“Say Cheese!”: The Social Media Smile

One of the reasons I started this blog was to share my thoughts—to let the world know what I was thinking, feeling, and how I myself experience life. I knew going into this that I wanted most of these thoughts to be positive, fun, motivational, and inspiring, but, as this blog’s name itself suggests, thoughts and emotions run From Vermilion to Violet. This post won’t be sunshine yellow. But I encourage you to read it, because it is important. It wouldn’t be here otherwise. I also want to encourage you to, if you connect to this, share my post. I apologize, it will be a little longer than normal, but I think it’s worth it! Help me spread the messages I strive to send to you all. Without further ado…read on.

I actually started drafting this post a few days ago, then put it aside for another time when I felt it was more applicable. After reading this article this morning, I decided that time was now.

Nowadays, the idea of “happiness” is pervasive in our society; it’s the new “health trend.” Feeding off of the recent surge in positivity awareness and the new research happening everyday on the biological aspects of happiness, everything surrounding us now seems to target, promote, and claim fame to that feeling. From our beverage of choice (Coca Cola’s “Open Happiness” campaign??) to our clothing to our makeup and our local grocery store, we are told that we ought to be happy, and that doing, buying, eating, or supporting XYZ will get us there.

A Coke ad- just one example of how society "expects" us to be happy

A Coke ad- just one example of how society “expects” us to be happy

This increase in the constant need to achieve happiness has created a false definition of what it means to truly be happy, and what it means to be a human. Not to bash happiness, because it is one of the most important aspects in every single individual’s life, but happiness, like all things, is best in moderation. “How can you be too happy?” you might ask, and I’ll tell you: when happiness as it is constantly promoted today has taken on a false, superficial, and inherently negative definition. When our society now thinks that not being happy is something to be ashamed of. When the media sends out the message that happiness is “trendy,” and must be had at all times to increase life satisfaction.

Still, you may be confused why this is such a bad thing. Well, because when we feel that we must be happy all the time, at all costs, that’s the identity we take on. Because now, when we don’t feel happy, we keep it to ourselves. We ignore it, or we bottle it up inside. We internalize our negativity because the outside world “doesn’t want to see it,” or because we are now embarrassed by it. We try to conform to the social norm, and if that means putting on a cheesy grin when you really want to curl up and cry, well, at least you got a lot of likes on your Instagram. Because you know, or you think you know, that if you had posted a picture straight-faced and tear-stained you would have been judged, and you sure wouldn’t have gotten those three new followers your most recent smiling selfie got you.

So you put on what I’m calling the Social Media Smile. You feel an intense obligation, an order, almost, to ignore what your true emotions are saying and instead must tell the world “Hey! Look at me! Look at how happy I am! My life is full of smiles and cheer, can’t you tell by my birthday selfie/Holiday family photo/smiling pic with my ‘best friends?’”

The Social Media Smile.

The Social Media Smile.

A great example of this comes about on the holidays. Take Christmas. A holiday with the societal connotation of joy, happiness, hope, and family. Typically, it’s family-focused, and people everywhere will get together and open presents or bake cute cookies for Santa Claus and sit by the warm fire and laugh together late into the night. Right? Isn’t that what everyone does? I mean, that’s what society wants us to do! That’s what the ads and commercials tell us we want. So that’s what we post on social media. That’s why, on Christmas, it feels like an obligation to post a picture of you laughing with your family, or hugging your boyfriend, or smiling as you roll up your sleeves in the kitchen to bake some cookies. That’s what everyone else is posting, so even if you are having a crappy day, you put on that Social Media Smile and cover it up, as not to disrupt the flow of joy that your twitter feed exudes. I can tell you from personal experience, I see it all the time. On Thanksgiving, I was looking at elaborate feasts and smiling sibling photographs. When it’s someone’s birthday, I wait for the #BirthdaySelfie and the photo collages from friends with long captions about the “good times” and “love.”

