By Puja Trivedi

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known” -Brene Brown

        One of the saddest moments that happens to me, quite frequently, is when a close friend, someone who I truly admire and love with all my heart, tells me how they’ll “never be able to look like her,” as they move their phone screen over so that I can see an image of a girl whose makeup and outfit are that of a model on a magazine cover who practically shines of beauty…..or maybe shines of Instagram brightness. I say image, rather than person, because that is just what it is. An image that has been filtered, cropped, edited and posed; nothing close to a realistic scene in the tussle of everyday life. Now, I completely believe that the girl on the screen is actually beautiful, however the Instagram selfie of her is not the reason why; just as I think that my friend is beautiful, both inside and out. Every time she dreadfully shows me another fashion blogger who is the ideal of perfection she wishes she could achieve, I only pray that she will recognize and be grateful for the beauty that lies in her uniqueness, in her imperfections. However, as much as it hurts me to hear someone tell me this, I am not one to judge for I also fall victim to this dialogue in my thoughts, but can you blame us?

        Every single day, we scroll through the lives of celebrities, schoolmates and colleagues; we find their latest tweets, their Instagram posts and their Facebook albums to get a peek into who they “truly” are.We learn about their loving friends, their beautiful vacation, and their cookie-cutter family. As we sit with our phones, consumed in the pressure of our , we start to wonder if we are the only ones who don’t have everything together. If maybe we are doing something wrong because we are stumbling while others seem to be perfectly happy. And of course, we remind ourselves that this is just an augmented reality, for we know that best from the times that we have posted flawless selfies at the times we have truly felt the lowest in our hearts. But even knowing this, after daily and continuous exposure to these images we can’t help but let it get to us. Whether it’s seeing someone have a good day while you had a bad one, seeing a post of someone with their family while you just got into a fight with yours, or seeing someone succeeding while you barely pass your exams; social media can truly turn our greatest insecurities into the prettiest of pictures.

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        Social Media outlets claim to serve as a source of human connection, and I do believe that it has allowed us to maintain relationships in ways we couldn’t have done before, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a means for true and whole connection. I mean think about it- you miss someone, so you check their snapchat stories or you chat with them for hours. But does that really fill the loneliness that has accumulated while spending time away from that person? And does social media interaction truly define the relationship you have with them? The influence of social media in molding the perception of a perfect reality is very dangerous. It leads to a huge loss of self-confidence, jealousy, ingratitude and even more than that, it can lead to depression and anxiety. Most of all, it can cause you to indulge your time and feelings into this device that causes you negative emotions. These negative emotions become normal, they become a huge part of who you are. So instead of stopping, you counter it, by doing your part in posting deceptive pictures in attempt of self-satisfaction. The cycle continues, however we are not truly connected.

        Social Media allows connection that is “filtered” and though we may feel our reputation is where we want it to be, our hearts are left to feel lonely. To me, true human connection is everything that social media takes away. When you take away the screens, all that is left is our inadequacies. It’s everything that is behind the smile in the picture. Because behind the smiling faces on a picture, lies what a picture cannot capture; a person’s true and raw emotions and feelings that no emoji can define. Behind someone’s smile, lies a broken family, the death of a loved one, a sickness; pain and struggle no one can imagine. At the end of the day we are all human, and the very beauty of our existence comes from how we help others when they fall. That empathy comes from being vulnerable and feeling that it’s okay to show our struggles so that we can truly help each other. To me, that’s connection. There’s no way to feel more connected.

        Just a few weeks ago, I attended a retreat for a business organization. The goal of the retreat was to bond and break the ice of the members in the group, and we were put in a circle and each one of us had to answer the questions given by the moderator. Our organization consisted of about thirty Rutgers students, and we had a few weekly meetings prior to this retreat but none in which we all got to talk to each other on a personal level. The questions were just regular questions to help us get to know each other better, maybe find something we relate to. But then, it got personal. We were asked when the last time we cried was…. Panic ran through my body and various thoughts entered my head…. For me, this was an easy answer, it was not too long ago that I had cried and I recalled it right away, however I felt a sense of nervousness run through my heart. I wondered if I should answer honestly, I didn’t really know these people. I assumed that most people hadn’t cried recently. I just hoped that I didn’t have to answer first. As we went around the circle answering the question, I was in complete shock.

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        The students were very diverse and different, female and male; different majors, different backgrounds and completely different lifestyles… with one thing in common: we all cried within the past two weeks. And that is the pretense of social media, it makes you think you’re the only one, and that if you show a helpless side to you no one will understand. In this moment of sensitivity, there was a feeling of empathy that filled the air around us as we saw each other, unfiltered, in the present moment we were in. Understanding these people were not the unrealistic, perfect kinds of people they uphold their image to represent created a completely different atmosphere for the rest of the retreat. The fake smiles that we held so tightly to our faces were able to relax, and we were able to feel a sense of comfort because these fellow colleagues were suddenly relatable. It was such a small, seemingly insignificant moment, but to me it meant everything. True connection is not through social platforms where we choose what we want others to see, it’s allowing ourselves to be true to who we are and authentic; it is truly amazing to see what can happen between people once that filter is lifted.

With all thirty of us sharing this special moment of connection through sharing our weaknesses, I felt ashamed. Why was my vulnerability something that I was afraid to show others? Why do we feel the need to post only the images we feel are ideals of perfection in this society, rather than our true feelings and emotions? Whenever someone posts a Facebook status  of a rant of something negative they are feeling, we automatically dismiss it as someone seeking attention. Society has instilled in us that we should be seeking to be perfect that we are often bothered when we see a post that breaks this standard. Constantly, society tells us that flaws and weaknesses should be associated with failure, and that success is striving to reach perfection no matter what means it takes. We buy the newest makeup products, or tickets to the coolest places, hoping we can have this perfect image displayed to us in society, and similarly, we post pictures online in order to represent this ideal. We have bought into this fact with every filter we add trying to allow our image to conform. Social Media has become a part of these norms instilled into us, so much so that it can even seem to control us. From the times we sacrifice sleep to stay up on our social media platforms, to when we go to events just to make our instagram and snapchat look better. It has become like a drug that has intoxicated our perceptions and ideals, and caused us to succumb to a culture of high standards. Many people feel that the reality of their life is too difficult to handle, so they go towards intoxication because they like the deception that it provides them. It makes them someone their not, and allows them to feel immediate and momentary happiness, without actually changing the problems they are facing. And they get addicted to this feeling, and they keep using. If abused, social media can destroy our vulnerability and imperfections that allow us to be human.

As a Muslim, I believe that we know better than to allow ourselves to be consumed by this ideal of perfection that we know we are not created for. We learn that balance is everything, to balance our deen with our dunya. To balance our schoolwork, our friends, our Quran reading, our five prayers, and our families. In the same way, I think it’s important to control our social media usage: from how much we are on it, to what we are posting/following, to the feelings we have when using it. At the end of the day, Islam reminds us that we are not meant for this world, rather we are strangers to this life, and simply traveling through it. The amount of likes we get on our statuses will mean absolutely nothing to us. What does mean something, is the way we feel about ourselves, and what deeds we are actually able to accomplish. A true, meaningful connection can take us such a longer way than attempting to achieve an unattainable status of perfection that can only be truly given to us in Jannah. Next time you see a post that hinders your self-conception remember that Allah reminds us in the Quran, “The life of this world is nothing but an illusory enjoyment” Quran (3:158)

       

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