MILLENNIAL MONDAY IS A WEEKLY SERIES IN WHICH I ATTEMPT TO ANSWER THE KIND OF QUESTIONS OVER 35S JUST DON'T GET. submit your own question in the comments section or via email
I think comparison is the most devastating effect of social media platforms like instagram. How can we all stop comparing ourselves to other people? Is it even possible to stop?
Ok I’m going to begin this by stating the totally obvious: social media can be wonderful and magical, especially for women. It has successfully democratised fashion to the extent that Vogue online recently went all grumpy old duchess on it and told us to stop making our own trends and toe the goddam line as approved by Vogue and Vogue alone. Lol, and lol again. Another fun fact: over 60% of women now read online reviews before every cosmetics purchase. So, if you’re into style and beauty, social media and blogging has made you as a consumer more powerful than ever before. Gone are the days of being dictated to by tone deaf fashion elites and sold products off the back of concocted insecurities - ‘think your cuticles are vitalised? Think again.’. The bullsh*t can now be bypassed thanks to the fact that in place of brands and media outlets, we can now look to real life people.
So far so revolutionary millennial awesomeness.
But then comes the inevitable downside. For all their ridiculousness, celebrities (and their hyper-polished endorsements) were at least fairly removed from what we might call ‘the real world’. You might have felt, circa 2007, that you wanted to look more like Eva Longoria. You might even have purchased the ludicrous painter and decorator roll-on foundation thing* she endorsed to help you do it. But deep down, you knew she didn’t go around looking that freshly paint-rollered every waking moment of her life. The people we emulated then were celebrities, a different breed, residing in la la land, and subject to different rules. No one in real life actually looked like that, and we couldn't tap into their daily lives via our nokias, so we could at least step back from the fantasy a bit between ad breaks.
But now we can't. Just as celebrities have been replaced with real people, Eva's white-walled roll-on foundation fantasy land has been replaced with a kid of pseudo-reality in which the people we follow actually do appear to look that good and have that much cash and do all those cool things day in day out in the real actual world. And that's much harder to brush off.
In fact we may have actually evolved to be bad at brushing it off. In a now famous experiment, Atlantan professor of primate behaviour, Frans De Waal, demonstrated that even monkeys are hardwired to be less happy with their own lot if someone else has something better. In the experiment he trained several monkeys to use stones as a kind of adorable monkey currency, which they could exchange for snacks. Initially each of the monkeys were given a slice of cucumber in exchange for one stone. After this pattern was well established, a select few monkeys started to be given grapes instead in exchange for their super cute monkey money. The remaining monkeys, when they saw some of their friends were receiving sweet juicy grapes instead of boring cucumber (monkeys love fruit) started to reject the still perfectly good cucumber pieces when offered, which until minutes ago they had been very keen to obtain.
We, like monkeys, evaluate our own standing in the world by comparing it to others. There is no such thing as a value without context. For us, like the primates, what we have can take a nosedive in value terms as soon as it becomes apparent that someone else has something 'better'. It's in our DNA. In evolutionary terms this is a survival mechanism. In instagram terms it is an unholy plague on our collective peace of mind.
What I'm getting at with all this is no. Realistically it is not possible to entirely cease and desist from comparison with others. Self help books and glib online articles may tell you it is, but you and I and the ripped off cucumber monkeys know better. So, if we are to survive 21st Century life, our only hope is to put in place some strategies to help us enjoy our cucumber once more.
Make cucumber great again people
Well, we can't limit the comparison instinct which kicks into gear in our monkey-derived brains very easily. When it comes to social media, what we can limit is who we follow, how long we look at it for, and what we ourselves contribute to it.
Confession: I recently had to unfollow almost all of my favourite bloggers on instagram because exposure to their manicured existences was noticeably warping my perception of my own life. My (amazing) job which I worked (hideously) hard to get started to look dull and unimaginative compared to creative pyjama-clad internet-based self employment. My salary started to feel insufficient, my wardrobe basic, my lunch choices colourless and unclean. I had to cut the cord. I don't regret it.
Just have a cull. If you see a photo and your heart sinks, it's time for that poster to exit your feed. No hard feelings, nice photos are nice, they take a lot of effort, but this is a strategy. Stick to the strategy people. This applies to Facebook as well as instagram, snapchat and whatever else the whippersnappers are into these days. If some girl you used to know spends her entire life sipping champagne on a yacht just bloody cull her. Do it. Now breathe.
The University Of Pittsburgh published a study earlier this year which suggested that longer stretches spent interacting with social media is correlated with higher instances of depression in young people. Of course, lots of different factors contribute to depression, but I think there's something to be said for capping your social media exposure, or at least checking in with yourself to see how you feel after an insta-binge. Moment is an app that tracks your phone usage so that you (and only you) can see how much time you're really spending looking at other people's pictures. it even lets you cap your usage so you can be reminded to get back to living IRL.
Consider downloading it. Anyway, there'll be less to look at now that you've culled half your feed, so that should help.
Finally, something I've found helpful is to ask myself what I am on social media for. As in what is my aim in posting a photo? If the honest answer is something along the lines of 'to get lots of likes to prove to myself that I am objectively hot because I really can't tell if I am or not and I feel it's very important that I am' then it's time to find a new goal. A few months ago I decided definitively that I was not going to do the aspirational instagram thing (not that I ever really did it properly, but I had my moments). Instead, I invented a new goal for myself, which to share quick, digestible beauty product recommendations and personal photos when I could think of a funny accompanying caption. Since instating that simple purpose for myself, I've had peace of mind that I'm hopefully not contributing to someone else's endless cycle of comparison-based disappointment, and I've enjoyed instagramming so much more. Try it.
*seriously click that link it is comedy dynamite