The #Selfie Generation: On Narcissism, Distorted Reality And Ignorant Bliss

They say ignorance is bliss. And maybe they’re right. Or maybe they’re just naïve to think that oblivion trumps awareness. It’s easy to be ignorant, but it’s not quite so easy to be interested. That requires motivation and effort; a step from the comfortable to the uncomfortable to the unsettling. In a world where knowledge equals power, it’s not surprising then that for the most part we are powerless. But that’s a choice, not a fact. And social media is both a catalyst and a cure.

Social media sits at the epicenter of the breakdown of our Western youth culture. In a society dominated by selfies, statuses and showing off, it’s not so much a reflection of actuality as it is a fun house of narcissism and misrepresentations. When constructed realities are taken as truths it’s dangerous to say the least.

We have a voice yet we are voiceless. We’re too concerned with sharing what we ate for breakfast or seeking validation with a photo that makes us look closer to a 10 than to a two. Too often news is limited to the few articles that pop up on our Facebook feeds, mornings begin by scrolling through Instagram and bedtime stories become snippets of the ego-driven day.

While social media serves as a connector, it disproportionately disconnects us from ourselves, from each other and from the world around us. The circle of life suffocated by the circle of self. And we’re all enablers, myself included. I’m just as guilty for indulging my insecurities and seeking approval via social channels as I am guilty for being a part of a culture that allowed this to happen.

Collectively we fuel it and individually we rationalise it. Our so called #selfie generation is a Western crisis but everybody’s too busy playing with their iPhones to even realise they’re drowning in their own bullshit. When a sexed up selfie has become a social media norm you know something’s got to give; our collective integrity certainly has.

I know, I know, people in glass houses. On the one hand my rational mind and my guilty conscience tell me to cut the social media crap, and on the other hand my trepidation to disconnect and my inner narcissist keep me coming back. It’s not an addiction but an unhealthy habit, albeit one I have made a conscious decision to shake.

But for many, it’s tough. Take modelling for example. Being a part of an industry that focuses so heavily on image and entirely on the self makes it’s virtually impossible not to succumb to the dark side of social media. Shameless self-promotion born out of a necessary vanity and a cultured self-absorption is a byproduct of the modelling world but no one ever talks about it.

Beauty and talent aside, in 2015 a model’s career hinges on her social media following and Instagram has become a prerequisite for success. How do most models raise their profiles? Post more selfies and bikini body shots, of course. A boost to their net worth while validating their self worth – it’s a double whammy. But when does posting these types of photos transcend from a necessary marketing tool to complete and utter self-absorption? The short answer – count the selfies.

The so-called #healthy #modellife image portrayed online is just an extension of this distorted reality made true via social media. Between the tide of fitspo, green smoothies, yoga and raw food lies a shameful undercurrent of eating disorders, anxiety, stress and whole lot of lies. Sure some are just as clean as their eating, but there’s certainly a fair few living a double life, but who’s to know the difference?

The reality is it’s not reality at all. The gap between what you see versus what you don’t is wider than you think.

I am a model therefore I eat healthy, exercise, do yoga, drink green smoothies, wear no makeup and hang out with my beautiful friends. Just kidding. I drink, smoke and snort cocaine on the weekends.

A sneak peak into the lives of the Instafamous has even become a form of escapism akin to watching a reality TV show. It’s just a shame many people confuse this constructed reality for real life.

With its profound ability to paint a distorted yet ambitious reality as truth, Instagram catapults desperate followers into an idolised obsession with a world that only partly exists. With the help of a carefully selected angle, the touch of a filter and a little set manipulation anyone can look prettier, skinnier, sexier, happier, healthier, fitter and richer. Talk about status anxiety!

And what about all those vulnerable teens with low self-esteem and body image disorders. How are they supposed to feel when everyday they are reminded how far from “perfect” they look? It creates a comparison culture rooted in the belief of “I’m not good enough”. Forget magazines, in 2015 social media has got to be the single greatest influence in shaping body image perceptions in young women. That’s a scary thought.

