Are We Too Obsessed With Our Social Media Image?

Posting selfies on social media often means choreographing the shot and taking a number of shots to choose from. Then the shot is often air brushed and manipulated to make the subject look younger, thinner and as attractive as possible. Social media users are craving a post with a huge number of likes for that ego boost. Often neglecting real life relationships in pursuit of likes.

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Image by DazedDigital. Photo by Scarlett Carlos Clarke

Scarlett Carlos Clarke created a photography series called Body Dysmorphia which explores the idea that a selfie can be empowering when representing an accurate depiction of oneself. She looks at the impact manipulated selfies has on a person, and that by retouching and manipulating images and presenting them as real, creates a cycle of online addiction of validation.

“Although some girls maybe feel totally insecure and vulnerable and full of self-loathing, there’s a narcissistic element that they can’t stop feeding with the selfie,” says Clarke.

Clarke suggests people post the selfie for that short term feeling of pleasure of having a manipulated photo being liked or just seeing these manipulated images of themselves online. It becomes an addiction, because the feeling disappears and so they chase the next post. The original motive to create a selfie and manipulate the image to make it “better” is from a place of insecurity. And that insecurity is not resolved by posting retouched selfies no matter how many likes it gets.

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“It’s like a short-term release of endorphins, and then it’s over, and then probably back to the self-loathing” says Clarke

But there is this narcissistic element to it, as well as the insecurity. People get obsessed with perfecting images of themselves, with seeing images of themselves and improving on them.

“It’s a weird mix of self-loathing and self-obsession” says Clarke

This happens mainly with women. On Instagram people post their best self, their best moments and their biggest successes. Viewers see their posts and think “My life is not as good” or “I am not feeling as good as they look”. It is a misrepresentation because it does not represent reality, it is an edit showing the best of the best. People are not posting their low or ordinary moments. They are driven to get likes like every body else.

“There’s a lot of pressure for women to be doing careers, looking great, seemingly being really happy in their lives. Women feel a lot more pressure to put that out because of what’s happening with everyone else. Everyone’s kind of egging each other on” says Clarke

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According to a study by New York Times best-selling authors Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield social media obsession is correlated with higher levels of unhappiness. In this study more than half the respondents claim that posting the ideal image on social media stopped them from enjoying life experiences. Often people step away and take a break from a great experience in order to record it on social media just to get a post with a lot of likes. Research also showed many people were putting their lives at risk for a photo for social media such as posing on a busy street.

“‘Likes’ are a low-effort way of producing a feeling of social well-being that takes more effort to get in the real world,” says Grenny.

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He dubs people who seek out this kind of affirmation as ‘social media trophy hunters’. Often people are shut down and ignore real relationships or people in front of them to focus on their phone.

The obsession with image and perfect photos and selfies, especially manipulated images that generate ideals of perfection and beauty that are not normal or attainable have real health consequences. In the UK, figures released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that there is an increasing number of children being treated for eating disorders.

Rebecca Field who works for Charity Beat says “Social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter and promotion of the so-called ‘perfect body’, and desire to emulate celebrities, is part of the problem. With the rise of social media and the celebrity culture, people are being bombarded by these images of what seems to be the ideal body. Facebook encourages an obsession with image, as girls and boys post photos of themselves and their friends ‘like’ them – or not.”

About 8% of the population are actually posting on social media on a daily basis although it may seem like the whole world is on there with something to say. If you look closely at your feed you will notice the users who post regularly are the same usernames coming up again and again. These kind of users have been dubbed as “social creatives”.

For these people the digital world means everything to them and reality is synonymous with their lives on social media. They see themselves as brands and they are marketing themselves as their product online. Some interesting comments from social creatives include.

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“Facebook is like an advertisement for your world. It’s like having your own TV channel.”
“Everyone is their own PR agent. You’re curating your content on social media based on what you want people to think about you,”

On the darker side of the web, two other social creatives said,
“I like to post an inflammatory viewpoint or argument just to illicit a response,”

“I’m a little bit of a troll. I’ve made a fake name to stalk someone. I like baiting people for a heated reaction.”

What is driving these avid social media users is a need for acknowledgement, approval and attention

While retouching selfies is another way to satisfy insecurities about a less than perfect selfie. There are apps made especially for airbrushing your photo or selfie before you post it such as Perfect365 and PhotoWonder. In a new survey by BeautyHaven 62% made sure they approved photos taken by their friends before they were uploaded online. In another survey of 500 women, 75% consider themselves ‘unattractive’, ‘ugly’ or ‘too fat’. In yet another survey eight in 10 women felt anxious having photos taken for social media.

Kim Kardashian published a book called Selfish featuring many selfies. US Weekly claims she uses the app Perfect365 to edit photos before they went on Instagram.

Social Media obsession can lead to turning to your phone for likes as well as affirmation and validation, rather than getting pleasure from real life experiences. Posting a photo after only one take, and posting a mix of photos showing your best self and best life with ordinariness and even life ‘failures’ could help distinguish the sense of jealousy and unattainable perfection being projected on social media. Air brushing and retouching selfies and photo portraiture is a controversial issue. Most people are against the magazines doing it as it projects perfect bodies and faces that are not real. But is it ok if we do it to ourselves? What do you think?