Sarah-ious Discussions: Reforming Our Social Media Selves

I’m posting an unedited selfie on my Instagram story. It’s a risky move, and as my finger swipes across the screen to “share,” I can’t help but pause. My finger floats in the air like an unanswered question. Should I do it? What will people think?

The picture is a raw, unfiltered version of me, acne marks on display, under-eye circles visible, undone eyebrows frowning at the camera and unwashed hair hanging loosely around my face. It’s something I would never have posted years ago when I spent time editing, scrutinizing every photograph before deciding on whether or not it was “Instagram worthy.”

I rejected photos if they didn’t fit my “Instagram aesthetic.” If I looked like I needed to lose a few pounds, it was a flat “nah.” If I wasn’t wearing enough make-up to hide my hyper-pigmentation, I clicked “delete.” If my hair wasn’t voluminous and shiny, I swiped away. If I was wearing something that I had already posted a picture in, it was a “useless photo.” It was a process: click, edit, approve, post.

She was a completely different person, her skin looked spotless, she wore what was “in,” she never liked any of her own photos because that was weird; she was my social media self. A digital representation of a more polished me. But she wasn’t me.

It’s easy to set social media expectations. Dos and don’ts. They provide a solid outline for whether a post is Instagrammable. They’re the best friend that frantically nods in noisy approval of a photograph or cringes in silent objection. But here’s me telling you to cut that friend off.

Social media expectations exist in the part of our brain that revisits our worst selves. We conjure up an image that we think the world will approve of and change photos to reflect that image. But our old selves, the ones that weren’t familiar with our newly established haircare or make-up routine, possess what our present selves are missing: self-love.

Our past selves embraced our imperfections and mirrored our reality. I was comfortable taking candid photographs; I didn’t cover my face when someone held up a camera because “I wasn’t ready,” it was my best skill. I loved myself.

If we love someone, we want them to continue being the essence of themselves. If so, then we can’t own, absorb, or change them. We can only help them to become what they already are.”

— Gloria Steinem

In Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, Gloria Steinem gently lays down: “If we love someone, we want them to continue being the essence of themselves. If so, then we can’t own, absorb, or change them. We can only help them to become what they already are.”

What I’m trying to tell you is to be the real you on social media. Utterly, irrevocably, truly you because only you know how good that feels. And that feeling is what you’ve been chasing.

In our search for validation among applause and love among social media likes, we often forget to complete the impossible task of accepting ourselves. Impossible yet, not undoable.

I know I live between the young, more simple me, and the vulnerable, more anxious me. I live between the ocean’s surface and its floor. But as I sit here, ready to post the unfiltered selfie I’ve just taken, I’m more indecisive than I’ve ever been. I’m choosing between the unfamiliar love that floats above me and the need to feel seen that sits below. Hugging myself a little, I break through the ocean’s surface.

I click “share.”