Social Media is Ruining the Way We See Travel

I woke up this morning completely stoked to see that fashion/lifestyle/fitness blogger Essena O'Neill has announced her departure from social media, endeavoring to shed light on the "realities" of the "Instafamous" world. Some thoughts have been dwelling in my head for quite some time now, and since this article completely inundated my newsfeed, I felt some comfort that others shared my feelings as well. 

My thoughts are this:

Instagram is ruining our self esteem and turning us into materialistic, self-absorbed individuals. 

Let me explain before I stand up on my soap box. I love Instagram, and admittedly, am obsessed. Sometimes, I won't even be paying attention and suddenly realize that I'm 73 weeks deep in someone's Insta history. I'm not above it. 

But whether I'm looking at someone from high school's photos or some famous blogger with over a million followers, I still manage to feel like shit about myself. Even though I'm wholly confident in myself and my life decisions, there's no way that I leave looking at Instagram feeling good, positive, or that I've benefitted from it. 

We put the best 5% of our lives on Instagram. We're all guilty of it. You bet your ass that I'm definitely posting about a killer party I went to, and not that I was sobbing in my bed just hours beforehand. And you better bet that I'm not posting pictures of my massive zit, and only photos where I think that I'll get the maximum amount of likes or attention from it. There's no fault in this - of course. There's no way in hell that I WOULD post a photo of my massive zit, and even if I did, I can promise you that not a single one of my followers would want to see it. We all want to put our best foot forward on the internet, and even though it seems harmless, it is so unbelievably harmful to our psyche, our self-esteem, and our aspirations. We are not living our authentic selves. 

Even when I look at famous travel bloggers, I look at their Instagram accounts and think to myself "why don't my travels look like that?" And it's only then that I realize that's because TRAVEL DOES NOT LOOK LIKE THAT. These photos are edited or contrived and not-at-all-candid as they appear. The other day, I went to go visit a courtyard in London that I had been eyeing on social media for a while. Once I got there, I looked around around, wondering why it looked so completely different to the photos that I had seen. I gripped my phone in my hand, opened to a photo of the courtyard, exploding with color, and was looking from my phone to the space, to my phone, and back up to the space again. And I wondered if I was even in the right place or if I read the directions wrong. Only after looking back and forth at the photo for a good 5 minutes did I realize that I was in the right place and whoever had manipulated these photos was a master photoshopper. The colors were popping under the sunny London skies (like that concept even exists in real life?), the courtyard filled with happy people enjoying their vegan meals. It looked nothing like what was standing in front of me and I was bummed.

It's not just the scenery that's contrived, but our individual experiences that are filtered to show how beautiful and wonderful and perfect travel is. I can't count the number of times I've been reading a "budget" bloggers website, viewed their photos, and wondered how in the world they fit all those clothes into a backpack. What Instagram doesn't show is the grimy hostel showers, your wrinkled clothes from stuffing them into a backpack, a dirty pub crawl, bunk beds, some gross foods, and getting unbelievably lost in a big city. What it does show is a beautiful blonde girl laughing at her salad, wearing some giant floppy hat (that would NEVER EVER fit in a backpack), in front of the Parthenon. Sry, but I've eaten a lot of salad, and no salad is THAT funny. 

Essena is right. This is not reality. This girl 50 different variations of this photo so she could get it right. Her job is to make her life look like a life of luxury. She gets paid (believe it or not) to do that. That photo of her in the sick leather jacket is probably paid, and she probably doesn't drink that tea as much as those  holding-a-mug/legs-in-the-bath photos imply. There's nothing wrong with doing endorsements or partnerships, nothing at all. But bear it in mind when you're comparing your life to hers and wondering why doing yoga on the beach isn't as luxurious as it appears on Instagram. It's because they're paid to make that yoga mat look damn good, and it's working. 

And keep it in mind before you travel. Travel is beautiful and incredible, but it's nothing like Instagram shows. Traveling is HARD AF. It's not all TopShop fashion and cool phone cases and badass manicures. In fact, usually it's none of that. Mostly it's generic basic fashion, your most durable phone case, and chipped nail polish. And don't let it discourage you from traveling either. It almost looks unattainable because it looks so luxurious and fantastic. But it's not, and that's the reality of it.

This is what travel looks like. 

This is what travel looks like. 

I almost feel sad for these types of travelers, who probably spend a grand amount of time trying to snap the perfect picture and stop focusing on the beauty that's right in front of them. A few weeks ago, I took my boyfriend out for a celebratory dinner for his promotion at work, and I caught myself so enamored by the table setting that I decided to take over 15 pictures of it. After a few minutes, Patrick had to grab my arm to force me to put my phone down and enjoy the dinner and conversation. It's aspirational. I was aiming for an awesome picture that I would never get so I could attract envy from my friends. "Look at her dining in a wonderful French restaurant ($10 per person) with her perfect relationship (far from perfect). Look how perfect her life is." Today, I even caught myself googling "Vegan Restaurants in London" because I was 2 years deep in a vegan bloggers Instagram and had suddenly convinced myself to turn vegan (LOL NO); I don't even like vegan food, and I want to marry mozzerella. Did I really want to be vegan, or did I just want to take photos with cool, colorful vegan food because it's on trend? 

Instagram is great if you take it with a grain of salt. Think about it: basing your self worth on how many likes that you get. Likes take no effort. One millisecond of a person's time to press a heart button on the screen and somehow we equate this to positive feedback? Imagine if we ran around screaming "LIKE" at things in real life that we liked. There's a reason that we don't do that. True, positive, verbal compliments actually take energy to dole out, and come fewer and farther between than taping the screen on your phone twice. 

So cheers to Essena for pulling the plug on her social media. Not saying that everyone has to do that, but be ever aware at the information you are consuming online.