I reached 1,000 followers on Instagram today and I’ve been inclined to take a step back and think about what this really means to me.
In theory, it means 1,000 people (likely fewer because of all those spam-bots) actually want to hear (or see) what I have to share – at least to some degree. That’s wild to think. And also means a lot to me.
The few comments I get on my posts where people share similar experiences, take time to spread love, or thank me for being able to relate to what I say, are incredibly meaningful. Feeling like you’re not alone is such an important thing. Having people to relate to and who understand what you’re going through is even more reassuring.
On another note, I don’t think we realize the power social media has as a tool in our own and others lives (depending on how we choose to use it of course).
While I want to avoid triggering people as much as possible, I try to make sure that what I share on my account is “unfiltered” and honest. My Instagram platform initially started as a way to change my social media usage (as I mention later) but it has now evolved to allow me to see the benefits of deconstructing the typical facade. From my social psychology studies, I know that simply seeing messages warning about the tricks of photoshop and the unrealistic/uncommon depictions of models in the media etc. can reduce the influence these portrayals have on the self esteem of people who view them. To me this is meaningful. I feel like no effort is too small in trying to help others. (Maybe in this instance trying to protect others from the suffering I have experienced myself.) The advancing digital world (and with it society’s dynamically changing beliefs and expectations) is undoubtedly connected to the increasing prevalence of eating disorders and mental illness in today’s society. We know many illnesses have a significant social aetiology. But we can’t just “blame society”, because we are society, and it is therefore all of our responsibility to be constructive consumers as well as considerate propagators of digital media.
Taking responsibility for my social media circle.
My Instagram (and this blog) started as a way for me to redefine how I used social media. I know I spend a good deal of time on my phone – and I also knew that this wasn’t likely going to change drastically. I made the choice however, to try and put that screen time to better use – To make it as constructive as possible.
I have long been aware that I constantly compare myself to others and worry about how I measure up. Not unlike most people scrolling through their perfectly-curated feeds it can be hard to feel like we’re not as successful, not having as much fun, or looking as good doing it – as everyone else. Mixed with my anxious temperament, mental illness history, and biological predisposition, my screen time necessarily has a bigger impact on my mood and thoughts than some. I know that I often take on the emotions of others or at least let their moods affect my own. While I acknowledge that this is something I can work on, editing my Instagram feed has helped me spin this in a more positive light.
I tried to align my social media with values I want to reinforce and topics I want to see.
- I unfollowed accounts that made me feel “less than”.
If someone was telling me that my happiness (or body confidence) was contingent upon some “product x” they were selling or their New Gym Guide, I decided to say goodbye. This was hard for me to notice because it takes some awareness. As an athlete, I’m interested in sport and healthy living, but sometimes these accounts blur the lines between diet culture so much it’s hard to know what they’re preaching anymore. To begin with – I went kind of radical. Cut all fitness etc accounts just to give me a change of scene. (I might add a few back if I think they promote healthy values I believe in but for now I’m doing just fine without them!)
- I looked for more diversity.
Instead of seeing fake “ideals” of fitness models or celebrities I expanded the diversity of people I follow. I want to see bodies that look like my own, yes, but I want to see even more that don’t. Having all shapes, sizes and abilities on my feed opens my eyes to how marginalized some groups are, as well as challenges me to question my own beliefs and prejudices I didn’t even know I had. “Diversifying” my feed also takes some of the focus off of external appearances and allows me to better appreciate the common human condition and what is really important. Now I also understand my own position as a part of this greater whole. As an able-bodied, white, cis-gendered, somewhat naturally “thin” female, I know I don’t have to face widespread societal stigma that others do. While I recognize my privilege and the fact that it undoubtedly smooths my path to recovery, I acknowledge that I did (and continue to) struggle, but fighting discrimination is largely not part of it. I’m battling my own inner demons to get to a place of body acceptance. I hope that I can be a valuable ally to others and encourage others alike to do the same.
- I sought to challenge my own opinions and explore new ideas.
- I think everyone knows that it’s easy to be quick to pass judgement online. With one click you can switch to viewing different content altogether. This makes it even easier for us to seek out information that agrees with how we already see things. Everyone has some innate tendency to exhibit this
- simply by way of finding confirming information more comforting to hear. Being aware of this, I guess I wanted to be more open-minded but online as well as in my daily life. Social media can easily lead to people becoming increasingly entrenched in their original views by connecting with other outspoken people with similar opinions. Similarly social media is also great for creating communities and connecting like-minded individuals in a constructive way. It all just depends on how this tool is used. I know I’m not going to like nor agree with every new concept I explore, but keeping my mind open has introduced me to some interesting topics I previously new nothing about. As someone with a background in science, I like to examine “the facts” and have good weighting of “evidence for versus against” so I’m a pretty skeptical web surfer which I like to think has served me well. I guess my biggest takeaways here are
1) keep an open mind
- (but 2) not too open lol) and
2) question things.
- I sought to challenge my own opinions and explore new ideas.
The recovery community.
I like to consider myself part of the eating disorder/mental illness recovery community online but being relatively new to the scene I still struggle to navigate it without stumbling upon many triggers. Eating disorders especially, are significantly external, and can foster very competitive attitudes, so necessarily I find it hard to focus on my own journey and not worry about anyone else’s. As much as it’s reassuring to know that’s others understand you and have survived what you did, it’s just as triggering to find evidence that the sick part of your mind will latch onto in attempt to make you feel unworthy.
I’m still figuring this part out but what I’ve found I can do is reassure myself that I am deserving of help and my illness IS valid by reminding myself that the simple fact that I AM so triggered by such things means I am ill. It would be much more freeing to be able to click through social media “normally” without having to worry about the danger of hitting a trigger-landmine spontaneously.
It also helps to get a little frustrated. Frustrated with that part of my illness that constantly tries to tell me I’m not good enough or not worthy. The part thats quite literally trying to kill me. When I inevitably come across all those “inpatient X times” bio slugs or “lost x pounds in x short months” or “eating x calories” lines I can fuel my recovery fire by being angry at the disorder not at others or myself. Whether or not people share those facts do so to genuinely serve as helpful reminders for their specific recovery journeys I don’t know. But I do know that wasting time and energy worrying about it or getting angry is pointless.
My “position” in this recovery community is largely focus on myself. Which I believe everyone’s recovery should be anyways. I post photos I like and figure captions that help me think through things. Writing out my thoughts has been such and important part of my therapeutic process. Having realized this, I knew I’d be more reliable at jotting things down if I used my phone. The idea of posting them as well keeps me accountable for actually putting the time in to reflect.
I guess in short, I’d like to say thanks to my followers! Thank you for joining me as I share my story and thank you for understanding that the way I go about doing so is of entirely my own choosing. I hope that you can find comfort in knowing that you are not alone and that you take the time to reflect on how you can use social media in a more positive way. I’m honoured if following me is part of how you do that but I understand if its not! I appreciate those who take the time to read what I have to say, and for forgiving any cheesy jokes that come up.