IOWA CITY — Judging from her Instagram profile, Iowa City West junior Caroline Young appears to live a charming life.
With a passion for photography, she takes pictures of her friends and her travels, hiking down paths to arrive at sprawling glaciers and forests. She is supported by her loving siblings and parents, interacts with her goats at the family-owned Lucky Star Farm, and receives many positive comments from friends and followers.
She has plans to start an Instagram page that models Humans of New York, hoping to tell the stories of the people of Iowa City.
However, Young’s internal view of social media is much more concealed. Her self-esteem especially flares when she compares herself to the posts she sees.
“If I see people at a party or hanging out with friends and I don’t have anything going on, then I feel kind of unincluded, so that definitely makes me feel like people don’t want me around,” Young said. “They kind of make it out to seem like they’re doing this stuff all the time and I don’t do (that), so I guess it made me compare my life to the highlights of everyone else’s.”
These comparisons make Young reflect on her body image as well. As a photographer, she easily notices when people alter their images.
“(People) obviously edit and choose the best photo of themselves,” Young said. “There’s all this stuff that you don’t really think about that goes into putting a perfect picture on Instagram. Just waking up every day and comparing myself to this perfectly-edited photo ... it’s a misrepresentation in what you compare yourself to.”
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As negative self-image becomes increasingly associated with social media, social studies teacher Megan Johnson is quick to point out the source.
“It’s like, ‘I want to look good to everyone and even if I’m not super happy or popular and even if my life isn’t amazing every minute,’ that’s how we want to make ourselves look on social media,” Johnson said. “When someone who is maybe having a difficult time in their lives sees other people presenting their perfect life, it makes those people feel like their life isn’t as good.”
However, this doesn’t stop Young from constantly scrolling through her social media accounts. Of the many detrimental effects these platforms can cause — such as self-comparison and depression — is addiction.
“I definitely have my phone sitting on the table while I’m doing homework and I’m getting my work done a lot slower because I have to check and reply back immediately,” Young said.
In an effort to combat this tendency, she has considered many options, even deleting her social media accounts. But she couldn’t bring herself to do that.
“I’ve found that deleting (everything) will actually make you feel really lonely, because it’s how you communicate nowadays,” Young said. “I don’t want to be on my phone all the time, and other people don’t either, but no one is stopping. When you’re not on it, you’re not connected to these other people and you just feel very left out.”
This dependence on social media has furthered the opportunity for people to lie about their identity and take advantage of the situation.
“There are people who make random fake accounts. I’ve had an experience with at least five accounts of the same person who were all trying to ask for photos of me and get information out of me,” Young said. “My block list is very long.”
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As the number of teens absorbed in social media continues to grow, the pressure to have the perfect lifestyle only rises.
“There’s almost a level of peer pressure to be the person who posts the cool photos and gets a lot of likes,” Johnson said. “It’s a whole new level of attention and popularity seeking and feeling like you belong, but the problem is, you are never going to feel like you belong because you get a lot of likes or retweets.”
Since Johnson was a high school student, she continually notices how peer pressure plays a larger role in the lifestyles of students.
“It was almost the norm that when I was younger, people would spend an hour at night actually talking on the phone, and now it’s crazy that some of the research shows that people will spend four hours a day on their phone,” Johnson said. “I’ve always had students on phones, but it’s increasingly become a thing that when they have to part with it, you can see the expressions on their faces. It’s crazy how much of an addiction it has become.”
Over the years that Young has had social media, it has taken her time to realize the reality beyond the screen, but she now has come to adjust how she views and uses social media. After incorporating her passion for photography into her social media with a photography account, she uncovered a whole new view of networking and inspiration from other photographers, building a new relationship with social media.
“Personally, I’ve become more comfortable and confident,” Young said. “(Social media) is more of an accessory now than what I base things around, and it’s less of a necessity and more of something to do for fun.”
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