My Instagram Story persona could not be further from the real me.
She’s chill, constantly smiling and laughing, and always living her best life in some far-flung place that looks as if it were built with the ‘gram in mind. To be quite honest with you, I sometimes prefer her to my IRL self.
Scratch the highly-curated veneer of the 2-dimensional version of the life I purport to lead, and you’ll see someone struggling daily with severe anxiety and low self-esteem.
This gaping chasm of difference between these two identities became a source of anxiety for me this summer. “Will people be disappointed when they see I’m not as fun as my Instagram self?” I worried as I returned from a summer holiday in France, which I’d documented on my Story.
I knew my Instagram Story wasn’t telling the full story. And, I’ll wager yours doesn’t either.
A new book by journalist and influencer Katherine Ormerod explores these very feelings that the social media generation experience every single day — and, crucially, the impact social media has on our wellbeing.
Its title — Why Social Media Is Ruining Your Life — might sound a little scaremongering, but Ormerod’s well-researched book is packed full of wisdom that will not only make you feel less alone in your worries, it offers advice and tips to help you armour up against the all-consuming force that is social media. Given that one in three young women feel a pressure to portray their lives as “perfect” on social media, according to recent research by Girl Guiding, this book couldn’t be more needed.
“There was a moment where I sat back on my sun lounger thinking: what am I projecting here?”
Ormerod is no stranger to the feeling that her Instagram persona doesn’t measure up to the reality of her everyday existence. A journalist and social media influencer with 46K Instagram followers, Ormerod tells Mashable she started to feel “quite complicit in a lot of the messages” that social media can disseminate. But, one moment made her “sit back and take a moment,” she says.
“I was on holiday in Tulum, which is obviously the Instagram destination, with a bunch of other amazingly successful hard-working women,” says Ormerod.
“None of us had come from loads of money, we’d all made our own businesses, and worked really hard.” She says that while they were all having a “lovely time” they were also “fielding calls from the office” and managing a variety of things that come hand in hand with running your own business.
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Tonight’s first instalment of realz captions comes in the form of this monochrome summer shot. People often ask me who takes my Instagram pictures and more often than not it’s my boyfriend. Everyone laughs about the ‘Instagram husband,’ but for me it’s actually a thing and over the years has caused more than its fair share of rows. The cataclysmic argument which followed this shot was focused on the fact that I wanted to take a picture when he was hungover and not in the mood – which really is fair enough. Without Hade snapping me on his iPhone pretty much everywhere we go, there would be no pictures on this account and I’m unendingly grateful for his patience. But that doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes have flare ups and a worrying amount of time it’s because of pictures for Instagram. So while it may seem that this account is all me, there are actually two of us behind it, generally getting on but sometimes arguing about how he’s managed to make me look like I’ve got 17 chins #whysocialmediaisruiningyourlife
But, the way the trip was presented on social media couldn’t have been further from the hustle and grind that went on behind the scenes. “The pictures we ended up posting from that trip were sunset views, five star hotel rooms, designer bikinis, and there was a moment where I sat back on my sun lounger thinking: what am I projecting here?”
“You aren’t insulated from tragedy. It’s part and parcel of life and no one’s life is as perfect as it looks.”
She says the story told on Instagram didn’t accurately represent “what success is really all about” — or the hard graft that not only leads up, but runs concurrent to success. “I truly feel that social media is only representing the rewards without showing the graft that goes into getting to that place,” says Ormerod.
She decided to set up a website called Work Work Work and she began interviewing friends and fellow journalists and influencers about the “less photogenic sides of their lives.” These conversations formed the basis of the idea for the book.
“We discussed mental health issues, eating issues, miscarriages — all the universal issues women go through no matter how ritzy your life might look on social media,” says Ormerod. “We’ve all got parents, we’ve all got health issues. However privileged you are, you aren’t insulated from tragedy. It’s part and parcel of life and no one’s life is as perfect as it looks.” For those of us who’ve posted glamorous-looking selfies during some of the most difficult moments of our lives, Ormerod’s words ring very true.
Ormerod says that while being an influencer might look like you’re leading the most lavish, luxurious life imaginable, the reality is anything but. “I come from a really modest background, but it looks like I’m really rich on social media,” she says. Armed with the knowledge of just how much it took to get to this point in her career (doing several low paid jobs in order to be able to work for free for two years on a fashion magazine) Ormerod is under no illusion about the ‘glamour’ that comes with life as an influencer.
But, that’s not to say she’s immune from social media’s influence on how she sees herself.
“It’s such a relief in the unbearable pressure cooker of perfection and social comparison to hear that actually it is a fantasy.”
“I’m just coming up to 35, I thought by this time I’d be married, I’d be in a nice family home, I’d be really secure financially,” she says. “Instead, I have a baby and I run my own business but a lot of those tick-boxes have remained unticked, or have veered terribly off path.”
