Oxford Uni Talk: The Ugly Truth Behind My Perfect Instagram

This photo is me.

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But it’s not really. My boobs aren’t that big – as you can see! My skin is that smooth and my face doesn’t look like that. So basically that’s not me.

This is an early modelling photo of me in More Magazine. Money was tight back then…

sss.pngSadly More Magazine is no longer available – but for those of you who don’t know what More magazine is, this was basically the holy grail for where girls got the latest gossip, fashion advice and sex tips. And here I am posing for ‘Position Of The Week’ acting very naughty and like I know what I’m doing. But what’s funny about this photo is I was only 16 when this photo was taken. I hadn’t had even lost my virginity let alone had a guy touch me like that. But  here I am, posing like I know what I’m doing.

This is a photo of me in Miami.

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The press papped me walking along the beach into the sea and the article is quite nice. It says I have an athletic and slim body. That I’m a sea goddess. And when you read the reader’s comments they too are saying how envious they are of my figure and how they wished that they looked like that on the beach. But actually this is me on the beach in Miami.

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A little bit of cellulite and a bloated stomach after eating a cheese burger.

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A little bit of sunburn on my chest and my hair is a complete mess. So not quite the sea goddess they made me out to be…

This is a photo of me on my graduation day….

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I look pretty happy and confident don’t I? My facial expression and even my body language suggests that I’m happy and confident. And why wouldn’t I be? It’s my graduation day! But actually I wasn’t happy at all. I had just come out of an abusive relationship, my confidence was completely on the floor. I felt really unwell and I had severe anxiety and depression. Every day I struggled to get out of bed. I remember it took a lot for me to get out of bed that day. I really didn’t want to go. So, like I said – I wasn’t happy at all. Not like the photo suggests.

What I’m trying to say when I show you these photos of me and my life. Is a photo isn’t worth a thousand words.

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Yes, we can analyse a photo all we want but the truth is we never really know what goes on behind the screen. We never really know what the person in the photo is thinking or how they’re feeling or what they’re going through. Only the person in the photo will ever know the truth.

Which leads me back to my first photo that I shared with you….

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Now some of you may have sat there and saw this photo and instantly started to form your opinion of me. I can take a guess that it was something along the lines of ‘ditzy model’ and don’t worry – I’m not going to ask you what you thought, I can just find out on twitter later. But you saw this image and you made your judgment of me. But then I started revealing snippets of my life, the fact that I have been in an abusive relationship and I have depression. The fact that I have cellulite. And you probably all sat there and started to change your mind on the person you think I am.

And this leads me to my next point. We’re all so quick to judge someone. We all know we shouldn’t do it, but we do.

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It’s not really our fault that we judge people. It’s actually an animal instinct of ours to protect ourselves – we do it when we first meet someone. We decide whether or not this person is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ guy. Science says it take less than 2 seconds to make our minds up on someone.  Which is kind of unfair really because we are only basing our judgement on two things and that’s how someone looks and the way they present themselves.

We all know that we have one chance to make a lasting impression and that is a lot of pressure for us, when we do meet someone. I know I for one feel pressure when I meet people. I feel a lot of pressure right now standing in front of you all and talking to you because I know you’re judging me, thinking should you just have stayed at home rather than come to this talk!

But for me the pressure isn’t half as bad in real life as it is online. When you move matters online there’s a lot more eyes watching, judging and dissecting you. Every post you make, every selfie you share, people are watching you. That sounds like a Police song! But you get the idea being online opens you up to a lot of people. And for me, I felt a lot of pressure to come across as perfect. Now I don’t know whether that was because I was a model for many years and people would instantly expect me to behave and look a certain way, but I felt pressure to be something that I wasn’t. I never wanted to share the shit stuff of my life, like the fact I have depression. I only wanted to share the glamorous side of my life because I wanted people to think of me as this perfect person who had a great life.

Now if some of you are sitting here thinking, ‘Why did she care so much? I couldn’t care less what I post online.’

Then let me ask you this question:

Have you ever had a bad week or failed an exam and posted about it on Facebook?

