The Comparison Trap

The Comparison Trap

I made my Instagram almost seven years ago, when I was thirteen years old.  Despite my love for the app, I can’t help but wonder how Instagram has changed my life and the lives of those around me.  While I know it has done great things, such as giving me a true platform to connect with people through, it also has fostered a community of comparison and envy.  Let’s dive on in.

For years, we have paged through the magazines and watched movies and television shows with the most glamorous celebrities.  We have sat glued to our televisions as perfect Princesses, such as Diana and Kate Middleton, have emerged and shone. We have followed along for years with the messy antics of celebrities, while always admiring the glamour and luxury their lives still entail.  Is it any surprise that when social media appeared, we used it to make our lives look just as glamorous as those we had been idolizing? We use social media to tell stories of our best parts of our lives– the incredible vacations, the beautiful outfits, and the never-ending stream of friends and outings.  We are surrounded by perfect lives everywhere we look but now, those perfect lives belong to our friends and families.

And, suddenly, we look at our own lives and well– they seem a bit lacking.  We think about all the Friday nights we stayed in, the Saturdays spent binge-watching Gilmore Girls (for the tenth time) on Netflix, and the Sundays without brunch plans.  The perfect Instagram girl though has her weekends packed– it’s not at all unreasonable that we feel like we don’t compare and are jealous of that perfect life. So, what now?  How do we deal with this idealized world that we see every time we look at our phone?  

Acknowledgement is not always enough

First, we must acknowledge that Instagram is a highlight reel but also realize, that might not be enough all the time.  By the time I entered college, I had been on Instagram for over four years- I knew Instagram was a highlight reel. However, that acknowledgement did little to comfort me as I saw high school friends posting about having the time of their lives at college while I cried of homesickness and inadequacy every day of my first month at Georgetown.  In those days, all I saw was people with friends and happiness compared to my own loneliness. My life held no weight. In those moments, the best thing to do is close the app. I am not one for social media cleanses– I personally do not think they work or do long-term good, but if you are in an emotionally difficult place, remove yourself from potential triggers.  Connect with others on a real level– talk with friends about how their lives are actually, not what you see on the screen. Sometimes, looking for real connection can do far more good than just acknowledging that Instagram isn’t the full story.

Breaking the Cycle: Unfollow

What if you are in a good emotional place though but Instagram still triggers you into a place of comparison and envy?  I recently became a fan of the unfollow button– for six years of my time on Instagram, I think I clicked the unfollow button maybe five times.  This year, I changed my relationship with the unfollow button. I had an amazing 2018 and was really happy, but when I went on Instagram, I found myself feeling negative as I looked at photos of the girls who just never accepted me as a friend or the friend group I thought I had once belonged to now without me.  When I looked at these posts, I felt not only that my life wasn’t beautiful enough, but that I, as a person, wasn’t enough. If my life and I had been enough, these people would have loved me, they would have accepted me, and I would have been in the photo. One day, it hit me: I was choosing to subject myself to feeling this way by continuing to follow these people.  I was choosing to continue a negative cycle and all I had to do to break it was hit the unfollow button. I found once I clicked it and got rid of the people who were negatively affecting me from my feed, Instagram could be a much happier and healthier place for me.

Coming to Growth

However, even though I’ve become a fan of the unfollow button, I still see it as a resource to be used sparingly.  Never before in our lives can we just delete what we don’t want to see– we can eliminate having to see the perfect lives we so badly want and resent the people who have them.  This doesn’t do us any good though: we have to grow as people and coming to terms with envy and pride is apart of that growth. When a girl from high school posts about her boyfriend or her new internship, a little green monster grows in us and it uses our language of “Instagram isn’t real” as the key to thoughts that wreck the picture such as “she isn’t really that happy,” and “there’s problems beneath the surface.”  This language though deals with envy by diminishing someone else, instead of working on ourselves. Just because someone else’s life is in a different place doesn’t mean it is better or worse than ours. It just means it is different from ours. Just because someone else is getting engaged and we’re still surfing the plethora of dating apps doesn’t mean we’re behind– it means our lives are on different timelines and that’s okay.  Everyone’s life is different, everyone’s journey is different, and everyone’s timeline is different. In coming to terms with this, we can find some peace and join in the celebrations on social media, rather than become the Hulk each time we see them.


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