Living for Likes
by Thao Nguyen
When I went to college, I thought that my days of caring what people thought of me were over. I believed I was ready to be confident, self-assured, and secure in myself. But right before my first semester, I got a smartphone, and along with it, all of the apps I didn’t have access to before. Some of them only stuck around for a few days (remember when Flappy Bird was a thing?), but others have been a mainstay on my homescreen for the last five years.
At first, Instagram seemed totally harmless. It felt much more private and controlled than Facebook and Twitter, and whenever I was bored, I knew there were thousands of memes for me to scroll through. But in addition to all those memes, were posts from so-called “instafamous” social media influencers. I became obsessed with the idea of insta-fame. I knew that I would never reach that status, but at the time, I was barely getting a dozen likes on my posts, and I wanted more.
Almost everything I did, I did it for the ‘gram. The food I ate, the coffee I drank, the clothes I wore, the places I visited. They almost always had to be deemed insta-worthy. I downloaded different photo-editing apps, I looked at the profiles of the “lifestyle experts” and tried to figure out what made them so likable. I became inundated with the world of hashtags, laboring over how to be clever, but also effective enough to get me on the discovery page. Every like, every notification was like a drip of morphine. It was exhilarating seeing my likes climb into the 50s and 60s and my followers begin to get closer to the number of people I was following. But it still wasn’t enough.
I became inexplicably jealous of all of my friends - my real friends - who would get more likes than me, especially when we had posted the same photo. Instagram had managed to bring back up every insecurity I thought I had shed. I believed that people only pretended to like me, that they were all laughing at me behind my back. I believed that my friends only hung out with me out of pity. I believed that I wasn’t cool enough, artistic enough, or pretty enough to be liked. All of this, just because I wasn’t getting enough double-taps from people I didn’t know on the internet. Crazy, right?
I knew that what I was doing was superficial. Logically, I understood that my worth wasn’t determined by internet popularity. But my insecurity was strong enough to convince me to value it way more than I should have. I wish I could say that there was a happy ending to all of this, maybe there will be. Embarrassingly, it’s something I still struggle with. I’ve taken steps to remind myself to find validation from better sources; but old habits die hard, and I still find myself refreshing my Instagram notifications over and over on post days. However, now that I’ve realized how self-destructive I’m being and that I’ve put this all out there, I’m going to try a lot harder to rid myself of this way of thinking. It’ll be tough, but I’ve finally decided that social media is no longer going to rule my life.