Seven years ago I started a plus-size fashion blog where I shared all my outfits and personal style. I began to use social media to get people to visit my blog. The images of my fat body in swimsuits and my round belly sporting a crop top made my social media following grow more than my blog. Next thing I knew, I was being called a social media influencer and my focus changed to Instagram. I even quit my 9-5 to focus on being a social media influencer full-time.
I felt so lucky and excited. Not many people can say they get paid to post photos and videos online. I was living the dream. I thought I had it all figured out. How hard could it be to constantly take pictures to post on Instagram? The best part was that I managed to promote self-acceptance while posing for the perfect gram. In a way it made me feel like I was better than others because I was using my platform for a good cause. I was able to use society’s obsession with social media to send my message of self-acceptance and make a living from it as well.
Slowly but surely that changed. When being a social media influencer went from a hobby to a full-time job, the pressure tripled. On many occasions I would do mini photoshoots strictly to post on Instagram. I was paying photographers, buying clothes to shoot and investing money in creating a picture perfect Instagram account.
The hundreds of dollars and time spent on one Instagram photo felt like a waste. Nothing was perfect enough to post. Even though I was preaching self-love, I was doing the complete opposite with myself. I kept comparing my Instagram page to other influencers whose images were prettier. I began to measure my personal worth and the value of my work with the amount of likes my images were getting.
I fell into a depressive episode and cried for days feeling unworthy of what I did and what I was representing online. I felt inadequate and constantly questioned every little thing I did. I thought it was just me feeling this pressure to constantly stay relevant online and to create content.
I changed my obsession with measuring my value from numbers on a scale to likes on a picture. I felt ashamed and frustrated. Yet, I couldn’t stop scrolling through social media and comparing my photos and captions to others. This quickly began to affect me financially. I was unable to create the work that was getting me paid. I couldn’t meet my deadlines or go to meetings with the brands that could and had hired me.
I spoke to my peers, other influencers who were quietly experiencing mental breakdowns, anxiety attacks and depressive episodes trying to keep up with the standards we were creating online.
I then came across a study by Mai-Ly N. Steers, Robert E Wickham and Linda K. Acitelli in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology where they came to the conclusion that “people feel depressed after spending a great deal of time on Facebook because they feel badly when comparing themselves to others.” Though this study specifically focuses on Facebook, many of us feel the same way after scrolling on Instagram, Twitter and other social media pages. The answer was clear, social media was making me feel shitty about myself. But how could I eliminate it from my life if I financially depend on it?
I decided to take the same approach I did when I was dealing with self-acceptance. Though some parts of my job do depend on numbers, I decided not to live by that. I am a fat person online who feels comfortable wearing swimsuits and crop tops. I created my pages to show other plus-size women that they can live comfortably in their skin now. I needed to remind myself that my value and my hard work can’t be measured online with likes. I take breaks from online and schedule post if needed for work. I remind myself that the casual picture of my favorite influencer was probably taken over a hundred times and was edited to appear brighter and prettier. Nothing online is 100% what it appears to be.
I spend less time focusing on numbers and I try to focus on the reason why my post matters. I am here to be the role model I needed when I was younger. I want to be one of the many faces people see online when they look for plus-size inspiration post. I want to be part of the faces that remind people that they can be feel good about themselves.
This isn’t the first time my mental health has been affected by social media but this time I decided to make a change to avoid the vicious cycle of the highs on likes and the real lows and pressure of posting. So next time you see yourself comparing your selfie to another influencer’s post, remember that there were hundreds of images and hours of prep to take the picture and social media has absolutely nothing to do with your worth as a human being.