At the beginning of 2019, I fell in love with myself. To who do I give the credit? Social media (and myself, of course). Social media has been viewed by many as a double-edged sword, the source of downfalls and plenty of problems, and while it is, if used correctly, it doesn’t have to be. This is my story of how I found light in the darkness.
I like to call it “the individuality epidemic” or the 9 millionth social revolution and it is one that holds the story of a 17-year-old from South Africa. Hi, I am the 17-year-old from South Africa. I have been blessed enough to be part of a group of friends and a generation that encourages distinction. From the way we dress to career and sexuality, I personally feel as though I have grown up in the best time I could possibly be in. It's not perfect at all (and frankly, will never be), but after altering my immediate surroundings, I found that it isn’t impossible to be happy with who you are.
As a youth growing up in the midst of so much change, I have been allowed to upgrade myself as often as the software on my phone, which many can argue is almost every single day. My change has not been limited to a box on a form but to whatever my heart desires. It brings me so much joy to see people be as reserved or as outgoing as they want to be because it shows me that at least we are doing something right.
Platforms like YouTube and Instagram have allowed people like me, who aren’t exposed to that much, a space to hear the stories of others and have a more holistic view of the world and people who we do not come across every day. Being able to type something in a search bar and seeing millions of results from people you’ve never met is incredible. But with social media, the key is self-control. It can be the greatest blessing but also such a toxic place to be in. Like how I used it for education and self-development, so many people find it as a chore which is extremely unhealthy. It's a double-edged sword, but what matters is which side of the sword you choose to use.
The way I navigated around a healthy social media intake was being able to wrap my head around it. At the beginning of 2019, I then only realised the toll it took on my self-image. I refined my Instagram feed by doing a simple task, going through the people I was following and unfollowing the ones who made me feel remotely negative about myself. Building a diverse feed of people who look just like you and people who make you feel confident is the secret. Shocker, I know but its a task that isn’t done and its result are destructive.
I spent an average of 3 hours a day on Instagram (kind of an addiction). So, what I saw on the app heavily influenced my entire outlook on many aspects of my life. Dealing with self-esteem issues, puberty (and all of that in-between stuff) while also trying to be the best person I could be took a toll on my mental health which through very extensive personal research, I found that it stemmed from the pressure I had from the people I followed and admired.
It was something that I felt I owed myself after spending so long doubting my worth because of them. I had more time to focus on being the best version of myself instead of obsessing to become more like these people. It allowed me time to heal and deal with insecurities that I had, some of which I still deal with to this day and I’m in absolutely no rush to overcome them and not even close to being complete with the masterpiece that is myself and that’s okay. I’m 17-years-old. I don’t have to have everything figured out. A healthy social media intake is just one part of it. There are so many barriers that need to be broken. But any progress is good progress, right?
The individuality epidemic on social media is this uproar of encouragement of independence from the norms and standards. Of course, it depends on who is on your feed but I took full advantage of that and have allowed myself to go through every challenge with my head held high. Without it, I would not be where I am today. The epidemic without the help of social media would have never reached me. Movements like the body positivity movement and the feminists have had great strides in moulding my identity. I would be nowhere without these activists that break down these patriarchal and discriminatory views that society has built and told little teenage me that I am in fact normal and doing just fine.
It takes thick skin. But I have taken so many punches from social media that my skin gained little white blood cells and fought them off for me. The diversity is there, but the segregation and the discrimination are also very prevalent which completely cancels the former. Those who meet the standard of beauty are promoted and have the biggest following which is the first problem. Shoving an idea of beauty down the throats of the youth is so toxic and I urge those who are reading this to be their own standard because you don’t owe anyone anything.
To those breaking down the barriers and loving who they want, dressing how they want, putting on makeup the way they want, please do continue. Your presence makes the pessimists uncomfortable and it brings joy to my heart. Paint yourself like a Van Gogh, beautifully complicated. To those like me who are on their journey, it's going to take some time but I hear that the destination is so beautiful.
Remember the power that is your phone. It doesn’t have to be a never-ending dark hole. Like the stars in the sky, you too can shine through the darkness. There is room for all of us.
-- the author.