For three years, social media dominated my life. It was the first thing I checked in the morning, the drug that I couldn’t break up with throughout my work day, and the hobby that I spent all my free time doing. My life revolved around Instagram specifically, and for good reason at first. Initially, it was a tool I utilised to gather my daily dose of body positivity. I’d scroll endlessly through my feed praising others and being praised in return. It was a beautiful little community of love and nurturing, that I was excited to virtually enter whenever I started to feel low. I unconsciously became friends with many of the people I idolised and longed for the day when we could be friends in real life. Eventually, I was electronically introduced to my now-husband and I started making comedic videos where I could creatively channel my pain or struggles in life. And tens of thousands of followers later, I’d been on TV and quoted on news sites and participated in photo shoots all because of this silly, life-changing app. But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It became nasty and unhealthy at a certain point.
Fights between activists became regular occurrences, and shit-talking and name-calling, both publicly and secretly, transitioned into the norm. It felt less and less like a community and more and more like segregation between types of bopo. Trolls ran rampant in the comment sections, with Instagram doing little to nothing about them because their vulgar words apparently 'did not violate [the] terms and conditions'. I found myself panicking when I received angry messages chastising me for not being better at replying, when the subject of some of these messages was often a little more than I was capable at handling at the given time. And given the volume of messages I was receiving, it was more than I had time to dedicate to. I also began seeping deeper and deeper into depression the more I started comparing myself to my body positive counterparts.
So in early summer of last year, I decided to kick my Instagram habit. In some ways, this was a positive change for me. Instead of lazing around in bed for an extra 30-45 minutes, I started getting up and getting ready, and found myself rushing less. With all my free time, I began doing new activities like visiting museums and landmarks with my husband with our British Heritage passes. I started actually being mentally present in addition to being just physically present when we spent time together and had date nights. I even decided to learn a new language as well. I downloaded a few different apps that have helped me sharpen my Korean speaking skills in preparation for my future trip to Seoul. But the biggest way that things improved for me was my anxiety levels dropping immensely. I no longer feared picking up my phone because I might see a comment from someone telling me to kill myself. I wasn’t comparing my successes to those of others as I wasn’t in the loop of what everyone was doing. I was focusing on me and my success, and it felt amazing.
In some ways, being on a social media cleanse was and is still difficult. I feel like I’ve lost touch with a great deal of my internet friends, and sometimes I feel forgotten about. But every so often my husband will tell me that he’s received a message from someone asking if I’m okay and that makes me feel loved still. And when you’re your only source of body positivity, sometimes your resources become a little depleted and you inadvertently revert back to bad thoughts. Almost daily I hear my co-workers comparing themselves, and belittling their bodies and I’ve started to nitpick myself. I’ve realised more than ever that it really is so important to surround yourself with friends and loved ones who speak kindly of themselves, so you’re reminded it’s okay to speak kindly of yourself too. It’s much easier to remain positive when you’re surrounded by positivity.
Overall, I think everyone should go on social media cleanses throughout the year. Just give yourself time to relax, zone out, and get reacquainted with the outside world. Devote some of those endless hours you spend tweeting or snapchatting to trying a new activity or hobby. Do something new that could change your life. Your account, followers, and friends will still be there when you get back. And as for me, whenever I’m asked when I’ll start instagramming again, my answer is always the same: 'I’ll be back whenever I feel inspired. Could be two months from now, or it could be tomorrow. We’ll see…'