GUEST POST: One Picture, Thousands of Misperceptions

By Justine Curwen

The other day I gave my laptop a big ‘detox’. I went through to delete the hundreds of saved uni essays, festival tickets, videos and photos that I had completely forgotten about.

Quite often I don’t look at my earlier years very fondly as I remember how complex things were (or maybe how complex I made things for myself). Some of the challenges were unique, but most were common challenges shared among many. But all these old photos suggested otherwise…

Was that night at my friend’s 18th birthday really that great for me? There is evidence to prove that it was brilliant, but I wasn’t having the most special of times. Only I know that.

Was that trip up north to my friend’s hometown as magical as it all looks through the photos? I actually remember how awful I felt the whole time. I was carrying a lot more weight than I was comfortable with and I constantly felt flat and tired. The days were a little too hot and my shorts were also way too small (I made sure that wasn’t captured in the photos though). I remember getting back to Perth feeling really guilty and I was in emotional agony, wondering if my friend still liked me. I was pretty quiet and reserved the whole trip.

But my Facebook photos suggested otherwise. I promoted this trip through my love of photography and shared it will all. The pictures were so beautiful and the natural landscapes were very photo worthy. So should I have changed the album description? Something like, “I’m not feeling fantastic right now so don’t be fooled! I just like photography!” I could have if I wanted to, but people don’t really do that.

I am so much more mindful of how we use photos now (I do think way too much sometimes also). A very forward thinking organization called ySafe has taken me on board to talk to the teenage girls of Perth about this exact topic: how social media can impact on our wellbeing, self-esteem, and our instant judgments of others.

I have experienced the anxiety when posting a very carefully edited photo and hope that I get the desired number of likes and comments to “feel good”.

Sometimes it was all too much and I would delete the photo altogether. I still compare my life to fellow Snap-chatters, Instagrammers and Facebookers. They all look so shiny and fun loving!  We are all pretty good at instantly judging someone over a photo also.  

When I put this all I writing, it seems so silly and unimportant!

Social media is massive now, and there is no doubt that it should be embraced in many ways. For example a British girl I met on a mental health volunteering trip overseas shared last week that she got accepted into doing per PhD in Psychology at Oxford University! I don’t refer to her as my close friend, but I remember that we got along pretty well, and I really did bounce at my desk when I saw it. It is these moments with long distance contacts that I love seeing!

There is always at least one good part of every day. That one thing doesn’t have to be an extravagant and huge thing. It is usually the really simple things that contribute to a nice experience. But on social media we see a never-ending feed of these extravagant positive things and think to ourselves “Wow. That girl from school is trendy and beautiful. She is always doing cool stuff” Then we look at our offline life and compare it to her online life and it gets messy.

Am I meant to feel guilty now when I put up a photo of myself at Rottnest with a very special friend who I want the world to know is brilliant?! (It is exhausting that I feel the need to consider this)

I don’t think I need to feel bad.

I just hope that all my followers are aware (just like everyone else out there) that I choose to show the best version of myself on social media.

This is normal for everyone to do. Who wants to see a photo of someone having a bad day? And who wants to share a bad day with everyone anyway? If we did share our negative experiences - people would think we are weird or that we are too ‘hipster’ by making a big unconventional announcement online. “Woah, no one wants to know about his personal dilemmas. What an over share!” or “Maybe she needs someone to check if she is okay”.   

I just want so many of the lovely, sweet, intelligent and unique girls to know that we only see one side of the story. Maybe that party that you didn’t go to was as excellent as the photos demonstrate, but it might not have been too!

I’m not saying we should start a big angry movement “Stop posting photos saying a party was good when it wasn’t fun at all!!” What we can consider doing is to alter the way we think when we look at our friend’s photos. Be supportive that they want to share these moments, but know that it isn’t worth the thought that our life isn’t as glamorous as theirs. We are all the same in some ways really.


Bio: Justine, with a Bachelor of Psychological Science, has been a volunteer Mentor at our Core Confidence Workshop. The Perth based organization ySafe is run by a Clinical Psychologist who presents to students (both primary and secondary), parents and teachers about the challenges of cyber safety and provides the skills and knowledge to apply when staying safe online. Justine aims to present engaging and informative sessions to school students about how social media can impact on self-esteem, friendship groups and overall well-being.