If there was greater honesty online, it might make the darker moments easier to cope with

Written by Kate Shannon on 15 March 2019 in Comment

Kate Shannon on the need to drop the ‘perfect’ online narratives

Kate Shannon - Image credit: David Anderson/Holyrood

I can’t be the only one with a love/hate relationship with social media.

On the one hand, I adore Twitter and find it a great way to keep up with the news and connect with people I ordinarily wouldn’t meet.

I also tolerate Facebook, up to a point, as a way to stay in touch with friends and family.

However, generally, I find it to be an unhealthy place.

Setting aside the trolls and abuse (that’s another column entirely), I find the myth of perfection which pervades social media to be at best, worrying and at worst, a contributor to mental ill-health.

A recent study by the Prince’s Trust found that over half of the more than 2,000 young people surveyed believe social media creates an overwhelming pressure to succeed and many felt inadequate when comparing their lives to others.

Personally, I think Instagram is the worst of them.

You only need to open it to be flooded with pictures of celebrities prancing about on pristine white beaches in swimwear as you are stuck at home in the south-west of Scotland, in your pyjamas, while the rain pounds the window and your toddler refuses to put trousers on. (Just me?)

Then there are the people who make their living from blogging and ‘vlogging’, promoting themselves, their houses and often their kids, complete with matching outfits, wonderful interiors and glowing skin, then telling you how you can achieve this.

What they don’t reveal, though, are the hours these ‘influencers’ spend setting up these shots, the lighting they use, the good cameras and the angles.

And yet, while I know it’s all a lie, it still makes me feel bad.

As a new parent, I found social media an even bigger negative influence.

When you have a new baby, you are generally knackered, weepy and up at all hours feeding a small human, with nothing to do but mindlessly scroll through the internet.

Cue the ‘mummy bloggers’, all shiny hair, trendy clothes and designer buggies, telling you how they got their baby to sleep through the night with the help of some product or other.

At 3am, when you’ve not slept for more than four consecutive hours in the past six months and the baby is crying endlessly, these posts make everything worse.

Again, you don’t know what’s going on behind the well-chosen filter and I have no doubt half of the people on social media who are portraying their lives as perfect are struggling as much as the rest of us.

But you’ll very rarely see it, because depression, anxiety, illness or just feeling a bit sad don’t sell products.

It seeps into the real world, too.

We all know people who seem to be living the life of Riley on social media, but when you meet them, their lives are filled with exactly the same mix of happiness and nonsense as the rest of us.

Frankly, I’ve probably overdone it myself at times, though I try and avoid it, partly because I refuse to show a distorted view of my life, but mostly because the real stuff, warts and all, is generally funnier.

However, looking at social media, I feel like I’m in the minority and that’s why when a high-profile person reveals something genuine and negative about their lives, it causes a sensation.

For example, I adore Nadiya Hussain, a previous winner of The Great British Bake Off, who now appears regularly on television, looking gorgeous, making delicious food for her equally photogenic family.

Hussain has never hidden the fact that she struggles with serious anxiety, but watching her on television, it would be easy to forget.

However, a recent social media video clip of her talking about her ongoing struggle with mental health made national headlines.

She spoke of a “black hole” of anxiety and how even the love of her family wasn’t enough to banish her illness.

I found this honesty refreshing. Here was a woman who seems to have it all: great career, family and a lovely home, who could have easily portrayed herself and her ‘brand’ as perfect, but who has chosen to talk about an illness which sometimes has a detrimental impact on her life.

If only others would occasionally drop the seemingly ‘perfect’ online narratives and actually be honest about life, it would reinforce that we all struggle with life’s ups and downs in real-time living.

Then we might accept that it’s impossible to be perfect all the time, with, seemingly, a sparkling career, well-behaved children, a tidy house and immaculate hair.

If there was greater honesty online, perhaps it would make the darker moments, which exist in all our lives, a little easier to cope with.

And it would make the good times shine a little brighter.

But sometimes, like any ‘addiction’, especially when sleep eludes, social media is just there and can be too easy to rely on, despite us knowing it’s not really helping.

Good book, anyone?

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