Like many women in the 21st century, I have a pretty consistent rotation of social media when it comes to my daily browsing, swiping and notification-checking: Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, mostly. But in recent years, one social media has fallen off my radar despite having been a staple of my online life in the past: Pinterest.
I recently resurrected my Pinterest page, logging in and feasting my eyes upon the pretty pictures I spent years saving. Nestled between cute outfits and sleek apartment decor, I was struck by a few images that got me thinking. (Are you getting Carrie Bradshaw vibes too? Just me? Ok.)
I got to thinking about this idea of “aspirational social media.” Why do we browse, search for, and engage with certain photos or content online when they do nothing to serve us?
Take a photo I pinned to my “fashion board” of a woman in a cropped black sweater and black leather pants. Now, I am unlikely to ever wear leather pants, unless I decide to be Adam Lambert for Halloween (which actually, is not outside the realm of possibility…). Why did I pin this image? It clearly wasn’t the outfit I was planning to copy. It was likely her tan skin, sleek hair, and abdomen devoid of any chub or muffin top that drew me in. This wasn’t style inspiration; it was body inspiration.
Imagine this other image from my fashion board: a girl with her sunny-blonde hair up in a messy ponytail, a grey sweatshirt and tank top over her tan and glowing skin, pearl earrings decorating her lobes. What about this was fashion inspiration? I could put on a sweatshirt and pearl earrings in two seconds flat. I’m wearing something similar at the very moment I’m writing this. There was something else about the girl that was “inspiring” to me, and it was her beauty: thin, blonde, and beautiful, but I no doubt saved it under the guise of being a “fashion” idea.
What’s the point of having a library full of pretty images?
Now, there is nothing wrong with content purely for aesthetic value. I follow loads of colorful Instagram pages that serve up nothing but a feast for the eyes (and maybe a desire to paint my entire bedroom). It’s also okay to simply daydream, and to use visual imagery to help you do this. The recent trend of vision boards is an example of this. And I firmly believe a pretty computer background does wonders for my mood and productivity when I log onto my computer.
But if the only content you’re engaging with creates a false aesthetic or lifestyle that makes you feel like you somehow don’t measure up (whether that’s by not having washboard abs like models in pictures or by never cooking those healthy recipes you save), it’s time for a revamp.
Here’s my tips for making social media work for you rather than being a breeding ground for feelings of inadequacy, laziness or poor self-esteem.
Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad. This is a no-brainer. Comparing yourself to others is natural and an easy habit to fall into, but it’s not conducive to self-love and appreciating the badass you are. If there’s someone whose posts consistently give you a gut-punch of jealousy (whether it’s a friend or a celebrity), feel free to unfollow or mute their posts. You can always follow them again later. Your feed is yours, and if you fill it with accounts that make you happy rather than ones that make you feel insecure, you’ll experience a jolt of positivity rather than a gloomy cloud every time you scroll through Insta.
Or, if you don’t want to take the step of unfollowing, remind yourself that you can enjoy someone’s content without necessarily having to be like them. I know, I know, easier said than done. But everyone is perfectly imperfect, no matter what their Instagram looks like.
Try one idea a week. Yes, this takes discipline because you have to commit to doing it! But actually diving into the ideas you’ve saved can help you get out of your comfort zone, whether it’s trying a new eyeliner technique or whipping up a Pinterest-inspired breakfast. You may find your new favorite meal or fall in love with a new makeup look. This article I pinned inspired me to jazz up my grilled cheese and I pretty much made the best sandwich I’ve ever eaten.
If you need more incentive to give this a try, keep track of your weekly adventure in a cute journal or planner. This will also help you remember which ideas you loved and would do again in the future and which were duds. (Pinterest also has a handy “tries” tab where you can document how you took your pins offline and into real life.)
Save content you’ll actually use. I’m moving in the next couple months and am trying to use my “home sweet home” board to pin the furniture in my Amazon cart I actually am thinking about buying, rather than random mansions. It may not be as “pretty” as a board filled with pictures of high-rise apartments or Italian villas, but it will help me keep track of my options and compare couch prices, helping me actually create a lovely home rather than daydreaming about $10 million ones that will never be as uniquely “me” as the one I can create for myself.
I want to go back in time and give my little self a hug for all the hours younger me spent browsing through pics and no doubt feeling inadequate, even if she didn’t realize it.
But it’s never too late to take back control of social media, which is a handy tool, a wonderland of beautiful imagery, and a chance for lovely connection with others, both friends and strangers alike. You just have to make it work for you.