Just be more real: Backlash against social media

Kate and Georgia on Instagram. Photo: Instagram
Kate and Georgia on Instagram. Photo: Instagram

When a follower criticised an Instagram post by model Georgia Gibbs, posing with her best friend, she fired back.

"What rock do you live under ... women come in so many shapes and beautiful sizes. You're entitled to your opinion, but don't share your body shaming on my page," wrote Ms Gibbs, 22, on the post seen by nearly 150,000 followers.

Ms Gibbs and fellow model Kate Walsey, 23 have been best friends since childhood. But when a photo of them posing in Sydney went viral because one was slim and one was curvy, even prompting accusations that they had photo-shopped the image to accentuate their different body shapes, they decided they had enough.

They used their online profiles - 450,000 on Instagram alone - to make social media "more real" and urged everyone to "stop making comparisons".

"We are constantly comparing our lives, our bodies, with others," said Ms Gibbs, who calls herself a diversity activist, in an interview from London where she works.

Nobody had an ideal life, she said, even those that seemed so on the surface. Ms Gibbs tries to post images of herself that reflect how she is feeling, sometimes sick or acknowledging the chronic fatigue syndrome that afflicts her. Ms Walsey gets a lot of comments about her photos. She wrote in one post that she copped criticism like: "'nice face, but needs to lose weight' ??? and I wonder why is it that people think this way?"

The emphasis on appearance on social media is undermining the self-esteem of adults and teenagers, according to the Digital Me survey by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) released on Saturday. Twice as many Instagram users classified themselves as having low self-esteem, affecting both adults and teenagers, compared with non-users.

Long before social media was even invented, American president from 1901 Theodore Roosevelt said "comparison is the enemy of joy".

The new research backs him up. APS found:

  • 63 per cent of teens felt pressure on social media to look good;
  • 59 per cent of teenagers felt validated by likes or retweets of their posts social media;
  • 56 per cent felt left out or excluded after seeing photos of friends together at an event that they hadn't been invited to attend;
  • 41 per cent sometimes felt that everyone else was "living the dream" except them;
  • 38 per cent used filters to make themselves appear more attractive, and
  • 25 per cent had been bullied on social media.

The survey of 1000 adults and 150 teenagers between 14 and 17 years of age found 79 per cent of teenagers and 54 per cent of adults were "highly involved with their phones", often checking it first thing in the morning, during the day and last thing at night.

Teenagers spend about 3.3 hours a day online, using social media platforms five to nine times a day, including meal times and in the company of others. Adults used it slightly less, at 2.6 hours

Restaurateur and Roseville mother of two teenage girls Marta Sanroma said she wanted to see more posts by adults and teenagers that reflect "real life".

"I would like to post a photo of me when I have just woken up, when I haven't washed my face, and when I have had a bad sleep and have a sore tummy and today is going to be a shit day and then add, How do you feel? Tell me about the real you'."

Teenagers were under increasing pressure to look good, she said.

"Everybody posts this pretend happiness, and teenagers compare themselves," she said. "They just go they've have such a happy life, why can't I be like that?'' That's because nobody ever posts real life. We all have moments when we are happy," she said, adding that nobody was happy all the time in real life.

"It is destructive because it breaks the self-esteem of girls, particularly teens, even people my age," she said. "I can look good, but nobody knows I suffer from depression and every day I take my little pill," she said.

Teenagers contacted by strangers

About 15 per cent of teenagers say they are contacted by strangers daily via Facebook, yet the majority of adults do not monitor their children's social media activity, found the Social Me study by the Australian Psychological Society.

Scarier though for any parent is the finding that 10 per cent of teenagers had communicated or responded to strangers daily.

The APS' spokeswoman Dr Lyn O'Grady said the survey's results highlight the important role that parents need to play in guiding teens in the online world.

Younger teenagers, in particular, needed help about how keep themselves safe online.

The APS urges parents to make rules governing what sites children can access, and to agree with their children on what games can be played, what teens can say publicly and privately, and what they should say in private messaging.

Many adults found it hard to manage the impact of technology on their own lives: 54 per cent were highly involved with their mobile phones, 21 per cent had been bullied online and 27 per cent had argued with a stranger online.

Given that, Dr O'Grady said it was important for parents to model "healthy technology use" for their children.

While social media was an asset for teenagers, they were less able to identify risks and more likely to act compulsively than adults.

"They need boundaries, rules and the guidance of parents to help them decisions - just as they do online," she said.

This story Just be more real: Backlash against social media first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.