Comment & Analysis
Mar 23, 2015

Social Media Breeds External Self-Worth

For a new generation, likes now create likes

Lauren McKeown | Contributing Writer

Today we smile more at bathroom mirrors and phones than at people.

Social media doesn’t exactly do what it says on the tin, does it? Something bothering me more and more every day is the drastic influence that social media has on how social we actually are. We spend the majority of our nights out documenting our shenanigans via Snapchat stories and we obsess over WhatsApp’s “last seen” feature when “he didn’t text back”. We even place as much value on who is connected with us on LinkedIn as we do on getting called for an interview. Our friendships, our romantic relationships and most importantly our relationship with ourselves are all affected by our collective tendency as a society to place meaning on followers, matches and likes.


We even place as much value on who is connected with us on LinkedIn as we do on getting called for an interview.

The advent of the “selfie”, inspired by our modern vanity messiah Mrs. Kim Kardashian – West, has seen young girls apply filters to their fresh faces, cleverly crop out that fat arm (and their better-looking friend beside them) and upload shining pictures for the world of social media to judge. The friend with the most profile picture likes is the most attractive and popular, obviously. Clearly it has nothing to do with the carefully calculated time of day when most people are online and the photo is coincidentally uploaded. Nor has it got any correlation with how many times the picture is reused to grab the attention of users on the newsfeed. More exposure, more likes.

I’m no stranger to having the occasional like making me feel good about myself. Back in my earlier 20s this really did have an impact, but I was never the popular type. I am therefore subject to a common modern illness known as “FONL” – Fear Of No Likes. My projection of vanity in the past was mainly onto Instagram where the more hashtags you post, the more strangers can like your pictures. It was only until someone close to me suggested that I make my account private for professional reasons and I shuddered at the thought of less likes that I sat back and thought to myself, “Is this how I am measuring my own self worth? By the amount of orange hearts on a well-lit  selfie? Jesus.” Reluctantly, I accepted the challenge and the change improved my relationship with myself. My focus on the app is now more on exploring my creative side with foodie pictures, reviewing meals and pictures of different outfits I’ve put together.

The odd time when I do feel pleased with how I’ve done my makeup that day, or if I’ve gotten my hair done, I throw up a selfie, but it is close friends who are liking it, and not complete strangers who are looking for me to return the favor via a “#like4like #follow4follow” plea. Sure, I get a lot less attention, but my Instagram is now more of a pictorial diary of memories and photos I personally approve of and not a manifestation of low self-esteem. Now I upload photos because I like them and not because I crave validation from strangers. Users of social media platforms need to stop measuring their own self worth on a scale calibrated with raw superficiality. We all struggle with self-esteem in one form or another and so it’s important for our own well being that social media has little or no influence on our relationship with number one.

Moreover, it is frightening how easily social media can infiltrate the personal lives of its users. Day after day I see my newsfeed flooded with happy couples on a romantic getaway, seemingly more concerned with how many users “like” their relationship than the actual time they are spending together. Sure, it’s lovely to share a happy memory with friends, but maybe wait until you get home. Time with a significant other is precious, and it should not involve anyone else,let alone acquaintances you haven’t seen in years butting into this time with the notification of a heart emoji under your Prague “check-in”. Alarmingly, it is very easy for a couple that doesn’t have the money or time to indulge in such a trip to subliminally feel that their bond is of less substance than the one getting 65 likes on Facebook. Comparison breeds discontent and social media is a hotbed of insecurities just waiting to cause relationship problems. I once made this mistake myself when I asked people at the table next to us to take a picture of my boyfriend and I on holiday in Germany. I then proceeded to upload it while he was in the bathroom. I remember we racked up a good few likes for this “cute” picture, but when I’m 80 years old remembering my past, what will resonate more with me? The picture and its accompanying attention from strangers, or how the elderly couple taking the photo for us remarked on our obvious (real-time) happiness?

My Instagram is now more of a pictorial diary of memories and photos I personally approve of and not a manifestation of low self-esteem. Now I upload photos because I like them and not because I crave validation from strangers.

Recently, social media has taken a step too far on the path to meddling with relationships. Tinder, the self-proclaimed “like real life, but better” app, has taken the smartphone world by storm, offering users the chance to initiate a relationship via the comfort of their own couch. Yesterday it was announced that Tinder would be further taking advantage of our aversion to good old-fashioned personal interaction and will begin charging between $9.99-$19.99 (wait for it…) depending on the age of the user. That’s right. All you sad 30+ year olds who are still single will have to pay more for the right to meet people the only way modern society knows how.

“Dad, how did you meet Mom?”

“Well I paid $19.99 a month until I came across her gym selfies, son. When I saw that #nofilter yoga pants one, I knew I had to swipe right.

Wonderful, a real sign that society is moving in a positive direction. On a serious note, there is no doubt that matching with users on Tinder has the potential to give one a nice confidence boost, but where do we draw the line? If likes and matches form the backbone of your self-esteem, what happens when you actually have a meaningful relationship and your partner cannot provide you with the same sense of wholeness you get from popularity online? Obviously not everybody experiences this (I actually have one whole friend who doesn’t have Facebook), but there is a real danger for vulnerable personalities to fall prey to the insidious relationship-destroyer that is social media. If you are lacking in self-confidence, having a hobby can help. It sounds clichéd, but building yourself up with your own personal interests really will make you value your own worth outside of your image.  When I found myself beaming from likes I received in response to my comments on Irish Times links on Facebook articles, I knew writing would do this for me.  Find something you enjoy and make that your priority. Work on your offline relationships. Remember, we were not born with phones or computers in our hands. Real smiles are much better than emojis.

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