An interesting thing happened to me recently – I experienced what I would like to call aspirational envy for the first time. Now, aspirational content has been a pretty widely discussed topic, especially ever since a popular Australian teenager made headlines for “quitting the internet.” Now, the jury’s still out on if the whole thing was legit or just a bigger attempt at trolling for more fame, but the point raised was one I think most people were quite aware of in the social media world, either as content creators, content consumers, or both: Aspirational content, proliferated by the internet age, can cause us to long for the kind of lifestyle we think other people are living.
Now, I have touched on the subject of social media and creating aspirational content in the wake of this news story hitting the internet by storm (although as all things with the internet, the whole buzz around O’Neill has seemed to die down just as quickly as it flared up), but I would like to approach the topic again, from a more personal level.
As far as social media content goes, I am just as excited by creating it as I am by consuming it. I love reading blogs, scrolling through instagram, and although I am not on youtube (yet! Although I will be soon), my video consumption is basically made up of 50% youtube (the other 50% made up by netflix, movies, news, and other). However, during the big move and subsequent break from the blogging world, I also found myself not having time to check the instagram feeds and youtube channels of some of my favorite social media influencers.
Being consumed by things in my immediate surroundings – moving, spending time with friends, working on photography projects, etc. – meant that my only frame of reference was the world around me and the people in my life with whom I interact with face to face. I am not a very envious person by nature, and am really supportive of my friends, so there was nothing causing me to feel any sense of inadequacy. When it came to any type of competitive emotions, those feelings were centered around competing with myself – becoming the best version of who I was. I was self-centered, but in a good way. “Self-focused” is probably a better way of explaining it.
But when I found myself with a little bit of time for youtube or instagram, I found that scrolling through beautiful photos of adventuring in campers and watching vlogs of beautiful people having the time of their life in California was actually starting to get to me a bit. I wanted to be traveling the globe from an airstream or going to open air festivals in the desert.
I was experiencing aspirational envy; viewing aspirational content on instagram, or lifestyle videos on youtube ceased to inspire or ceased to be a healthy form of vicarious living and started to cause feelings of inadequacy. (For some reason, I feel as if this happens less with blog reading, which is why I have consciously left out blogging.) I actually found myself at 28 wondering why I wasn’t having “the best week ever” (nod to vh1 here, for anyone who gets this reference), why my stomach wasn’t flat enough, or why I wasn’t as successful. For me, it was less about any specific person but more about a lifestyle I was wishing I had.
Now, clearly as a blogger and someone who has chosen to have a strong online presence, I love social media and think that many people fail to see the incredible aspects of being able to connect with people hundreds of miles away. I have also met so many incredible people through social media – many of whom I now count amongst some of my dearest friends. But the drawback is “aspirational envy.” And we are all susceptible to it and will be plagued by it at least once (if not more!) in our lives.
But here is the funny thing – my life IS awesome. And I am sure there are other people who would scroll through my instagram feed and have the same aspirational envy. But its just not the same when you know the behind-the-scenes of every photo. Some are as effortless and spur-of-the-moment as they look and feel. But some are not. Strung together in a feed, they give off this air of lighthearted perfection. But while my feed is not a lie, it’s filtered (literally and figuratively) and missing all the bad parts. And although I intellectually understand that this is the case for every other social media influencer out there and their feed, or youtube channel, or blog, viewing the highlights reel of other men and women still got to me.
I also recently started a new instagram account full of images that don’t really fit with my main account (Don’t worry, this does relate to my story, I promise!). I don’t care about the number of followers at all, and it’s full of badly lit photos, and hastily filtered images, and even some photos of myself that are less than flattering. They aren’t curated enough to be used on my main account, but but it’s full of life and allow me to share with my friends and family both here in Berlin and back home what I am up to. And when I scroll through those images, I think, “wow I want to be living that kind of a life full of fun and full of incredible people!” But then I realize I am, because that is my life. It’s maybe not photographed with the kind of precision I shoot things when it’s work-related, but it’s raw and it’s fun and it expresses who I am.
Don’t get me wrong. @lovefromberlin is also who I am. And I love creating content for that feed. It’s a constant challenge to push myself artistically and creatively. But’s it not all of what I am about. It would be crazy to think that anyone is only their instagram feed, or their blog, or their youtube channel. Which is why I have multiple accounts – it’s a way for me to put who I am out there in the world wide web in all it’s many different forms.
And while I do sometimes find it unfortunate that the social media world is such where we somehow need to split these two parts of who we are into a “private” and “public account,” it also makes sense, because LFB, @lovefromberlin, and @photograephie are my job. @little__adventures is my life. But all of these things combined are me.
My little blip with aspirational envy was short-lived and I have also gotten back into scrolling through instagram and viewing the most recent videos from users I am subscribed to on youtube. But I think that is it important to work on creating the kind of balance necessary where aspirational content from social media sources is consumed in a way that inspires us and urges us to push our own content to new heights in a positive way, and that “real world content” takes up the majority of our time.
For me, social media, blogging, and content creating – whether if it is for LFB, instagram, or through my photography work – are extremely important things to me. But I don’t want to miss out on actually living life. I want to separate both aspects of my life, but also ultimately want to be able to combine then elegantly. To have the best of both worlds in equal mixed doses. Besides, nothing makes for better content at the end of the day, than honest to goodness living. And the best kind of living is the kind where you’re just doing it.