We have a bit of a girl-crush on Meghan Markle at the moment. But while searching through YouTube interviews and social media posts, and seeing this intelligent, successful, flawless Duchess-to-be, it was easy to feel inadequate and a bit FML*.
She’s a UN Women’s Advocate, a successful wealthy actress, an ambassador for World Vision, a counsellor for One Young World, and she has the adoration of a prince, all bundled up in the pert, slim body (and face) of a supermodel. Is there anything less than perfect about this woman?
Actually, yes. Do you know why I know this for absolute sure? Because she is a human being.
She poops. She farts. I bet she has even had a case of thrush and athlete’s foot in her time. She has said twattish things and felt shit about them for days. She has felt inadequate and doubted her abilities countless times. She has cried so hard because life hasn’t gone the way she wanted it. She has been in hundreds of pictures where she looked rough (honestly!). She has stunk so badly of BO on a night out that she has wet tissued her armpits in the loos. She has vomited in her hair – at least once – and gone at least two days longer than is socially acceptable without a shower. She has put on tights to hide her hairy legs, and her morning breath may well be vile.**
But this isn’t a scathing attack on Meghan Markle, nor would it be on any man or woman. This is just about waving a little flag saying ‘hey there, remember media only shows the best bits!’
And this happens every day on all our social media feeds. By only seeing a carefully selected feed of images and dialogue from our peers (all of whom poop, fart etc) we are all being duped into thinking that we are not the ‘normal’ ones because actually our real lives don’t look like other people’s.
… and that’s the beef. What you are seeing isn’t their reality either. It’s a carefully curated work of art. They have shared that particular picture because it is a fitting jigsaw piece of the life they aspire to create, not the life they live.
It’s not real!
It is likely that they tried for hours to get that perfect shot too. On a recent social media training course, we were told that you should be spending 2-3 hours setting up and taking the perfect Instagram picture. We should be ‘looking for perfection’. Scary!
Striving to obtain the perfect picture for social media is causing a surge in mental health problems for our young girls. In some cases it is literally killing them. Russell Howard’s TV show recently featured a story about a 68% rise in teenage girls self-harming over the last ten years, and how this may be linked to the growing selfie culture and the untamable habit of comparing themselves to others. (Read full article in the Guardian here)
More alarming is the statistic that if a teenage girl has self-harmed, she is 50-100 times more likely to commit suicide in the next twelve months than a peer who hasn’t. Just sit with those statistics for a moment. Almost 70% more teenage girls self-harming, each one 50-100 times more likely to do something horrific. All because other people’s (fictional) lives and bodies seem better than their own.
Constantly comparing themselves to the plethora of photoshopped, professionally shot, contorted images of celebrities is undoubtedly leaving our beautiful young women dealing with a permanent state of inadequacy. But we all have a part to play in this.
I am guilty of it. My need to take the perfect picture to share online (where I don’t look fat, or unhappy, or my daughter looks like she is having a fabulous time), not only imposes on special moments, but it also adds pressure to everyone connected to me online, to respond with a similar image of perfection. It’s a toxic cycle.
So what do we do about it? None of us want to share images where we are not pictured as the best version of ourselves, but we do need to be mindful of not contributing to the problem. While social media provides a quick, slick way of touching base with those we know and enables us to throw out an instant and broad ‘hey, we’re all doing just fine here’, it has little depth or space for honesty.
So, here’s what I’m going to do. In 2018, I aim to have more conversations face-to-face and be less reliant on social media as my window to the world. I want to notice more about people and their lives, and be a more authentic friend, focusing on deeper but fewer friendships. Social media can be a bit of a pointless acquaintance collection exercise sometimes. Simply taking a few extra minutes to ask someone how they are, eyeball-to-eyeball, or to respond in a more honest way when asked, than, “Good! I’m fine!” (even when I’m not) will hopefully make it ok for friends to be honest with me about their lives too. I need to make it ok to not be ok. A much more meaningful resolution than losing that lingering half stone!
We also need to try to educate our young girls and find a way of removing the filter of perfection from their online worlds. Rationality and reason is a tough ask for an adult, but for a hormonal adolescent it is almost impossible to discern real life from fiction when it comes to the media. Perhaps, as Mothers, Aunties, cousins and friends, we can all help to adjust the focus in our own small ways. And who knows, Meghan Markle may just fart on national TV and do us all a favour!
* F**k my life.
**Please don’t sue us Royal Family. These are healthy assumptions. We are sure she has just as many great regal habits too!