Elizabeth Khludenev ‘23
If I had a penny for every time a friend asked for my approval before posting a picture on Instagram or finding the perfect caption, I could afford an entire year of education at NCS. This is because social media has become an extremely judgmental place and there is no denying it. For many people, every like, every comment, every follow sends a unique message about who they are and what they stand for and value. Every picture posted implies an underlying message about the identity of the poster. Somehow, our generation has managed to take an entire platform of media and data sharing and transform it into a huge ruler which now serves no other purpose than to measure attractiveness and popularity through what we post. There exists a meticulous system of unspoken norms that most Gen-Z users feel pressured to follow. I have pinpointed three of the innumerous unwritten rules to shed light on this questionable web of unnecessary judgment.
1. Glorify your own image. Although this may seem obvious to many users at first, it is something that we often think about subconsciously. What’s wrong with portraying yourself in the best way you can? Why would people want to see the negative parts of others’ lives? However, I would argue that it is about much more than just “looking your best.” I think it’s safe to assume that we all know the powers of photoshop and skillful editing. A couple of clicks can turn a mediocre picture into a bright and impressive photo. The problem with this is that it creates an illusion of a “perfect person,” which can be incredibly detrimental to onlookers who admire this ideal and think lowly of themselves as a result.
2. Follow the trends. Again, this somewhat “rule” seems harmless. What’s wrong with doing the latest TikTok trend with your friend or posting an Instagram story for their birthday? However, it is not so much about just following trends, but more about the trends themselves. The thing about trends is that once a group of people starts doing something, everyone starts doing it too. And this kind of chain reaction can be very dangerous when the trends themselves are unproductive or performative. Take, for example, the recent “#blackouttuesday” trend. When I opened my phone that morning, my feed was flooded with black squares and hashtags which, although may have originated from good intentions, ended up being performative acts that hurt the movement they were trying to aid.
3. Embody a Perfect Medium. I find this expectation to be the most impactful in a teenager’s life. It is the idea that everything we post must be a perfect balance of diverging messages (paradoxical, I know). The mindset that we don’t want to seem too unique, but we can’t be basic either; that photos look ugly without filters, but the filters shouldn’t be too obvious; that captions shouldn’t be too cringy, but not dry either. These are all norms to which we try to adhere to and constantly contemplate, creating an obsession with perfection and an almost impossible standard for us to reach.
I know what you may be thinking: “Why are you criticizing these unwritten rules when they are such a normalized part of social media?” And to that I tell you, something appearing normal does not make it right. We all feed into this complex network of unspoken rules and although many of us criticize them, we still abide by them most of the time in order to fulfill others’ expectations. This entire situation is founded on the idea that we must always go along with what everyone around us thinks and expects from us. Why do we, as teenagers, feel such a need to gain approval from others? And what greater message are we sending to the world in which we are growing up?
The content of this article, as with every article posted on The Exchanged, does not represent the views of the staff of The Exchanged nor the National Cathedral School, St. Albans School, Protestant Episcopal Foundation, or any employee thereof. Opinions written are those of the writer and the writer alone.