Ormerod puts this down to “benchmark anxiety.” “You think when you look on social media that everyone has hit these standards that you have been socially conditioned to think you’re meant to have hit by a certain amount of time,” she says. One thing that has helped her counter these feelings is the realisation that “it’s all bullshit.” Once you realise this, she says, “the edge of social media comparison does wear away.”
There are two sides to the story and many of us — myself included — are only sharing one side with our followers. But, Ormerod wants to change that.
“Obviously I do put pretty pictures up online because I love fashion and shoes and beauty and I’m not ashamed of that — that’s part of who I am. But, I do really believe it’s important to show both sides,” she says. As part of her book launch, she’s started a digital campaign encouraging people to tell the real story behind their supposedly perfect pictures.
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I’ve shared the story behind this fashion week in a few places, but in short, my husband had just left me, I’d found out that thousands of pounds were no longer in my bank account and I was struggling to get my landlord to let me out of my lease. As an addition to this, as a total rebound I’d also had a fling with an American guy who had persuaded me to come early to New York before fashion week to see him. On a crazy whim I decided to go and booked the hotel room – which he said he would pay for – on my credit card. I had so much anticipation, had decided to use the money I did have left to get a wax and left feeling like I was about to start the next stage of my romantic life. But then I arrived and he stopped answering my messages. Finally at midnight I got a text saying he couldn’t actually make it as had to go to a hockey match. A HOCKEY MATCH. I never heard from him again and all I was left with was my Brazilian wax and the hotel room bill. Then I had to do fashion week having not only just been left by my husband, but also the rebound guy. It was BRUTAL. But this was the picture I posted. #whysocialmediaisruiningyourlife
She’s reposting old photos and sharing the no-holds-barred story behind those images. “My husband had just left me, I’d found out that thousands of pounds were no longer in my bank account and I was struggling to get my landlord to let me out of my lease,” reads one of the captions to Ormerod’s reposted ‘gram. She then details that not only had her husband just left her, but she’d flown to New York to spend time with a “rebound guy” who promptly stopped replying to her texts the minute she arrived. “I never heard from him again and all I was left with was my Brazilian wax and the hotel room bill,” she wrote.
“There’s a picture of me at Glastonbury saying ‘yeah, everyone loves going to Glastonbury but I fucking hate festivals and I was just there for the content,'” Ormerod tells me. “I came home after one night but I didn’t put that on Instagram.”
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Here’s another picture of me from that year – this time at Glastonbury. When you look at social media everyone seems to be on endless once in a lifetime experiences and constantly having fun. But sometimes living for content – or going places and doing things just so you have something to talk about/ appear to be having an interesting life can mean you waste a lot of your time doing things you don’t much enjoy. I fucking hate festivals. There is nothing casual about me so it takes all my strength to pretend Im ok with camping. I don’t particularly like the countryside, hate being around people doing drugs and never know any of the bands or the words to the songs. I ended up leaving Glasto after one night sodden, drenched and totally, totally over it. But I didn’t write that on instagram #whysocialmediaisruiningyourlife
Based on the responses she’s been getting, Ormerod feels that this double-sided stories are something that people are “dying to see.” “It’s such a relief in the unbearable pressure cooker of perfection and social comparison to hear that actually it is a fantasy,” she says.
Of course, telling yourself that it’s all “bullshit” is far easier said than done. But, Ormerod’s book identifies on a granular level the myriad thoughts and feelings one experiences when social media begins to skew our perceptions of ourselves.
“How close is your online identity to your offline identity? Are you merely tinkering with the digital version of your life, or is it pure fiction? Take a long, calm look at what you are curating online and be honest with yourself,” reads the book. “Does it feel like hard work to keep up the pretence?”
For many of us, the answer to that last question is a resounding yes. But, rather than giving us a rap on the wrist, or telling us to delete all our apps, or labelling us self-obsessed narcissists (as many headlines do), this book offers a realistic step-by-step approach to taking back control over social media’s place in our lives.
“I think there’s nothing wrong with social media, there’s nothing wrong with technology,” says Ormerod. “But the way we’re using it and our perspective on it is something we need to reframe and that’s really what this book is about.”
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This was a very popular picture – taken at my mum’s in France. But what I wasn’t mentioning was that I was 9 weeks pregnant and PUKING MY GUTS up about 15 times a day. I’m holding my bag in front of my tummy and have got a lot of bronzer on, so masking the fact that I was in actual hell. The second picture is actually what I looked like every day for the next month and a half. Friends have asked me how I was so stylish through my pregnancy – the truth is I was mainly in oversized t-shirts with my head in the loo, but that look, strangely, did not make it on to social media #whysocialmediaisruiningyourlife
Reading that I’m not alone in feeling like my Instagram persona is like having a prettier, happier, more successful twin sister is reassuring. Having the tools to do something about that feeling? Even better.
Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life is available from Sept. 20 for £12.99.