At a sleepover with friends when I was 12-years-old, one of the slumber party’s attendees gushed about how Instagram was so much fun. She insisted posting and editing photos of yourself was an art we needed to learn. With all of our attention piqued, we proceeded to sit in front of her phone as she showed us an image of a classmate we all knew of. In the photo, our classmate was pictured in a B&W filter with angular shoulders, collarbones, and a sharp-cut jawline.

Upon realizing the power of filters and angles as well as being attracted to the lure of making your ordinary self look mysterious and interesting, the first thing I did when I went home the next day was strip down to see how aesthetic my collarbone looked.

However, in truth, my obsession with social media began a year prior to the aforementioned party. I’m a part of a generation who got access to electronics way before they should of; thus, I’d long considered myself to be some sort of an internet connoisseur. My friends didn’t have to desperately convince me to create an Instagram account, I’d already had one.

Though, after all of my friends became privy to the powers and subsequent addiction of social media, the competition for who got more followers and likes began. I had once thought myself to be an expert on all things related to the internet. But in hindsight, I can see how wrong I was. No one warned me about the extremely toxic yet passionate kill-me-heal-me relationship I’d grow to have with social media.

Discovering that so young and all on my own sucked, to say the least.

My social media venture quickly went from harmlessly messaging people with similar interests, to only reaching out to those who were liked by others; only to not get the same attention reciprocated. It took me a year to finally post pictures of myself. And once I did, I would constantly check how many likes I would receive every second after every post.

However, my first real insecurity born from too much time spent on social media came from a comment section I stumbled upon, wherein the account belonged to a girl who looked like me. The account user posted a striking photo of her side profile, adorning the same nose that I do. The responses? “Nose? I don’t see any.” “Omg, is that a rocky ride? Bumpy.”

Seeing that kind of vitriol directed at another Brown woman affected my self-esteem so negatively that I became hell-bent on getting rhinoplasty done at the age of thirteen. I started to joke about my nose in person before other people could get the chance, simply because I was scared of what they thought of my appearance.

But my insecurities didn’t stop there.

The day I noticed my first stretch mark, I cried for hours on my bathroom floor (replicating that of a movie scene because of how obsessed I was with being seen). ‘Stretch marks aren’t acceptable’ was my first reaction. I began covering them with concealer with the hope I could hide my “imperfection,” if only temporarily.

As I kept consuming the content of models, celebrities, and even my peers, seeing how their bodies curved in the right places, I’d now burdened myself with bitter tastes of self-hate. A person I looked up to tried reassuring me saying, “You know they’re photoshopped, right? Stop feeling bad.” Yes, we’re all aware of that, even I knew that as an adolescent. Yet our minds crave validation all the same. 

Taylor Bennett at Thriveworks affirms this last point saying, “We compare our own lives to those that are painted so perfectly on social media, and we start to feel less than.” And it’s true. Social media is the reason for which I spent months isolating myself from the people I deemed to be superior because they had a higher number of followers than I did.

So, how did I overcome those insecurities? Social media. Pretty ironic, I know but hear me out.

I was watching a TikTok video someone posted back when reels and IGTV didn’t exist. The TikTok user tapped her nose and told her audience how she decided not to proceed with getting cosmetic surgery. She explained how her nose was the only thing that reminded her of her father. That one video hit me in multitudes—my own nose resembles my grandfather’s, and I’m never changing that for anything.

When I was fifteen, I found myself amidst body-positive influencers: people who understood that losing weight wasn’t easy, people who posted poems on love and self-acceptance, and accounts that shunned hate. It was a digital world I finally felt comfortable in.

Every day, I discover someone new, and I feel absolutely amazing. This year, I came across CEST’D and its founder Doyeon Yoni Yu (if you’re reading this, I love you), and she makes me feel so happy about just being myself.

Here’s the thing about social media—it’s like a bustling city. There are dark alleys, aesthetic stores, and clubs you visit when you’re bored. Just like a city, you visit places you love and feel comfortable in, but it’s inevitable that unsavory people pop up every now and then.

There are privileged, apolitical people, but there are also some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. Like a city, social media gives you hope, breaks you down, and can heal you again. It’s hard, I know.

As of November 2021, having deleted most of my followers, turning my account private, and starting afresh, I’ve realized I don’t have as much control over the internet as I once thought. But I sure as hell have control over my thoughts and actions. It’s likely social media and I will always have a love-hate relationship, but at least now I know which corners of the internet to turn to when the inevitable blues hit me.

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  • Sreemoyee Banerjee

    Sreemoyee Banerjee, or Esbe, loves to write about anything that excites her, and is passionate about mental health advocacy. She is an active part of multiple not-for-profits, loves thrillers, and wants to carve a change in the spectrum of mental health and lifestyle. When she's not surfing the net for new ideas, she's binging on K-dramas with an iced tea by her side.