I’m in a bit of a love-hate relationship with social media. As someone who spends a lot of my time on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, posting content for clients or researching consumer trends, we’ve got to know each other’s foibles and preferences (coffee, black, don’t speak to me before 8:30am) and bonded over cat videos and ginstagrams. We’re at that slightly jaded married couple stage now, rolling eyes at each annoyance, but too reliant on each other to take it too seriously or do anything more about it.
Some things I find harder to ignore than others, though. The constant drip feed of inspirational quotes, for one. Which aren’t really all that inspiring, if you think about it. Common to all those bouncy cheerleader, ponytail swishing posts is a slightly superior, slightly all-about-me slant - telling you what they think you should be thinking or feeling, or not as the case may be. There’s a smugness to them, an implication that you’re not quite measuring up, or you haven’t worked It out yet, whatever It may be. Reading a post exhorting you to “Live Your Dreams!” and “Make Every Day Awesome!” doesn’t half pile on the pressure if you’ve not had enough sleep, the cat’s thrown up on your favourite feel-good outfit or you’re trying to get three children to school on time. Are they really inspirational, or do they in fact have the opposite effect, of making you anxious that you’re not living up to expectations?
Half the time they don’t even make sense, they’re just random phrases strung together to sound pseudo-psychological. I even find the ones telling you it’s “ok to feel the way you do” pretty sinister. I’m not talking about the honest soul-baring or sharing of experience that many of us do on occasion, finding it easier somehow to speak out to the friends in our phones than to anyone else, but rather those patronising, “virtue signalling” posts dressed up as camaraderie or authority. How can someone on social media, who doesn’t know you at all - and who might not even be who you think they are - possibly know what is ok for you? Yet we get sucked in to believing these pronouncements, or believing that somehow these people, who themselves are often hiding behind an online persona anyway, somehow know more about us, about anything, than we do ourselves.
Which leads me on to my next pet hate - the concept of “being the best version of you”, “being your best self”. As a qualified coach with a Masters in Psychology, it concerns me to see others in my profession using the expression. It’s irresponsible. It’s another subversively negative phrase, assuming from the offset that you are not good enough as you are, that you need improving, and worse, that there is more than one you. Sure there is room for everyone to learn and grow, always - that’s what us coaches are here for! - but you’ll still be the same self at the end of the process, no better no worse, just with more knowledge, experience and hopefully humility, to perhaps approach your life differently. You are you, with good days and bad days, in all your glorious, imperfect humanity, and there is no magic cure for that! (And if there really is more than one you, then I’d suggest a few therapy sessions to help you work it through and learn how to be comfortable with your “whole”, integrated self).
Rather than building us up, all these messages have a destabilising effect, subtly eroding our confidence and distorting our view of reality. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the steady rise in anxiety and mental health disorders has played out alongside an increasingly pervasive social media culture. And have you noticed it seems to be mostly women who post them? We’re feeding off our own insecurity and unwittingly adding to it.
Over curated content
They’re mostly delivered via “Stepford Wives” social media profiles, the glossy, oh so carefully curated (rapidly becoming my most hated word on social media) identikit accounts, with over-styled stock photos, peddling aspiration and an unrealistic lifestyle. If you haven’t taken a strong enough dose of reality check that day, it can be hard sometimes to remember that these are not representative of normal life; that if they have to try so hard every day to show other people how great their life is, then it’s probably not all that great, or certainly no better than yours. Just different. For why should we need, or want, to all be the same?
Yet these formulaic accounts are popping up faster than it takes their shellac manicures to dry, partly due to the increase of networking marketing schemes like Arbonne, where recruits are groomed to set up their profiles and present their activity in a certain way (as a lifestyle, a vision), and partly because of the rise in popularity of cookie-cutter social media training courses. Posting-by-numbers; follow this formula for instant success. But slowly we’re beginning to see through all that, I hope. Published research, my own client stats and my observations as a practitioner, consistently show that social media works best as a business and marketing tool when the posts are authentic and reflect some personality. It’s about psychology, yes, but understanding how to make a connection, not just about presenting a studied veneer.
Bossing it like a girl
These profiles are not doing the sisterhood any good. Nor, for that matter is that peculiarly strident brand of feminism which some women seem to feel is the only way to demonstrate equality. The casting of themselves in some sort of aggressive female role, as “kickass bitches” (subtext I assume, to show that they can be as powerful as men? By using just as negative language? Why I have no idea.) The irony of it being of course, that they are assuming that persona, playing at being “bitches” rather than being their authentic self, and in so doing, reducing a hugely important issue to gameplay. Like the “girltribe” or "girlboss” catchphrases that have also grown out of social media: on the surface empowering women, but in actuality rarefying them further. It suggests that women are not confident enough to take themselves seriously in those roles. The feminisation of the words simply creates more segregation, as it invents, or reinvents, a whole new playground, just for girls (not even women), rather than tackling discrimination head on with men, working side by side, as equals, as adults.
Of course there is plenty of evidence to show that women flourish better in their own environments, when allowed to take their own approach, rather than following traditional male constructs, but turning that into an online profile with a snappy hashtag is not quite the same thing. It’s a confused message for a start - adult females demanding respect while wanting to remain cute girls. It’s not entirely credible, and it goes back to my earlier point about just being yourself, without trying too hard to be something else, or someone you’re not. As someone pointed out in a recent rallying Facebook post that I did quite like: “you’re not everyone’s cup of tea, and they’re not yours”. You don’t need to be liked by everyone. No matter what the social media algorithms say.