The first time I saw a friend’s Instagram post, I did a double take because it looked nothing like her. She looked older, and the expression on her face was trying to be seductive, and I felt embarrassed for her, like she was trying too hard.
But the truth is I also felt jealous. If I hadn’t known what she really looked like without filters and twenty takes to get the perfect image, I would think: she’s prettier than I am. Which means: I am not pretty enough.
Which also means: I need to change my body.
And that’s exactly what I did. I was already at a healthy weight. I ate healthy food and was on the tennis team at school, so I got a good amount of exercise. But suddenly, I hated my body. Every time I looked at Instagram, which got more and more frequent, to the point of every free moment I had, I would see posts of friends looking beautiful and feeling that I wasn’t. I’d see how many likes they got and read the comments: queen! gorgeous! OMG, I can’t even! hottie!
I tried to remember that these photos took a lot of effort and didn’t reflect reality. I tried to remind myself that my worth is based on more than an Instagram post. I tried to go on Instagram less, but then I would feel like I was missing something, like staying home from a party everyone else was at.
So instead, I tried to keep up. I’d post the same kinds of trying to be casual but perfect-looking photos, and feel good when the likes and comments poured in. I restricted my eating, I started running, and I lost weight. Guess what? More likes and comments filled my screen, and every like and every comment boosted my self-esteem even more. But soon, it became an obsession. I was so focused on curating my body and my photos that my grades began to suffer, I became irritated all the time, and I wasn’t sleeping well. My parents and the tennis coach at school became concerned. They asked why I was doing this, and I said that I did it because it was fun.
I could tell by the look on their faces that they didn’t believe me. And neither did I.
I realized at that moment that I used to be happy, and now I wasn’t. I wanted my old life back, the life I had before Instagram took over, and so I did something that most teens won’t do: I quit Instagram. And I haven’t looked back.
Now, I eat enough to give me the energy to win my tennis matches. I like the way I look again. My grades are back to normal, and I sleep well. Maybe I miss a few moments on Instagram but honestly, I like experiencing these moments in real life and not scrolling through a piece of plastic glued to my hand.
And the biggest lesson? Those likes didn’t boost my self-esteem at all. Each like or comment robbed me of authentic self-esteem, which is what I have now from being comfortable in my own body, just the way it is.