a small blog like I do, or a big social media account, or a YouTube channel, we can make a positive difference. We can try and build a better, healthier sphere online that is not ideal or fake, but that by being genuine it can help someone out there or just make them smile. 

Staying real online is fundamental because in 2015 the social media are a part of our identity. Keeping away from them and have a real life outside of them is vital. However, a bit of Internet never killed nobody, and it's better to have a healthy internet diet than depriving ourselves from internet snacks, if my metaphor makes sense. What are your thoughts on this topic? I would love to hear what you think, whether you agree or disagree with my points :) 



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75 comments:

  1. Beauitful put - you're quite correct and have eloquently expressed how I felt about the whole situation ' she made it fake and profited out of it. At the end of the day we all have a choice about how to use each of these social platforms.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Emma, I am glad that you agree and that you liked the post :) We can choose how to live our lives, and she has made her own choice, which is fair; however, it is wrong to assume that everyone is making the same mistakes on social media. A bit more respect from her towards genuine online people would have been very welcome.

      Assia | www.assiashahin.com

      Delete
  2. Good historical context. An interesting difference – maybe gender, maybe generational, but my reservations about social media, unlike Essena's, are completely unrelated to any effect on my self-image. My fear is simply that I will waste too much time reading all the stupid fluff that comes through when I could have been doing something productive. It’s sort of like TV 60 years ago – optimists saw in it a wonderful new opportunity for education and spreading ideas, but its potential as a mind-numbing waste of time proved quite strong as well. I also agree that social media will be with us for some time, so hopefully people will make the most of it by avoiding the empty-calorie fluff and reading blogs like yours and mine!

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    Replies
    1. I'm afraid of wasting time on the Internet as well, but I guess that my whole generation surrendered to that a long time ago. I think that the difference between your generation and mine isn't just about the history of social media, but also the wisdom that people get to acquire through time. So hopefully in some decades this generation will be a bit more sensible to look up from their phone because they understood that the greater things in life are not online. I guess we're going through a similar process to that of TV, but at least on the Internet we get to choose what we look at whereas TV kind of forces you to watch what's on. I'm glad you consider my blog a high-calorie one! That's also a good way to continue the metaphor in the conclusion hehe :D

      Assia | www.assiashahin.com

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    2. Your blog is the rich dark chocolate of the blogosphere!

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