The pressures of ‘looking good’ in the 21st Century
By Charlotte Whitehead
International Women’s Day got me thinking (I know, scary) about the presentation of my friends and of myself on social media. Do we conform to a certain ideal? Is there a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of presenting yourself? Do we strive too much to be accepted by a virtual world? As I scroll through my Facebook Newsfeed, I see a world made up of memes, anti-social humour, videos of people who are reportedly ‘celebrities’, and profiles that bear no similarity to the person you see on a regular basis. I ask myself, ‘is this ok?’
In a world where people are corrupted by unrealistic expectations, social media provides an outlet for those who wish to voice their opinions on matters that are crucial to them, giving advice to others through positive means. However, social media can be a harmful and exploitive device through which many people, particularly women, feel the need to present themselves differently to who they really are.
‘a refreshing outlook on the perceptions that govern our virtual world’
Without wishing to sound like a GCSE project, I asked a bunch of students (four women, three men*) for their opinions on the way in which they are presented on social media. This is by no means a reliable study, just a refreshing outlook on the perceptions that govern our virtual world.
If you are a social media user (whether that be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) then why not try to answer these 8 questions? It may allow you to realise how much you depend on the image of yourself you choose to convey, as opposed to the real you.
- If Facebook asked you to write a biography, how would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Woman 1: “sociable, outgoing, positive”
Man 1: “honest, weird, happy”
Woman 2: “fun, trendy, cool… something sarcastic anyway”
Man 2: “confident, ambitious, outgoing – I like to keep it professional”
Woman 3: “independent, considerate, honest”
Man 3: “I would make it jokey…”
Woman 4: “funny, care-free, happy”
‘women put a lot more effort into social media than men do’
- If a close friend had to describe you to a stranger, which 3 words would they choose?
Woman 1: “caring, positive, kind”
Man 1: “trustworthy, quiet, clever”
Woman 2: “outgoing, friendly, honest”
Man 2: “arrogant, funny, pretentious”
Woman 3: “independent, considerate, honest”
Man 3: “confident, crazy, fun”
Woman 4: “ditzy, funny, competitive”
‘there are aspects of my personality that I would never show’
- If a stranger were to look at your current profile picture, how do you think they would describe you in 3 words?
Woman 1: “sociable, pretty, friendly”
Man 1: “proud, loving, committed”
Woman 2: “smug, easy-going, fun”
Man 2: “privileged, good-looking, taken”
Woman 3: “boring, ginger, happy”
Man 3: “sporty, fun… don’t really know the third one”
Woman 4: “academic, dramatic, artsy”
‘it’s about people portraying themselves how they want to be portrayed’
- Have you ever edited a photo? If ‘yes’, why do you think it was necessary?
Woman 1: “I have a photo editing app. If I ever put a photo up on Instagram, I’ll edit it. Sometimes I’ll change the shape of my nose or my body. People will probably never notice the difference but it makes me feel more confident about putting a picture online. I suppose it shows a more ‘perfect’ version of me”
Man 1: “Yes. I sometimes put filters on my photos to make them look better or cooler. The right filter can enhance certain qualities, it accentuates some features”
Woman 2: “Yeah, I’ve put filters on photos. Usually, I just edit them to make certain colours stand out or to create a cool effect. I’ve never edited my face though. Of course, I want to look ‘better’, but I want the whole photo to look better with it, not just me”
Man 2: “No, I never put photos up. If I were to put a photo on Facebook, I might put one filter on it but nothing too much. I wouldn’t edit my face”
Woman 3: “Yes. You want to put the best possible image of yourself out there; the best ‘option’ of yourself”
Man 3: “Yes. I don’t like my red cheeks, makes me look drunk all the time. If I’m editing a photo and I look the best out of everyone else, I will still put that photo up. I will select a filter to make me look good”
Woman 4: “Yes, mainly to make my skin look better and to make my eyes sparkle a bit more”
‘you want to put the best possible image of yourself out there’
- Are you concerned with the way in which certain women choose to present themselves on social media?
Woman 1: “Yes, on Instagram especially. There is a whole area evolved around eating and lifestyle, and I don’t think it’s a particularly realistic representation of what the average woman is like. A lot of people on social media are young and therefore impressionable, they can often get the wrong idea about how to look ‘good’. On the other hand, for some, especially the people who post these images, it can be a very positive thing for them personally. It’s more about the effect these photos have on people that concerns me”
Man 1: “No. It’s about people portraying themselves how they want to be portrayed. It’s all well and good to edit your photos for social media, but if you don’t look like that, it doesn’t matter”
Woman 2: “I’m not particularly concerned. There are some things that I personally don’t agree with, but women can choose to present themselves however they want to”
Man 2: “I am a little concerned with the way in which some teenagers try to be adults. They don’t present themselves as teenagers. As soon as you’re an adult, you can choose the way in which you present yourself – as long as it’s within the guidelines of the social media website”
Woman 3: “It’s everyone’s individual choice. If someone wants to present him/her self differently to others than that’s totally their choice”
Man 3: “concerned… no. You may make a judgement on someone but I don’t think I’d ever be concerned about it. It’s down to the individual”
Woman 4: “I’m not particularly concerned. Everyone knows that people edit their photos, it’s not always going to be a realistic depiction”
‘they can often get the wrong idea about how to look ‘good”
- Do you think there is a huge difference between the way in which you are presented on social media, and how you come across on a daily basis?
