Being a Girl in the Age of Selfie Anxiety


(Image from Essena O’Neill’s former Instagram account)

By Kiki Cekota

“Oh my god, this selfie only got 45 likes and it’s been up for an hour. I think I’m gonna have to delete it.”

“She only got 32 likes on her profile picture and she has 600 friends? That’s embarrassing…”.

These are just a few quotes I’ve heard that exemplify the phenomenon of social media causing major anxiety for young women.

This anxiety can be subdued, something you hardly notice in everyday life until you really think about it for a couple of seconds. For example, the slight disappointment you feel when you check your recent Instagram upload and see no new likes, when you see you’ve lost a couple of Twitter followers, or when someone has declined your friend request on Facebook.

It’s easy to understand where our anxiety stems from, though. A 2006 study published by the American Psychological Association said that people make personality inferences from faces after minimal time exposure.

Are these feelings valid or unnatural because they’re worried about a world that only exists virtually?

In October 2015, “Instagram famous” Australian model Essena O’Neill took a stance against social media, calling it “contrived perfection made to get attention”. She replaced all her captions on Instagram with the reality of what was happening behind the scenes of each photo – for example, one caption reads, “there is nothing zen about trying to look zen, taking a photo of you trying to be zen and proving your zen on Instagram.” O’Neill had more than half a million followers on the platform.

Jane Bailey, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa and co-founder of the eGirls Project, says that she thinks representation on social media is huge for this generation.

“It’s important, especially in high school, to be seen online and seen in the ‘right way’. Social media sites are formatted to measure success in number of likes. And through this setup, we’ve created pressure.”

The eGirls Project is a research project that focuses on the relationship between gender, privacy, and equality in the online sphere of social media. Thus far, Bailey has worked with several young women between the ages of 16 and 24, gathering their experiences and opinions on a range of topics like how gender is represented online.

On the topic of anxiety surrounding the uploading of photos, Bailey spoke from her experience with the eGirls focus groups:

“[The girls] were very conscious of being the subject of observation and judgement. They were very concerned about how they represented themselves, because they knew they were being speculated upon,” she said.

A study by psychologists at the University of Glasgow found that among students between the ages of 11 and 17, those who were extremely active and emotionally invested in social media reported worse sleep quality, lower self-esteem, and higher instances of anxiety and depression.

Social media holds many benefits such as keeping in touch with friends and family, sharing photos you like with others, and uploading your creative work to an online audience. But it simply shouldn’t be a cause of such acute anxiety for my generation – we’re already at a time in our lives that hold so many changes and self-doubt. Worrying about how much other people “like” and approve our actions should not even be near the top of our priority list.

Bailey agrees that many perceive social media as a popularity contest and argues that, “that’s how platform providers set it up to be”.

I love Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook as much as the next girl, but I think it’s time we become aware of how much these networks affect our everyday lives.

I’m not telling you to delete all of your social media accounts the minute you read this post. Just remember to acknowledge that there are more important things in life. Put up photos that you like, including filtered selfies, and do so with confidence. It’s hard not be hard on yourself, but we owe it to ourselves to at least try.


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