The thing about having celebrity status on social media is that it actually comes with a responsibility that too many people take for granted. Think about all those “influencers” with thousands (even millions) of followers who have so much reach on a global scale, and what do they do? They promote themselves while authenticating a superficial, self-indulgent world and filling our feeds with mindless crap. The way I see it, unless you’re actually adding value and spreading a positive message then Instafame is just another nail in Gen Y’s coffin.

It doesn’t take much for us to attribute “expert” status on social media either. Gain enough followers and become an authority in your field. Take the Belle Gibson saga for example. People genuinely believed she healed herself from cancer and if she could do it naturally maybe they could too.

Not only that, everyone believed she was exactly who she said she was, and why would they have thought to question it? The woman’s a pathological liar and it took almost three years, a book and an Apple sanctioned app for anyone to catch on that she was a complete fraud. Beyond sickening. Social media is a minefield of untruths – beware the Insta experts.

Undeniably, Instagram does serve as a powerful platform for anyone in an image conscious profession where success is attributed to high social media visibility. A game of strategy and design, positioning yourself as a brand is smart business and you’d be foolish to not to capitalise on its reach. The downside is, of course, that buying in often means selling out and therein lies the issue.

But who’s to blame? Our culture of egotism is just as much reinforced by the person posting the photo as it is by the person liking it. Take this for example: speaking with numerous model friends on the subject of Instagram most of them feel like they can’t post the content they want to because the photos a. won’t get enough likes or b. reflect the image of themselves they’ve worked so hard to create. They know they’re right too because their followers have confirmed this to them through their patterns of engagement. And so the me, me, me cycle continues.

So is it the consumer or the consumed? When posts are driven by how many likes they they’ll get relative to the user’s assumption of how their their photo will be received it’s no wonder then that the selfie culture proliferates because, evidently, it’s the only way to gain traction (especially in the modeling and fashion worlds). Case in point…

Here I am at dinner with my boyfriend, only you can’t see him in the photo because I asked him to take it and I’ve realised that when I post photos with him I don’t get enough likes so as much as I love him he can no longer feature on my Instagram feed.

Or: I went to a beautiful gallery today but instead of showing you a picture of my favourite piece of art, here’s a picture of me outside the gallery wearing my new $1000 coat which is obviously way more culturally important anyway.

Or: There were so many inspiring speakers at tonight’s event but forget them, here’s a #selfie on me in the bathroom instead because I got sent a new lipstick, do you like it?

The sad truth is this is the kind of thing young people engage with on social media. The even sadder truth is that most of them fail to question it.

I actually don’t know what’s worse; the individuals who feed our #selfie generation with crap or the millions of young people who obsess over their existence with the kind of idolisation that should only be reserved for people who actually deserve it. It’s alarming to think that most 20-year-olds probably know more about the Kardashians than they do about their own governments. What does this say about about our generation?

With more freedom of choice than ever before, and the world at our fingertips online, it’s unsettling most of us still choose fiction over fact, and we most certainly still choose ourselves over others. The Instagram #selfie is the ultimate symbol of modern day narcissism and its effectively smashing the sincerity of youth into oblivion.

But let’s take a step back.

What if the conversation were different? What if the #selfie became #selfless? What if the dialogue of new clothes, perfect pouts, green smoothies and Nike sneakers gave way to a collection of genuine emotions, shared authenticity, acts of kindness and humbled gratitude? What if instead of objectifying ourselves we started objecting to the bullshit? What if we started having a voice? What if those with social media pull started talking about the issues that really mattered? What if instead of just superficially aligning with a charity and sharing a picture, they actually used their influence to change behaviour and create change?

Social media has the power to change the world, and that means you have the power to change a generation.

If this article leaves you with anything, at the very least question your social media habits and forgodsake don’t believe everything you see. Try taking a break and deleting your apps for a week. Dedicate the time you spend scrolling through your Instagram feed to reading an article in The New Yorker. Post pictures because it’s a beautiful moment, don’t manufacture a beautiful moment or take a selfie to validate your worth. Use social media to empower you. Make it social, not selfish. Choose your role models wisely; follow the game changers and the inspired leaders. But most of all be authentically you – the world will be far better off for it.

As for me, I’ve deleted my Instagram app. I’ll be back though, albeit with a very different news feed.

I guess it really is true what they say. Ignorance is bliss. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

More From Thought Catalog