Woman 1: “I guess. On Instagram I post pictures where I think I look good. I obviously don’t look amazing on a daily basis. I care more about what I look like on social media than I do in real life – which is silly, I suppose”
Man 1: “I’d hope not. Even though I’m on social media, I’m quite a private person and I don’t post very often, which is what I’m like on a daily basis”
Woman 2: “I suppose there is a slight difference, but in general, no”
Man 2: “I don’t think so. I only ever get tagged in photos, I hardly ever put them up. I never put a status up or anything”
Woman 3: “When friends put photos of you up on social media, that’s probably when you get a more honest presentation of yourself. Even though you decide to put certain photos of yourself on social media, there are always others posting photos of you too. You never have full control”
Man 3: “On social media I’m quite jokey, and I’m like that in real life. So, I suppose there isn’t a great difference between the two. However, there are of course aspects of my personality that I would never show. I don’t portray my relaxed or down side, only the ‘fun’ side”
Woman 4: “Probably, yes. Sometimes I seem more fun and happy on social media”
‘if you don’t look like that, it doesn’t matter’
- Are you concerned with the number of likes you receive on a photo?
Woman 1: “On Instagram, yes. On Facebook, profile pictures and cover pictures, yes. Anything else, not really”
Man 1: “I’m interested, but I wouldn’t be concerned if I didn’t have very many likes”
Woman 2: “Not really. I would never take something down and re-post it to get more likes. To me, it’s more about the fact that people have seen it. Sometimes I’ll say ‘like my Instagram’ to friends, but that’s mainly because other people say that too. At the end of the day, I don’t care much about likes. I just like making people aware that I’ve posted something online”
Man 2: “Yes. I have two brothers who compete with me as to how many likes I have. It’s always a competition for likes”
Woman 3: “To an extent, I am concerned with the number of likes. Although, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter”
Man 3: “On stuff like Instagram, there is a minimum threshold of likes you should receive. If you have 800 followers, but only 30 people are liking your photos, then something is a bit off. If I only get 5 or 6 likes on a photo I’ve posted, and I normally receive around 30, then I would probably delete that photo”
Woman 4: “I think everyone takes an interest in it. There is often a sense of competition – ‘why has that person got more likes than me?’ – I like to see how many likes someone else has”
‘there is a minimum threshold of likes you should receive’
- Would you let a man or a woman choose your next profile picture?
Woman 1: “Definitely a woman. As a general stereotype, I feel as if women put a lot more effort into social media than men do. I always go to women for advice on photos, most guys just tend to agree the photo looks nice, which is good but nothing constructive”
Man 1: “Probably a woman. It’s a general stereotype that women are better at choosing photos, they tend to know what looks good”
Woman 2: “Probably a woman because they have a similar idea of how I would want to portray myself, whereas a man may be more concerned with whether I look ‘hot’ or ‘sexually attractive’. It depends who the person is, but instinctively I would say a woman”
Man 2: “A woman. They’re good at finding a photo where you look good. A guy might choose a jokey photo which wouldn’t be great for employers”
Woman 3: “Probably a woman. I would let my girlfriends choose a profile picture over my boyfriends. Boys may be more concerned with how you appear physically, whereas women would have a more honest perspective, choosing something they know you would like”
Man 3: “Probably a woman. Women would portray me in a good light, they tend to have more of an opinion on profile pictures. Most guys I know don’t really care enough about their appearance. Women usually take great care in their appearance and therefore would choose a suitable photo, guys just aren’t that bothered”
Woman 4: “Probably a woman. They have nicer shots and care more about their appearance. Men concentrate more on how they want to see a woman”
‘are we constantly producing idealistic images?’
As you can see, some interesting and varied answers from both the men and women. This isn’t meant to end with some fancy Sherlock Holmes-style deduction, whereby I analyse each individual answer and pull out unusual traits (but by all means, please do so if you wish). What is fascinating to see is that most of them assume others edit their photos. This may seem simple and obvious, but it begs the question of whether we are actually portraying a realistic version of ourselves, or are we constantly producing idealistic images? Will this have an impact on future generations? Only time will tell.
Most of the students who I interviewed for this blog felt as if they were on a par with their presentation on social media, and the presentation of themselves on a daily basis. However, there are still some people who think that their presentation on social media is more important than the person they show face-to-face. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, there is no hidden secret as to how or what we should be doing with our presentation, as long as the individual is happy.
‘you should not allow yourself to be distracted from the person you really are’
As we can see from their answers to the last question, women tend to be stereotyped as caring more about appearance, and knowing what looks ‘good’. Is this because we live in a society where, by the age of 10, girls who believe they are overweight are significantly more likely to think about committing suicide than boys?*
Whatever the answer may be, there should always be a choice. If there is anything that I’d like you to take away from this blog, then it is this: in a society that judges, you should choose how to present yourself regardless of criticism. Yet, you should not allow yourself to be distracted from the person you really are, or be consumed by unrealistic expectations. So, take a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror and be proud of the person you are right now, never be afraid to just be yourself.
*people who identify as either a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’
LINKS TO MARDIBOOKS’ PUBLICATIONS THAT DEAL WITH THE THEME OF ‘IDENTITY’:
‘A Priest’s Tale’ by Christopher David: http://amzn.to/2a12Fpi
‘The Guardians’ by Sandra Carvalho: http://amzn.to/2af4qjH
‘The Scenes Behind The Power’ by Martin Craig-Downer: http://amzn.to/29TG8MG
‘A Flock of Colours’ by Patricia Horwood: http://amzn.to/2aq5YZr