I can tell you that I am personally guilty. When a day like a holiday rolls around, I’ve planned what I’m going to post, or put on extra makeup and a special outfit that complements my sister’s because I know I’ll be adding those pictures to Facebook later and they’ll get more likes that way. I’ve woken up on a snow day with my camera already practically in my hand, eager to be the first one to post a picture of the landscape outside my window and comment on how happy I am not to be going to school, so that I can join my followers in the “snow day post tradition” and get a ton of favorites on Instagram. I’ve even made batches upon batches of cookies while having a terrible stomachache and a miserable cold the whole time because I just knew that my followers would love to see an “artsy” close-up of a freshly-baked apple pie, or a selfie of my smiling face covered with flour.

So don’t feel like I’m judging you. If anything, I’m a hypocrite. But that doesn’t make this phenomenon right.

It would be fabulous if all the happiness we see on social media were true, and were the reality. I would love that more than you can even imagine, because however twisted its definition is, if all the smiles and laughter and cookies were truly what they’re portrayed to be, we would be a pretty darn happy society. The problem remains, however, that this constant happiness is not the reality. For some, maybe. But for many? It’s merely an obligatory post to please the audience. It’s a cover-up of feelings underneath. It’s a means of denying oneself the ability to actually feel, and in excess it contributes to lowered self-esteem.

When we think and feel that society expects us to be happy, but we aren’t, we blame ourselves. We look all around us and see so many smiles and wonder why we can’t be that way, but are afraid to let anyone know if we aren’t. We try so hard to fit in, and suppress so much in the process. Ultimately, this backfires. Problems that need to be addressed aren’t because we are afraid of judgment if we bring them up. We are timid of allowing ourselves to be sad or angry or frustrated, because we don’t want to be the odd one out. So we continue to pretend all is okay.

We choose, instead, to let the Social Media Smile to run our lives. We build up our “happiness” with the number of likes, retweets, repins, favorites, or reblogs we can get when we use social media. I must admit, it can be pretty effective. It is temptingly rewarding when you get a ton of likes on one of your selfies, and a huge confidence builder. It’s also a huge blow to your self-esteem when you don’t perform on social media as you expected. When it comes down to it, this can be incredibly harmful.

We have started defining ourselves by social media

We have started defining ourselves by social media

The Social Media Smile masks everything negative below it, and because social media is one of the main ways we communicate our daily feelings and emotions to the world, it tells lies to people around you. People who care about you, yet don’t know that you need help because you never show it.

As this article shows, and as I am positive is true for millions of the individuals on social media, there could always be another side to what we portray to the public. For every happy family post, there is another fake one that hides the story of an intense divorce battle. For each smiling birthday selfie, there’s the girl who is secretly depressed or suffers from anxiety. The back-story doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it is hidden from sight. Because when it’s hidden from sight, no one knows. And when no one knows, no one can help.

So, if we want to truly be happy, as we portray ourselves to constantly be, the Social Media Smile needs to stop. We need to recognize and learn to embrace unhappiness as well as happiness, because that is what makes us humans. We are not perfect robots. And we don’t need to be. It is better to be ourselves, and our whole selves, than to split ourselves between society and self.

I encourage you to embrace the vermilion, embrace the violet, and most importantly, embrace everything in between. Challenge the Social Media Smile. When you’re smiling for the camera, make it a genuine one. And if you don’t want to smile, don’t. If you forget to post a birthday selfie, forgive yourself. The world won’t end. If you’re throwing up violently next to the toilet all day, don’t put time aside to post a happy tweet about how you missed school that day. Live in yourself and appreciate yourself and your feelings.

As a group, we should use social media to post ourselves, as us. Be you. Post you. Sure, fill social media with smiles, but make them genuine. Be truthful to yourself and the world around you. That’s the obligation we have. It’s not to post for likes, or at a certain time of day. It’s an obligation to live. Yes, social media can be and in this day and age inevitably will be a part of that. Start now, and be the change that makes social media real. I can promise you, you’ll gain more appreciation for yourself and for others that way. And who knows? One day, all the happiness we’re promised will cease to be superficial. Let’s at least take the first steps towards that goal.




3 thoughts on ““Say Cheese!”: The Social Media Smile

  1. Janet Sebastian-Coleman says:

    Very interesting – you sort of defined the sense of “falseness” I often see with all the same poses and smiles on social media and made a great commentary on it.

    Liked by 1 person

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