My online obsession

Galen Eye Centre

How social media can be a harmful form of communication

Credit: 
Photos illustration by anna maria li
I became addicted to social media in grade four.
 
At first, the attraction was talking to my friends outside of school without having to ask my parents. And since I’m being honest, that quickly developed into being able to talk to my first boyfriend without their watchful eyes.
 
Looking back now, as a 20 year old with a laptop, I realize having access to online messaging fuelled my premature romantic endeavours. 
 
I was nine. I remember it clearly because it was new, and the novelty of it all never wore off. Every day brought a barrage of updates, photos, wall posts, doodles, game requests — and that notification popping up saying my crush replied to my hideously stupid ice-breaker.
 
“Heeeey! Whats up?????”
“NM U”
“Sameeeee just chilling.” 
 
You know, just refreshing the screen every minute to see if he’d replied.
 
Before grade four, staying on the computer for hours was unfathomable. Although I lived in an apartment, I spent every afternoon playing outside. However, when I moved into a new house, I rarely ventured past the computer even when children my age were playing on the street.
 
My life began to revolve around Facebook. 
 
My crush asked me to be his girlfriend and, in typical grade school fashion, we only hung out at recess and during school trips. When he asked me to kiss him, I wasn’t as brave as I seemed online and chickened out. But perhaps it had more to do with the fact that all my classmates were staring at us through the gaps in the bookshelves. MSN had made our plans a school event.
 
Hurt by my rejection, our relationship existed on wall posts and nothing else thereafter. Slowly, it turned into talking only at recess, and finally down to awkward glances.
 
It suddenly dawned on me that existing on social media for all the world to see was far more real than holding hands at recess. Not wanting to document every moment in badly written vernacular made our relationship fizzle out, because having declarations of your love online is what constitutes a relationship to a nine year old, right?
 
Still, that boyfriend — let’s call him Rob — he and I dated on and off throughout elementary school until I met a new kid with a Spanish accent, golden brown skin, green eyes and an eyebrow piercing.
 
It’s no surprise that Rob and I got back together and broke up with each other solely on the internet. It seemed to work fine for us — Facebook was the one and only place to profess feelings without your parents listening on the other end — but then things changed.
 
For the first time, I was green with envy. Even though I felt nothing more than platonic love for my best guy friend Rob, I wanted to get right back with him as soon as I saw him with a new girl. This new girl was a year older than us. She was tall, blonde, leggy and a salsa dancer. I, on the other hand, was a guy’s gal, bruised, unkempt and dirty from playing tackle soccer at recess. 
 
Lana was my first Facebook stalkee. I clicked through every one of her pictures. Some of them were professional modelling shoots, others were candids from beach trips, dance practices and performances.
 
What Lana had that I didn’t, besides Rob, was boobs. And to put it plainly, I wanted to be her. 
 
That was the first time I padded my bra. I folded tissue paper and stuffed it under and to the sides of my barely-fill-an-A-cup boobs. The new guys I was dating were ecstatic that I grew boobs overnight. I was happy for the attention, but I wanted more.
 
I moved on to make-up, then to straightening my rat’s nest of a head of hair every day. All of this to look more like Lana, because she was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen.
 
Still, there was one thing I couldn’t fix. Whereas Lana’s wardrobe was trendy and tight, mine was baggy, mismatched and curated by various Value Villages. 
 
I remember very plainly how devastated I felt when I realized I could never look like her. Not even in the slightest. Her body, for one, was far more developed and voluptuous than mine would ever be. But also, she was Lana, and I could never make Rob, my new boyfriend or anyone else see me as somebody I wasn’t, no matter how hard I tried.
 
I became increasingly bitter towards her. I hated her, and yet I scrolled through her Facebook profile every day. Things with my new boyfriend were different. He wanted to hang out in person, outside of school. He was my first real boyfriend and I could never forget the cowardly things I did to him. He was a perfect gentleman. He always walked me home, gave me a peck on the cheek and made sure I made it inside okay before he took off on his black BMX. 
 
One day I saw him with Lana and her equally pretty friend — one who had bullied me because of my clothing and dark curly hair. I got upset. He was buying them ice cream while I waited outside with his bike, because I couldn’t stand to see the three of them together without some sort of barrier between us. I dropped his bike and ran home, completely ashamed. I got jealous, couldn’t handle it, and then broke up with him on Facebook not a half and hour later. It was the last day of school. And that summer my family moved two hours away.
 
He blocked me within minutes. I went straight onto Lana’s Facebook page to rub salt in my wounds.
 
I didn’t understand it then, but I sure as hell do now.
 
A couple of months ago, I deleted my Instagram. At the beginning of second year, I deleted my Facebook and made a new one. I still have only one picture, my display picture, as opposed to the thousands I had amassed since 2007.
 
It was a long and arduous process, getting the guts to finally purge my social media accounts of the people I wanted to be like in the most self-hating way.
 
Girls with long hair, girls with perfect curly hair, girls with perfect skin, thin calves, toned thighs, beach pictures, perfect teeth … people I remained Facebook friends with for the sole purpose of making myself feel bad to the point where I wanted to change my appearance.
 
Using make-up everyday, chemically straightening my hair, losing weight, gaining it back because I wanted bigger boobs (didn’t happen, just went straight to my thighs), dying my hair, learning to play guitar, reading bigger books, writing poetry, dance classes — all these things I did because I wanted to be more like them and less like me.
 
The thing is, I spent all of my formative years wanting to be anybody else but me. So much so that I hardly have any idea if I truly like what I like or if I like it because I wanted to be someone else.
 
Scrolling through Instagram always makes me feel resentful about who I am. The selfies I posted had an hour or so of preparation time behind them, because I wanted to appear pretty all the time. I wasn’t genuinely happy in any of them — I just wanted the verification that I was pretty in the eyes of my followers. 
 
Over time, I deleted my selfies in the hopes that I could get a grip on my self-esteem. Then I began to post pictures of my dog, dates with my boyfriend, the places I went, but I soon realized what I was really doing. I was bragging about my life to people who felt bad about not having what I did — the things I take for granted.
I deleted my Instagram shortly thereafter.
 
Making the choice to remove myself entirely from photo-streaming social media sites has made a huge impact on the way I see myself. I no longer wake up happy in the morning just to ridicule myself by scrolling through pages of magazine-like women. 
 
I’m a lot happier now that I’ve accepted who I am. I have become confident in myself and even started to dress the way I want to. It’s crazy how the source of my self-esteem issues stemmed from the very places I received my ego boosts.
 
I no longer see pictures of people with hundreds of likes on their latest profile picture and feel  I have to update mine. I know  they still exist — I just made the choice to use social media in a way that makes me feel like I am worthy of being myself and feeling good about it.
 
The names in the article have been replaced with pseudonyms due to privacy reasons. 
 

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