As the class of 2023 eases into their first semester, the “influencer” trend has appeared in yet another first-year class. You may have noticed — first years curate their own profiles as if they are social media influencers once they arrive at college.
The posts come more frequently than they did back in high school. But the faux candid mid-laugh pictures with perfect lighting conceals a troubling mindset among young adults. What I call the “influencer effect” places value on the appearance of happiness and success, even when it doesn’t align with reality. There are two main objectives: to prove to the people back home that one is happy in college, and the desire to appear fun and likeable to our new peers. Quickly, the appearance of happiness, success and in some cases wealth — depicted through subliminal details — takes precedence over true happiness.
Happiness is usually achieved quietly, away from the public eye. But today, it has become more important to make others think we are happy than for it to actually be true.
There is always the option of refraining from social media use, but this presents challenges and anxieties of its own. We live in an age of hyperawareness — perhaps aided by social media — a state that often lends itself to overthinking. If we lack our peers’ quantity of posts, others may think we have nothing worthy of posting. All too often, we internalize that conclusion ourselves.
Abstaining from social media also presents its own challenges on campus. The more frequently our face is in front of others, the more they will begin to recognize us, making social media a critical aid in the perpetual name game that defines the social scene of the first few months of college. It’s easier to place a face with a name (or perhaps, a username) when that person posts frequently. The thought that we are being forgotten by peers from home or new classmates makes us feel doomed to irrelevance.
On Instagram in particular, the pressure seems to be greater than ever before. Our feeds speak volumes about how we want the world to see us. The way that others perceive us is determined by two factors: the rate at which we post and the quality of our photos. Posting infrequently implies that our lives are not worthy of documentation.
Posting frequently suggests to others that each day yields a new adventure, a new experience; we want others to believe we are “living our best lives.” Obviously, this is not always the case. The desire to appear interesting does not necessarily mean that we are. In over-posting, we may appear extremely self-important, convinced that we constantly owe our followers sneak peeks into our carefully curated lives. This is the “influencer” phenomenon: the self-absorbed idea that our friends are hanging onto each post, waiting by their phones for our next candid.
The quality of photos also has to be sublime. The angle, lighting, structure and framing must be flawless. In chasing after the “perfect” photo, we become so fixated on our amateur photoshoots that we neglect to pay attention to whatever event we are attending. “Influencers” are too focused on what they can present to the public that they don’t even stop to consider if they are having fun in the first place. At the end of the day, that’s not what matters. If people believe the content of our photos, then maybe they are real. This quest for perfection results in living our life superficially, hoping that the happiness our social media projects will eventually become reality.
Cultivating the “perfect” feed also requires a robust bank account. On any given influencer’s social media, it is impossible to spot a single outfit worn twice. The most popular accounts have sponsors that provide them with free clothing in order to sell them at outrageous markups to hordes of followers. Although first years don’t usually advertise for large companies, there is a noticeable trend of new college students possessing elaborate wardrobes. They appear as if they would never be caught dead wearing the same thing in two photos. For those of us who cannot afford to purchase new clothes for each time we go out, this social media scene is inaccessible. Everyone that we follow seems to be blessed with the funds to make this extravagant influencer lifestyle a reality. The rest of us are left behind.
Social media is an entirely external state of being; we recreate ourselves on online platforms for public consumption. We willingly subject ourselves to the judgements and opinions of others, so much so that our performances become more important than our actual wellbeing. In seeking to project the ideal, we neglect the most important aspect of our being: the reality.
Simi Olurin is a first year in Pierson College. Contact her at email@example.com .