We talked to 18-year-old author Alexandra Egi about the pressures behind the perfect social media presence, and the issues her generation faces today.
Social media is unquestionably a part of most young peoples’ lives, and the way they portray themselves online is a piece of their personality. Today’s teens are growing up with no memory of a pre-social media world, and the illusion that social platforms provide has become second nature. They have become experts at carefully crafting the image they send out into the world. We wrote about The Social Media Illusion in our most recent trend report, and found that 41% of 13-17-year-olds say they compare themselves to the people they follow on social media, and 29% say that seeing other people’s lives on social media makes them feel bad about their own life. Last year, Instafamous 18-year-old Essena O’Neill made headlines for shutting down her social media accounts, leaving behind 800,000 followers. In a video post explaining her decision, O’Neill tearfully spoke of how harmful social media had become for her, and other young women. The few photos remaining on her Instagram now include captions like, “For this photo I hardly ate for a week. I bought this bikini just for this photo. I posed for hours until the photo was perfect.” Her profile description now reads, “Social Media is NOT real life.” Clearly creating perfect images for social media is taking its toll.
Teen author Alexandra Egi has made the negative impact that social media can have on teens her focus. Her book, The Lives We Lead, follows a group of teenage girls who attend an exclusive prep school, and explores the pressures they face to be perfect. Specifically, she addresses struggles that she or her friends have experienced, and can be further fueled by social media platforms: eating disorders and bullying. We recently talked with Alexandra to learn about her thoughts on social media, the illusion it portrays, and how it has put pressure on teens like her:
Ypulse: What inspired you to write The Lives We Lead?
Alexandra Egi: Being a teen, I see a lot of this stuff happening to people around me, and I really wanted to address the issues. I really like to read books that connect with me. I thought if I wrote this one I would be able to connect with some and might help others become more accepting of issues like eating disorders and bullying—and eventually get rid of the stigma.
YP: What does an average day on social media look like for a teen today? Take us from waking up to going to sleep, and how social media is used throughout the day.
AE: When I wake up, I look through my phone to see whether or not I have messages. Then I look at Snapchat News as I start getting ready to leave for school. I usually get a few messages from my friends during the drive to school. When I get to school, I look at my Instagram and my Facebook pages and then put my phone away for the school day. On breaks, I check my Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat for anything new or for messages. I do this after school as well. I also send a few messages here and there. When I get home, I put my phone away and work on my homework. When am done, I chat with my friends on different social media platforms. Then it is time to retire my phone for the night.
YP: What motivates teens to post on social media?
AE: I think part of it is for the likes because it’s an instant self-esteem booster, and some of it is to show people how much fun they are having in a way, and I think it’s also a way to feel closer to your friends.
YP: How do you think social media is impacting young people like you right now?
AE: I think it has quite a few benefits and a lot of drawbacks. A lot of the time things become a competition in regards to likes, or there’s fear of missing out when you might not be able to attend something. Maybe you didn’t get invited to go somewhere but the pictures are right there on social media as you scroll through your feed, it causes a lot of problems.
YP: Why are teens like you feeling a pressure to be perfect…or look perfect on social media?
AE: Teenagers, like myself, are still at a time in our lives where we are easily influenced by what we see and hear. We are trying to figure ourselves out and exploring what resonates with us. Constant bombardment by so many modified “perfect” images only fuels the insecurity that a lot of us already feel about our bodies. Being able to hide under the veil of social media and the false sense of security and confidence it provides sometimes seems to help us achieve our goal.
YP: Do you feel social media will continue influencing teens to create a more perfect image of themselves or do you think teens are starting to show a more real side to themselves on the platforms?
AE: I think it’s a mixture. I think that as more of the role models of these teens start to come out and post a real picture of themselves on social media, teens start to do so as well. But at the same time other role models are showing a very perfect, very non-realistic version of themselves, teens are pressured to do that as well.
YP: What are your thoughts on social media users who are showing a more real side? (like Essena O’Neill) Do you think your peers are inspired to the same?
AE: I loved Essena O’Neill’s story. I think it is important that the teen role models take a stance on the issue. Stars like Essena or Zendaya are really changing the way that teens view themselves and others around them. I think the more common this approach becomes, the more likely my peers and I will do the same.
YP: How do you feel social media has affected eating disorders?
AE: Eating disorders have been affected by Instagram and seeing pictures of models, and not really having the full background story—How long it took to get the picture to look like that, or what they are doing. Just seeing the picture even if it’s been edited you don’t really know. It’s a vision of perfection, and trying to compare yourself to that, it can be troubling to people.
YP: How has social media affected bullying?
AE: I think it has made it easier in some ways. It’s easier to be more anonymous. People can’t really see everything that you are doing or even if they can you don’t have to say it verbally; you can just type it. I think that has made it easier for people to say things that they probably won’t be able to say in person. So I think that it has a really negative affect on bullying.
YP: Do you feel there isn’t enough awareness around the issues in the book? (ex: eating disorder and bullying)
AE: I feel like the awareness might be there, but the education is lacking behind the awareness. It’s still very much stigmatized. I had a childhood friend who had an eating disorder and she was very afraid to tell people because she was afraid they would judge and bully her as oppose to support her. I had friends who have been bullied and I’ve been bullied myself. It’s very much stigmatized to the point that people don’t want to admit they are being bullied because it makes them feel as though they are weak, as opposed to that person who is doing something to them.
Alexandra Egi is 18-years-old and a senior in high school. She is President and Founder of Impact Writers Hub, which is an online writing program that aims to make a difference using words. In addition to her responsibilities as a student and entrepreneur, Egi enjoys art, basketball, music, and spending time with her loving and supportive family. As a writer, Egi has been published twice in Canadian anthologies. The Lives We Lead is her first novel.