Instagram: The Good, The Bad, and The Unnecessary

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For someone who launched their blog little over 2 months ago, I’ve been pretty slack on the posting front, and it’s nearly been a whole month since my last post. Life surprises us, or even simply catches up on us, and sometimes we have to put other things on the back burner. When I started my blog, I was very clear on the fact I intended to create honest, meaningful, helpful content for my followers, and for myself to capture moments of significance. Where my head has been in the past few weeks, I know any posts I could have forced myself to write out of obligation, wouldn’t have been delivering that to you. However, as things have started settling, and I’ve had a good word with myself, I’m feeling in a much better head space, and ready to get back to pouring out my soul, into my keyboard. This was actually the very first post I started writing when I launched my blog in August this year. However, out of fear that it was a little bit much to start with, and people might perceive it as a little shallow, and not really understand or relate, I left it half completed, lurking at the bottom of my drafts. Also, I think it’s about time that I well and truly let go of my fear of what people might think of me, and just stayed true to myself. If not for the sake of helping someone else, for myself as a reminder of how crazy I let things get, and that I must never go to that place again.

So, I thought I’d share with you my story of Instagram, and the impacts it has had on my own mental health at times. Instagram is fab for so many reasons, but there is no denying that there is a darker side to it too..

How it all started..

So, let me take you back to 2012, when I first created my Instagram account (I believe it started with the handle; ‘lisiloo’, then aliciainwonderland, lisipixiemay, lisiwoodsfitness, [and a few others] until it eventually became what it is today; balancedfitmamabird). In those early days I had no idea what a hashtag was for, only that it looked like a waffle, and IMO was a key on my keyboard which really had no business being there. The thing that had drawn me to Instagram wasn’t these funny looking waffle links, but the funky and oh-so-cool filters. ‘Toaster’ was all the rage back then. The photos I shared were with an audience of around 30 individuals I went to school with, or family members. The images I shared were predominantly of my dogs, my boyf, nights out with friends, and a few cheeky selfies. These were the care free days of insta. I posted once in a blue moon, and it really was for myself, just to put a pretty filter, on a pretty shitty quality photo. The majority of my facebook friend list weren’t yet on the gram of insta.

Finding My Feet..

Anywho, where was I? Right, so then we get to 2013. By this point I’ve realised you can use the waffle button to increase engagement and to search words of relevance. GROUND BREAKING! So, if I were to post a photo of our now dearly departed Bonnie, I could hashtag it #springerspaniel , click the link and be greeted by a wealth of images of happy springer spaniels smiling up at me, with my Bonnie snap featured proudly amongst them. I’ll repeat,- *ground breaking*. So, at this point in my life, the boyf had convinced me to tag along to one of his gym sessions, and to my surprise I bloody well enjoyed it. A lot. And I couldn’t wait to go again. In fact, as soon as we had finished I insisted we made a stop at Holland and Barrett so I could invest in some protein. As luck would have it, they were selling off a 2kg tub of PhD Diet Whey that was coming up to it’s sell-by date. It was meant to be. I got home, took a photo of the tub, chucked a couple of fitness related hashtags onto the caption and hey-presto, that was the start of my fitness journey. I decided that I would start posting regular updates of my fitness progress, and the healthy lifestyle I was trying to obtain, in the hope that I could keep myself accountable, and on track, as well as motivated. I didn’t know any other females who weight trained, so my better half taught me everything, and I had to find motivation off my own back. -This was a time when people were very much under the impression I was going to make myself look too manly if I lifted. As we know now though, society is a lot more accepting of it in 2017, and people realise that lifting weights can actually help to build a more feminine physique, and accentuate our womanly features. Though I have nothing in the way of boobage, my bum is more  peachy today than it has ever been. Praise the lord for weights. Anyway, suddenly my following started to increase beyond people I actually knew, and I started to form genuine connections with like-minded people all over the UK, who shared my passion, and were on a similar journey. I largely put this down to the use of the UKfitfam hashtag, which  the lovely Lydia Millen bought to my attention on one of her Instagram posts. This is how I was introduced to two of my lovely, now actual real life friends, Krissi and Holly.. Lets just take a second here to appreciate the crazy, bizarreness that is Instagram friendships. If we were all to walk around holding up a board, stating our hobbies and interests in big bold writing, how much easier would it be to spark up a conversation with a stranger?! How much easier would it be to discover people you have things in common with? Instagram has kind of done that for us. And it’s great because you don’t even have to muster up any courage that you would do, if it were a face to face interaction. Krissi, Holly, and I, all come from 3 different corners of the UK, but have been bought together by our common interests, and have since travelled from our various corners to actually meet, share some laughs, and good times. Without the magic of Instagram, that would have never happened, and to this day we would be total strangers to each other. (One day I will do a full blog post about making friends with strangers I’ve met on the internet, but for now I’m just going to remind you all that stranger danger is real. IF you choose to meet someone you’ve made a connection with online, think; public place, bring back up, and make sure you have seen them on snapchat/insta-story and know they are who they say. There are a lot of weirdos out there..)