Or a break-out of spots and posted a selfie of your face?

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Or have you had a bad hair day and shared a selfie of that?

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Probably not.

Although if some of you have – then good for you. You keep on keeping it real!

But the reality is we do care what we share with the world because we are all aware that we’re being watched and we do feel under pressure to act like we have our shit together. To project that our lives are perfect.

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You know, I used to be so obsessed about looking a certain way that I would use apps on my phone to airbrush my photos. (I highly recommend face-tuner), but anyway, I would airbrush my face so much that I would look like an alien. My skin would be smooth and my nose would be so thin that it would look like a pencil. What’s funny is that when I spoke to my friends about airbrushing photos, I realised I wasn’t the only one – they too were filtering their photos trying to look like the next Kardashian.

And don’t worry I’m not going to blame Kim Kardashian for this obsession to look perfect because there are other celebrities and models and instagram pages like ‘thinspiration’ which are encouraging this obsession. I  actually read in the paper the other day that people as young as 17 are getting surgery because they want to look good when they take a selfie….17 years old!!! You’re not even fully developed at that age!

The reality is there is such a high expectation to look a certain way that I think this is fuelling problems like eating disorders and depression, because people are going online and comparing themselves to other people and then hating themselves because they don’t look like the models that they follow on instagram.

But whats funny about all of this; is not even the model in the photo, looks like the model in the photo!

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So anyway, last year, I started to really see the negative side to social media. I kept thinking social media was invented to share and connect, not share and compare. I couldn’t help but analyse my online presence and see how fake it was. My online life was completely different to my real life. I realised that I had built up a following of thousands but none of them knew the real me. None of them knew who I was because I only shared the stuff I wanted them to see. I didn’t like that I was trying to be something that I wasn’t. The final straw came for me when someone came up to me and said how “Perfect” my life was and that they were jealous of me and my life. I just stood there and all I wanted to do was scream:

WELL I CRY MYSELF TO SLEEP MOST NIGHTS BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT DEPRESSION DOES. WANT MY LIFE NOW?

But of course I didn’t because who was I to feel angry with this person, when I was the one posting glamorous photos of my life? I never shared the reality of my life and that’s when I knew I had to change. I had to show the onlinrnworld who I was because not only was i lying to them, I was lying to myself.

So I said to myself “lets do an experiment” lets see what happens when I post unglamorous photos of my life. Photos that I wouldn’t even dare share with my family or friends. The photos had to be real, no matter how gross, boring or dull. I promised myself that I wouldn’t tell my followers, friends or family what I was doing and that I would post one photo every day for a week and see what happens come the end. Would I be a changed woman? Would I be socially excluded from parties for the rest of my life? What I really wanted to know is how people would react to me just being myself.

So I got to work…

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The first selfie I shared was of me working from home. I had just got out of bed, I hadn’t even showered, let alone brushed my hair or teeth. I sat there and thought, ‘this is my life’. This is what I look like and do every morning, so why not share it? So I did. Now usually when I shared photos on instagram my photos would get an average of 300 likes and a couple of comments usually saying how ‘Hot’ I am. But this time nothing. Not even a like. But I did get a few texts from my friends asking me if I was alright. And yeah, I was alright…

Picture1.pngThe next selfie was of me getting a colonic irrigation. Now for those of you who don’t know what that is. That’s basically when a doctor shoves a tube up your arse and sucks everything out of you. I find it helps my IBS and again if you don’t know what that is – that stands for irritable bowel syndrome. Basically means you either are constipated or you have diarrhoea – there is no in-between. Anyway about 1 in 4 suffer with IBS and I posted about my intimate treatment thinking people would be so grossed out they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. But actually a lot of people liked this photo and lots of people commented on it asking if the treatment worked and what else I did to help my IBS. I noticed that I was building a little community of people on my instagram and that people wanted to talk. It was completely different to my old instagram where people would just write a comment and that was that. This time people were engaging and they wanted to speak to me, not at me.

