With the start of the new year, there’s a trend going around Instagram: to unfollow people whose social media presence makes you feel bad. We all have those people on our feeds, right? They’re just a little too glamorous, their lives are just a little too perfect, and instead of inspiring us to mix up our outfit choices or to try a new beauty product they just make us feel shitty about ourselves.
The message to unfollow these accounts has been a strong one amongst bloggers with a self-care bent as part of a greater mode of ‘protecting’ ourselves on the internet. Social media is, especially for women, a toxic playground of unrealistic beauty standards and unobtainable wanderlust so it’s logical that in our self-care obsessed world there would be some backlash.
But does this backlash hurt women, too?
Does the demand for less perfection and more authenticity put people at risk?
We’ve entered a time where ‘authenticity’ and ‘accessibility’ are more important than ever. Being ‘real’ on the internet is the newest craze and followers are craving content that is less curated and more off-the-cuff. We’re eating up ultra-personal content and praising those who open up about their relationships, mental health, motherhood, body image, and personal struggles with our likes and comments.
But not everyone is ready to bare their soul to the internet. Is this environment of extreme authenticity potentially toxic to those who aren’t equipped to handle it?
I think it’s amazing when people feel empowered to use their platforms to discuss sensitive topics and destigmatize issues like mental health and disordered eating. But I fear that mounting pressure to talk about the personal in such a public and enduring way may cause folks to discuss things they haven’t fully processed or aren’t ready to have ongoing public conversations about. On the one hand, I do believe people are often good judges of what they feel comfortable sharing online, but on the other I think it’s easy to underestimate the toxic power of internet trolling and the exhaustion of discussing your personal demons on a regular basis.
Ultimately this ask for authenticity is about us – we want to feel better about ourselves, we want to feel less alone, we want to be inspired to overcome our own struggles. But by asking people to be more ‘authentic’ for the sake of our own mental health, we are also asking them to become more vulnerable perhaps at the detriment of their own mental health. Because along with the support and love comes an enormous amount of hate. And as many of us know, it only takes one negative comment to eclipse all the positive ones. In asking people to be more relatable, we’re also asking them to put themselves at risk in new ways.