When I look in a mirror, I think “Hey, not bad!”. But then I take out a camera and suddenly, my body has morphed into that of a hideous monster. All my curves are in the wrong places, my face is marked with countless flaws, my hair looks flat and messy.
It’s a weird thing to like yourself until that camera comes out. In an age of Instagram and Snapchat, pictures really are worth a lot more than a real-life interaction. Our future employers see our social media online before they meet us in real life, mutual friends have most likely seen our pictures on Facebook before they’ve been introduced to us, and even our future dates judge us based on a few thousand pixels on a phone screen. When I talk to people, I don’t find myself judging every flaw in myself, or feeling self conscious, but the moment we pose for a photo, every insecurity triples.
But this isn’t just about pictures and physical insecurities – it’s about low self esteem in general, and how it almost ruined my friendships and made my lose all motivation.
Starting about two months ago, I started doing this awful thing where I scrutinizing every detail of pictures that my friends and I took. I began picking out every flaw in myself – my smile, my hair, my lips, my stance – and taking in how flawless and effortless my friends’ poses were. Every time a friend would post a photo of me, I would rush to go analyze it, rate it, and, usually, ask them desperately to take it down or un-tag me. Usually, I’d get the same response – “Sure, but why?”. And I couldn’t explain it in words. “I look terrible” usually elicited a response along the lines of “You look beautiful!” or “Don’t have such low self esteem!”. But I couldn’t put in better words why I thought the way I spaced my legs or tilted my face made me look fat or why I thought my smile or stance made me look weird and unnatural.
Even worse, I started resenting my friends for looking nice in these photos that I looked like garbage in (at least in my mind). I pored over every one of their photos, a task that only resulted in me feeling worse about myself. I saw comments on social media in our group photos calling them beautiful, flawless, adorable. Me? I was chopped liver, most likely to be cropped out, most likely to be photo-shopped over.
All my insecurities compounded in social situations – especially ones where there were pictures being taken. Recently, I graduated from high school – something that’s generally a happy occasion. It’s also an occasion where people take photos with their families and friends and favorite teachers, all dolled up in their dresses and grad caps. Knowing there would be pictures, I put hours of effort into doing my hair and makeup, changing my dress multiple times, freaking out over small details. Even on a happy occasion, all I remember is feeling so so pathetic and low. In every picture my friends and I took, I look distracted, trying too hard – not genuinely happy. I remember running to my mom that night, on the verge of tears, telling her I wanted to leave early. I remember being so angry at my best friends that I didn’t talk to them. On the night of our graduation.
I know I can’t re-do that night, but I really wish I could. I let my insecurities and low self esteem ruin what was otherwise supposed to be a happy night. As the pictures and videos of all my classmates on graduation night slowly appeared on Instagram, my self esteem sunk lower and lower.
The next day, my mom told me that she wanted to make a graduation photobook for me, and asked that I gather up any pictures throughout high school. I steeled myself for what I assumed would be hours of torture – seeing myself in hundreds of pictures over the last four years, cringing at all of the imperfections, comparing myself to my friends.
As I made my way through my massive library of photos from my phone, however, I had a surprising discovery – I…actually didn’t look that bad. In most of the pictures, I saw myself laughing, making weird faces, and generally acting silly. And…I looked good doing it. Even alongside my more popular friends – the ones who look like models even when taking a candid – I realized that I looked best in a picture when I was…myself.
Probably isn’t a shocking revelation to many – we’re told to be ourselves and to be true to who we are in practically ever kids book since the dawn of time. Still, in the age where social media is our lives, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we can be better by mimicking others. While changing and bettering ourselves is definitely not a sin, trying to become someone we aren’t – in this case, me trying to become my friends – only ends up bringing us right back to the start. In all the pictures where I’m desperately trying to imitate the manicured smiles and poses of those around me, I look unnatural and unhappy. In the pictures from the years before my obsession with hating myself, I have an easy smile, ever-present messy hair, and dimples. I look like myself.
And sure, there are pictures from those times that I cringe while looking at, but who looks like a model 100% of the time anyway? If a picture on Instagram is how people will see me, I’d want let them know that I’m a goofball, I’m naturally outgoing, I love to laugh, and that as much as I’d love to tame my hair, it always finds a way to get in my face.
If there’s some overarching lesson I’ve learned from my Instagram feed, it’s that a person can only be at their best if they’re being themselves. We’re always going to end up being a cheap discount-store version of someone else, but as ourselves, we’re one of a kind – we’re priceless.