I remember growing up in Tembisa, how rumours could rear their ugly heads, spread like wildfire, and easily burn their victims. It was nasty, and uncalled for. When I was in Grade 10, there was a rumour that circulated on the Mxit social media platform that a classmate of mine had been sleeping around with the senior boys and as a result, she was classified as “un-dateable” because of her supposed unsavoury ways. It affected her. She started bunking class, her self-esteem plummeted, and when she came to school, she wasn’t herself anymore.
I remember two years ago being at a party, in our commune in Pretoria. My close friends and I were gathered and having fun. But one of my friends was upset because she was repeating her third year at university and was talking about how she felt useless given that most of her friends had graduated and were now flourishing, buying cars and moving into posh apartments. They seemed so happy on Facebook and she felt like a failure.
The internet’s prominence in our daily lives is unmistakable. It has made the vastness of the world seem small. All the books of the world libraries have been squeezed into a single database and spawned as if by magic. All communication that would take hours, days, weeks, and months made possible in a matter of seconds irrespective of distance between the sender and receiver. We cannot escape the potency of the internet. Social media is a by-product of the internet. And as much as it gets us to link up with our loved ones and our favourite celebrities, there is a big price to pay. From cyber bullying, to self-hatred, the negative effects of social media are taking their toll.
With the advent of Instagram, Snapchat and other visual appetizers, we’re becoming more and more insecure about ourselves. There is enormous pressure to keep up with the latest gadgets, to take vacations in exotic places, to buy the latest name-brand clothing. Pressure to look fit, to be thin like runway models. Pressure to overwork ourselves, otherwise we’re not making enough money, and therefore we’re incompetent and lazy. Too fat, too small, too short, too tall, too rich, too poor… so, the social media song goes.
The first time I got a smart phone I was in grade 11. I remember how fulfilled I felt at the time, at least until I started to engage toxically with social media. Being that I’m from Tembisa, and from a poor background, I saw how other kids were living lavishly out there. I felt that I was born in the wrong place to wrong parents because of the things other children were getting, and the places they were visiting. I felt it was unfair because I barely got by with two pairs of shoes. My self-esteem bombed and I felt like a low-life, a reject. It wasn’t until I started reading articles on the effects of social media that I learned to appreciate what I had, and to not overtly lean towards the material.
We often see other people’s lives glossed over and advertised in our faces, and feel far too behind and inferior. We feel like we’re not doing enough, that we’re not good enough, and that our lives do not matter – that we’re worthless. When will we ever learn that much of what’s displayed on social media is all roses and filter; that it’s not absolute and that we’re enough as we are?
It is time we seized control of our lives and stopped listening to the murmur at the back of our heads articulating how we’re not enough. So many mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, are a result of exorbitant use of social media, because we’re driven to believe we’re unworthy. We have to make peace with our physical features, and improve where we want to improve without self-loathing. We have to take back the power and never let spiteful rumours get through to us and affect our lives. We have to embrace diversity, instead of aiming to look the same as everyone else. We have to start changing our career paths for the sake of our financial and personal futures, our mental health and general happiness, instead of focusing on other people’s successes. We have to stop hating ourselves. It’s time we reclaimed our power and learned to love ourselves.
Tell us: Has social media had a negative impact on you? If so, how?