Sharing in the social media contest

2015-03-12 06:00

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Did you know the majority of Instagram’s users are female? According to The Telegraph, “independent analysts have suggested that women account for as much as 68% of the site’s users”.

I find this especially interesting because I’ve never been sucked into any social media the way I have into Instagram. I wake up and sleep to it. I’ve come to love it because it allows me to watch creative people at work and engage in a cybersisterhood of interesting women.

There’s another more straightforward explanation: Instagram is aesthetic porn – you’ll know this if you follow Kim Kardashian. Racist rants and emotional blackmailers can sometimes weigh down Facebook, but by and large, I find that it’s a cheery place too.

It does depend on the people you follow, of course, but Instagram and Facebook are the spaces for virtual high-fives: You get many likes for your holiday images; a “STUNNING!!!” for your profile-picture update and a “LOL” for the overly descriptive anecdote about your child – in my case, my cat. On Facebook, you clock up likes even when you post about the death of a loved one.

What’s not to love?

But sometimes, beneath this community, I sense an undercurrent that’s raising the competition level among us all, probably more so in women.

It’s not news that social media thrives on rivalry: it’s there in the intellectual one-upmanship that often permeates Twitter. I also get the sense that social media gives a rougher edge to the definition of success: that underneath the positive pep talks, we’re hiding a nagging anxiety about how we rank or matter in it all.

They say social media has had a democratising effect on the world because it puts big-name people – Beyoncé for example – at your fingertips.

What that also means for women, particularly on platforms as image-driven as Facebook and Instagram, is that the perfection we once only demanded of female celebrities has filtered down. It’s on this platform that we mimic the looks, poses and lifestyles of female celebrities who travel with stylists.

How could we ever measure up? Or, as one young woman said to me recently: “Yes women love Bonang, but it’s like they are also waiting for her to fail.”

You might call those girls “haters”, and you would be right. But what kind of feelings do we inspire when the language of success on social media is “#slay” – the message being that achievement only matters if you obliterate the competition.

That is why there was some level of glee when Beyoncé’s leaked unretouched pictures for L’Oréal did the rounds.

We’ll never measure up. And yet we persevere. Hate the game, not the player.

This weekend I watched as a weaved, taloned and made-up woman tried to take a selfie. After much shifting in her seat, head cocking and face preening, she got the snap I assumed met with her approval.

I intended to clandestinely record a video of this to post online, accompanied by a cleverly worded quip about how absurd it looked. But that would have been duplicitous, because just moments earlier, I too had spent a few minutes taking a selfie – or rather selfies.

Nine attempts later, I ended up posting the second option, rejecting many for crimes of double chin and pimpled forehead, and a couple more for the red eyes and dried lips that exposed my fatigue. This was never my life before Instagram.

I wonder how many likes the woman got.

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