I recently came back from a three-week long trip to Asia: an R&R visit to Cambodia followed by a consulting project in China for my grad school program. The China project involved a photo contest between my group and the four other groups from my class who were in similar projects around the world. The rules were simple: we posted our best business and tourist photos on Instagram and Facebook, and the group with the most collective “likes” won.
Now, I’m a bit older than most of my classmates, and as a result social media isn’t as integrated into my life as it is for them. But on this trip, I found myself striving to keep up with them, which would have been tolerable if it had been just about taking pictures of vistas or ancient buildings. See, I like doing that anyway.
But for the younger women in particular, it became a contest about who could post the best photos of themselves, and what was supposed to be a silly, fun event somehow turned into a beauty contest. Suddenly I was worried about lighting, my posing, how I looked, if my smile was just right or if I looked thin enough. I was more stressed out about the photo contest than I was about my actual school project!
And the funny thing was, I used to admire the pictures of these girls that I would see on Facebook. They were really good at the whole self-branding strategy, I remember thinking, and that I should ask them for pointers as I embarked on my new career in business. But seeing that strategy in action – watching them wander off from our tour group to take seductive pictures on the Great Wall, or wake up at 6am to take photos by the hotel pool while I was waking up to go to the gym, well… it was kind of ridiculous. Is that really how the kids go on vacation these days? How can you enjoy yourself when all you’re focused on is how you look in that next Instagram post?
It’s silly, and I found myself starting to emulate them. I was posting so many pictures of myself online in an effort to keep up, more than I think I’ve ever posted for any one trip. And the worst part was that it depressed me to realize that I wasn’t getting nearly as many likes on my photos (presumably because I don’t have as many connections on social media, but it made me wonder if there was something wrong with me.)
So after I got back to DC, I decided to take a break from social media, deleting the Facebook app from my phone for a little bit. In a way, I’m going back to being natural (as per today’s Daily Prompt theme) and focusing on what’s important to me: my friends, my work, my writing. In other words, everything but how skinny I do or don’t look in some silly social media selfies.