The internet age was just launching, and AOL was the leading network for online services. The first AOL program that I can remember was when I was in high school. It offered email, and a way to message people who were, also, logged in at the same time. The most impressive feature allowed us to add friends by their ‘screen name’ to accumulate an ongoing table called, “The Buddy List.”
It all started then. “How many buddies do you have?” was a common question in conversation at the time. It was as if the one with the most ‘buddies’ was the best, most popular, and coolest girl—and, it wasn’t me. And, while she pranced around sparkling, I was questioning my dignity and worthiness, while feeling quite insecure. This competition of who had the most ‘buddies’ and the anxiety it caused drove me straight to the carton of ice cream in the freezer. This sequence of events, which happened quite often only caused more self-loathing.
Next, came AOL Instant Messenger, what we referred to as AIM. The most exciting feature was having the ability to leave an ‘away message.’ This idea sounded great, but talk about self-esteem struggles. ‘Friends’ started posting what they were doing and who they were doing it with. How was it possible to not feel excluded and awful about myself when I saw my two best friends publicize they were at Starbucks, but didn’t ask me to join? Or were at a movie on the weekend, but I wasn’t included in the plans? (Don’t get me wrong. I loved AIM at the time. In fact, it was how my husband first contacted me!) But, again, AIM was just a sampling of what was yet to come.
Facebook came and took this to an even greater level. Facebook had it all, and more. It had pictures! So between having the ability to see how many friends everyone had, who the friends were, what they were doing or have been doing, AND having visual proof of it, it became impossible to not stack myself up against others, differentiate myself, or perceive myself in a negative way.
I can’t be positive, but I am pretty damn sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t feel good about myself when excluded from a group, activity, party, or even a conversation. But, there is something so much worse about seeing it broadcasted on social media. I’m 33 years old, married, with a family. If I feel lonely and depressed from seeing my peers hanging out together, going to dinner, or getting drinks without inviting me, I can’t even imagine how a hormonal teenager must feel when they see the same online.
And, finally, Instagram. (Well, the finale really should be Snapchat. But I still haven’t quite figured that out yet. So I’ll stop at Instagram). When reflecting on my days as of late, sure there are beautiful, memorable moments with smiles, laughter, and joy. But, I’ll be honest. I have three children (5 and under). More than anything, there is a mass amount of chaos, whining and crying, fighting, screaming, anger, frustration, and exhaustion. Pure exhaustion. So, I am guilty of it, too. I don’t take or share pictures of these moments. God forbid someone judges me. Or, declares me a bad mother or wife. Or, thinks I am a loner. Who wants to be friends with the screaming, raging and aggravated person? Scroll through my Facebook and Instagram accounts, and you will see perfection. Pure happiness. Love and completeness.
I’m human, though. My self-esteem and self-image has been significantly influenced by social media. I love nothing more than being in my oversized sweatpants on a Friday night overeating, playing on my phone, and sitting next to my husband on the couch while he watches Dateline. But, still, as I sign in to my social media accounts, and see “friends” of mine posting selfies out on the town, dressed and fully made up, and appearing to be having the greatest time ever, I can’t help but feel dejected.
Does anybody actually live the life they portray on social media? I don’t. Therefore, I apologize if my postings have ever impacted your self-esteem. I try to take other people’s post with a grain of salt. You should, too. And, most importantly, include. Live by the mantra, “the more the merrier.” Because, we all know how it feels to be on the outside.