Social media has changed our aspirations and the way we see ourselves. We love it, we hate it, we can’t get off it, we have mixed feelings. This is exactly what authors Naomi Shimada and Sarah Raphael pick up in their book Mixed Feelings that explores the emotional impact of our digital habits. We interviewed them to talk about the inspiration behind the book, how social media influences our travel habits, body image, political views and so much more…
When did you decide to write a book together?
We decided to write a book together because every time we met up to catch up, we found ourselves talking about social media and how weird it made us feel. It became obvious from all the conversations we were overhearing between groups of friends, which were starting to come out in people’s more candid posts, that the time was ripe for an offline exploration of how these apps affect our moods and behaviours. We wanted to write it together because even though we work at different ends of the media, we share a lot of the same feelings when it comes to social media. We wanted to open up the conversation in book form instead of just online to create a softer, more intimate and tender space to talk about what so many of us have been feeling privately.
How much did your own jobs inspire you to write about digital habits?
Naomi: My job as a model has completely evolved under social media. I built my career thanks to social media and the global reach it’s given me and the intimate relationships I’ve created because of it. But there’s been a whole new set of complex issues and feelings that have been caused by it too. I want my life and thus my platform to be an honest space, so I wanted to talk and share about how it’s affected me but in a longer format than just a caption! There is so much that we can’t see from a photo! We wanted to lift the lid and look under the image. I needed the space of a book to really explore the personal subject matter.
Sarah: As the former editorial director of women’s media company Refinery29, and as a youth volunteer for a group of teenage girls in London, I felt the impact of social media on young women’s emotional wellbeing needed to be talked about, and in a way that was honest, heartfelt, and not too data driven. Of course there is data in the book, but what we really wanted to do was get to the root of the things we all feel scrolling on these apps: the professional competitiveness, the body image anxieties, the paranoia that comes with relationships in the digital age. Both of our jobs in the media make us hyper aware of how the internet and social media operates, but we were also just writing as two girls who experience the same highs and lows as everybody else does online.
How has social media changed the way we see ourselves?
We are not only looking at others but critically examining ourselves through the mirror of social media. As human beings we have always been curious to observe and see how we measure up against others, but social media has intensified this tendency to compare 1000 fold. We are not all professional models but so many of us feel like we should be. We are self-objectifying – looking at ourselves from an outsider’s perspective, and judging ourselves (often very harshly) from the outside, instead of tuning in to how we feel inside.
Social media operates on a capitalistic value system that presents a very narrow view of happiness and success. We are sold the idea that with the ‘right’ job, holiday, partner, exercise regime and outfit, we will be happy. This pressure to be ‘perfect’ in every aspect of life is burning everybody out.
Do you think there should be more educational work about social media and its impacts in school?
There already are classes on social media management and wellbeing in lots of schools, but they don’t get deep enough. It’s hard for young people to speak openly about the issues they face with teachers: the pressure to send nudes, the pressure for teenage girls who are still developing to have an ‘instagram body’, the pressure to merely post about your life and opinions at a time when most teenagers are still figuring their out what they think and who they want to be. The government seems to finally be taking social media seriously and working with mental health organisations and professionals on strategies to improve things, but time is of the essence.
Do you think places where it’s “forbidden” to use your phones are a good idea?
Sometimes it’s nice to have spaces that are kept sacred from technology! Forbidden seems excessive, it would be much better if we could just learn to use them in moderation.
Where do you see social media in ten years from now?
That’s the million dollar question. The tide on ‘perfect’ pictures seems to be turning in favour of more honest pictures and conversations, so we hope it continues in that direction. It will be interesting to see how artificial intelligence is applied to social media, hopefully they’ll find a way to help young people navigate the negative aspects of social media, and maintain the positives. Personally (Sarah speaking), I’d like a virtual reality ASMR YouTube experience!
Do you think social media influences travel habits of young people and their aspiration to save money for the future?
The travel industry has transformed thanks to social media because now people shop for holidays on Instagram. Studies show that millennials trust recommendations from acquaintances / influencers on social media far more than magazines and travel agents. (Duh). Social media dictates where we travel, and also what we do while we’re there – a survey by easyJet claimed the average holiday-maker takes 2,500 photos on a week’s holiday!
It definitely doesn’t help young people save money. The apps are built on selling aspirational lifestyles, expensive plates of food, expensive holidays, clothes and beauty products.
What do you think about the job of influencers?
Influencers are here to stay, but we need to start interrogating the term more and to start asking more from these people who have a big platform. Shouldn’t being an ‘influencer’ with lots of followers come with a sense of responsibility to influence people in a positive way?
Would you recommend people doing a social media detox from time to time?
It’s really helpful to take digital breaks, not just to be more present in the real world, but to give yourself time and space to think creatively and to think for yourself. Social media can feel very shouty, it’s full of other people’s opinions and other people’s lives and it can be easy to take on those opinions and to desire those lifestyles without really examining what truly makes us happy as autonomous individuals.
What do you think about social media in regards to the body image of young women?
Dr Helen Sharpe, a clinical psychologist who specialises in adolescent body image and who we interviewed for the book, says body image issues in young women began long before social media, but what it has done is place a dangerously high value on physical appearance. Of course there is a very negative side to body image on social media, but there is also a very positive one in that social media has legions of body positive influencers and activists advocating for a new kind of beauty. Social media has been an incredibly effective tool in increasing diversity across the advertising industry and changing societal standards. It is of paramount importance that we take the time to curate our feed in a way that promotes a healthy body image, unfollowing anyone whose pictures make us feel that we are less than.
Do you think social media influences people when it comes to political topics?
We’ve all read the alarming stories about the Trump campaign and the Brexit campaign using social media to manipulate voters. But there are obviously positives too, where social media has been used to spread the word and monopolise large groups of people to campaign for issues such as the Extinction Rebellion movement, #MeToo, trans awareness, mental health awareness. There are hundreds of issues that young people are conscious of thanks for social media.
What advice would you give young women reading your book?
Remember that we are all different people and have different paths. Success doesn’t look the same to all of us. Try hard to monitor your own triggers and reactions, and if something isn’t making you feel good or you don’t feel like you’re in a good place, switch it off for a while. Listen to your gut! One realisation we came to in writing the book is that sometimes, the things we’re triggered by in other people, are the same things we’re putting out on our own profiles. If we want social media to grow up, we have to grow up ourselves!
Click here to explore what the Internet and social media is doing to our minds, bodies and hearts through wide-ranging essays and discussions.