Picture1.pngThe next selfie looks really boring but actually this one was the most personal selfie I had ever shared. I had just finished my psychotherapy session for my anxiety and depression, and I felt really happy because I hadn’t had a panic attack in over two weeks, so I wrote about it and posted it. I was nervous because quite a few of my family members didn’t know I suffer with depression but as soon as I posted it, I felt so happy because so many people reached out to me. I had hundreds of likes and comments from people that I knew or didn’t, saying they too had mental health problems or knew someone that did. Again, this community started to build on my instagram and people were connecting with each other because they could all relate with one another. For me it was the best photo I have ever shared because in a selfish way it felt good to know that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Plus it was nice to see so many people talking and giving advice to each other. At this point I was beginning to see that social media had a positive side…

Picture1.pngThe next photo was when I by mistake took a selfie from my front facing camera and I just looked at the photo and thought “that will do” and posted it. I didn’t get many likes or comments for this photo but I did notice my followers were dropping like flies. At this point I had lost 2000 followers. It was quite clear that some people were not appreciating the real me.

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The next felfie – see what I did there! Was of my feet. I had been training for the London Marathon and my feet were swollen, my toe nails were chipped and my toes were all mangled. And I thought, you know what, exercise is not glamorous. So I took a photo of my feet and posted it. Again people commented on the photo giving me advice on how to repair toe nails as well as training tips for the marathon. Again it was totally different to the original responses I would get in my old posts.

And last but not least, I posted this selfie.

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This is me having a de-fuzz day and using hair removal cream on my upper lip, because shock horror – I’m human and have body hair! I posted this photo and yes I did get some comments from men saying that I was gross because I have body hair but then again some men don’t get laid. So… BUT the majority of likes and comments from this photo came from girls because I guess they could relate. Some girls were writing to me saying that they too did their de-fuzzing on a Monday and others were asking me what products did I use. some girls even started a debate saying to keep body hair left where it is. Again the community was back and people wanted to talk and engage with me.

So that was the end of my experiment and what were the result?

Well, I had lost 5,000 followers in less than a week but my engagement on my posts had increased.

The media had got hold of the story and the experiment went viral. People couldn’t believe that a model (who is supposed to be perfect) was telling the world about her imperfections. 

 The big question the media asked me was why did I think people unfollowed me? Obviously I don’t have the answer for that but I can take a guess that it was two reasons: think some people who had followed me originally were there to see my bikini and make-up selfies and not my manky feet. I think people were slightly annoyed because it wasn’t what they had signed up for, so they clicked unfollow. I think secondly people unfollowed me because they don’t want to see reality online. I think so many of us use social media as a form of escapism. So to see real life online, obviously isn’t that enticing for many people. Having said that, I don’t know why people unfollowed me but one thing I did learn from the experiment is some people do appreciate reality online. Especially when it’s things they can relate to, whether that’s mental health, IBS or body hair. 

But for me, the main lesson I learnt from doing this experiment is how I felt. I honestly found it liberating  sharing photos of my real life. It was so nice to just be myself and not have to worry about what I looked like. I didn’t care that I had lost followers because come the end of the experiment I had gained nice, loyal ones, who liked me for me!

Regardless of what people thought, I continued to post photos of my life that were mixed with good, bad, ugly and pretty. Which is exactly what my life reflects.

Anyway, I’m not here to preach to you guys that you should only share real life photos on your social media. But one thing that I do hope you take away from this, is that if you are like I was and did feel pressure to portray yourself as perfect; don’t. Theres no point in comparing your life to others or judging people from a photo they strategically share. The reality is none of us are perfect. We all have bad and good stuff happening in our lives. So why pressure yourself to be something that you’re not? We all have flaws, so why not embrace them? Our friends and family know exactly who you are, so just be yourself and don’t worry about what people think of you. At the end of the day, you can only be you. 

 

 

2 thoughts

  1. Stina, I came across your IG when the de-fuzzing photo went viral. Your IG feed was (and is) a breath of fresh air!! Keep on being the real you… Its pretty fucking awesome. XX Noa

    Like

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