Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Sad Reality behind the Smiles: The Pressures behind Social Media and the Desire to Fit In

 Megan Hemsworth Photography

The 21st century has seen an explosion into the online world of social media. No longer are people picking up the phone, writing letters or even texting. Rather the socially savvy among us are Tweeting, Facebooking, IM-ing, Instagramming and Snapchatting our way across the globe.

Sound familiar? With over 2.34 billion people signed up to at least one social media account - Facebook in particular has 1.94 billion monthly users - online presence has never been so prominent.

The appeal of social media is overwhelming - the opportunity to upload photos, messages, videos, podcasts, tweets and statuses, all at the touch of a button is endless.

With so many online profiles portraying #lifegoals, it would appear that social media only enhances a person's life; but is this necessarily the case?

An online poll has found that over one quarter of social media users actually feel worse than they let on.

Over half of the 100 people questioned admitted that social media has caused them to feel sad / upset / suicidal 'a couple of times', whilst just under half said that they felt pressured by celebrities to look good.

The sad reality is, such statistics are far from uncommon and with society constantly striving to keep up with the latest 'trend', it is easy to see why. 

In 2015 Kylie Jenner's voluptuous lips spurned the extravagant social media sensation, the Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge - the idea being that you put a bottle lid over your lips and then suck out all the air, making them swell up - the reality being that many received painful bruising.

Meanwhile Protein World sparked widespread controversy in the same year when the self-proclaimed 'premium online health store' was responsible for the advertising campaign, Are You Beach Body Ready?

Using billboards to 'motivate' young women to look 'beach body ready' like Protein World's toned model in a skimpy bikini, legs akimbo, caused campaigners to accuse the company of body shaming and sexism. 

Feminists were keen to show their disgust by defacing the posters in the London Underground, while an online petition to remove the advertisement gathered over 70,000 signatures.

Twitter user, @amyd1987 tweeted: 'New Protein World advert only aimed at women. No wonder so many girls have body hang ups when adverts like this are made #sexist'.

According to a new study by Weight Watchers, 'an average woman criticises herself at least 8 times a day', whilst 60% of women admitted to 'having days where they felt they criticised themselves constantly'.

The Daily Mail reported that 'Women are bombarded with images of perfection while at the same time expected to balance both working lives and family lives, which experts concluded led to women's critical relationships with themselves'. 

Sadly, women's low self-esteem can lead to more than just bruising of the lips or hitting the gym in order to get beach body ready. All too commonly, young girls are being groomed via social media by porn-enthusiasts and paedophiles. 

Lulled into a false sense of security by men (and women) who reassure their victims that they are 'beautiful and special', young girls - such as thirteen year-old Kayleigh Haywood - fall into the trap of exchanging 'innocent' texts with such perverts. 

School girl Kayleigh exchanged 2,643 messages over three days with paedophile, Luke Harlow before being lured to his house, sexually assaulted, raped and eventually killed upon trying to escape Luke and his porn-obsessed neighbour, Stephen Beadman.

Talking to MPs in the House of Commons, Peter Davies, Chief Executive of Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre said that half of all exploitation occurs via social networks, whilst there are approximately '50,000 people in the UK who commit offenses at least to to a level of possessing indecent images of children'.

'Victims are getting younger and younger and the level of abuse portrayed appears to be getting worse and worse'.

Alarmingly problems associated with social media aren't just limited to strangers.

Over 50% of people 'occasionally' feel pressured to appear happy on social media, with over 60% saying that Instagram takes the lead in causing such feelings, with Facebook taking second place.

It would seem that much of this pressure is nonetheless born from friends and the idea of missing out, as 25% of people admitted to 'occasionally' attending an event purely based on the thought of post-party photos that will be uploaded online.

It is no secret that social media displays a facade of smiling faces, perfectly toned and tanned bodies and endless socialising, but many forget this in the whirlwind of the internet.

For many, Facebook and Instagram depict 'reality' - a rose-tinted haven, where things always work out, the sun is always shining and there isn't a care in the world.

Talking to The Guardian, Laura, 28, admits that her 'social media feed isn't a true representation of real life'.

She says, 'I experience anxiety and often use my accounts as a way to reflect on my life and remind myself of all the good things in it. It's not real life, it's an edited version'.

Heather, 28 also comments on the lack of transparency on social media.

'I know lots [of people] are probably having a miserable time, but there's no way to know that from a glossy photo'.

Similarly, Lynne, 50 says: 'I like social media and being able to see what's going on with my friends, but I do feel exasperated at how it's only the gloss most people portray'.

'Life is not all about infinity pools, glamorous places and happy, shiny people. Life can at times be cruel, raw and difficult and I don't see many posts about that'.

Although these women appear aware of social media's masqueraded face, they still continue to upload and contribute to the false reality of social media - and that is exactly the problem.

Are you guilty of masquerading behind a screen and /or does social media make you feel anxious or depressed?

Don't worry, help is available.

For more information on how to deal with depression and anxiety, visit: 'Happiness Starts from Within: How to Let Go of your Insecurities and Feel Good from the Inside, Out' or if you are worried that you or someone you know is a victim of online grooming, visit: Parents Protect: Online Grooming  NSPCC: Preventing Abuse


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