Let the Good Times Roll..

Pretty much from 2013-2015 my Instagram is a series of health and fitness related posts, with a bit of day to day life thrown in to the works, including the preparations for my big day- very instaworthy.. I had fully come to grips with the use of hashtags by now, and by this stage I had made several meaningful connections with other young ladies on a similar path, as well as having been approached by women just starting out of their fitness journeys, messaging me to tell me how I had inspired them. This blew my mind. It still does. Being told by a complete stranger that I have been able to have a positive influence in their life, through the median of Instagram, and the content I choose to share, is such a lovely and accomplished feeling. For me, being able to create such a positive response, made me feel like I was doing something right, and it made staying on track a whole lot easier. I was no longer accountable to just myself, but also the girls who had sent me messages of love. This really was a period of time where I truly loved Instagram. I was incredibly proud to be a part of this fabulous little #fitfam community. We were sprinkling kindness, support, encouragement, empowerment and love around like confetti, we were motivating and inspiring each other, day in and day out, and I physically and mentally, felt ruddy fantastic; My fitness had come on in leaps and bounds, and I felt like I was part of something special. This was also the period of time when I discovered, and began to closely follow the world of competitive bodybuilding. (An unfinished chapter, and another topic I will one day blog about in greater length.) The Instagram experience for me around this time, was in the whole, a very positive one, and gave me a great sense of fulfilment.

Getting Busy Living..

Late in this period of adoration for Instagram, life got pretty bloomin’ busy. Mostly around Summer and Autumn 2015. I’m old school when it comes to holidays, and I like to stay off my phone most of the time, so I can just enjoy being in the moment, and make it mine, so our 2 week honeymoon in Punta Cana involved very little social media interaction. It was perfect. And even when we got home, I found very little time for it, with personal circumstances taking centre stage. Life is full of highs and lows, and naturally, we are all very quick to share the highs. But those lows are not always such an easy subject to open up about, and understandably, often don’t make a show on our social feed.. We had just experienced the highest point in our lives, but suddenly we were crashing down to a low far beyond anything I could have anticipated. For anyone who has read my previous blog, Weathering The Storm – My #MisCourage Story , you will know what I’m referring to. Life is full of surprises, and has a knack of unexpectedly reminding you that actually you are never 100% in control. With everything that was going on, my posting became pretty infrequent for a bit. I’d try to motivate myself every now and then with a motivational quote, or just post a photo of myself in the gym to let my followers know I was still training, and hadn’t gone off the radar, but the reality of it was that I was feeling pretty disconnected, and social media was really very insignificant to me right now. I’ve always been honest with my followers, but in the past in fear of causing offence or upset, I’ve taken the approach, ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ Which has at times led to a bit of quietness on my part. I’d never say anything to deliberately offend people, I just appreciate that not everybody wants to hear about my woes. Though, at the same time, these days I am feeling the relevance of sharing the lows too, because I am only human, and life is not always rainbows and butterflies. I’ve spent far too many years suppressing negative emotions, telling myself that showing the struggles, and heartache would make me weak. I don’t know if it’s motherhood just making me wise, or just something I’ve learned from life, but actually, honesty is the best way to live. And in truth, none of us have our shit together all the time. By being open with people about the times you are going through a shit storm, you are actually letting people know that it’s okay not to be okay. By January 2016, things in our personal life had taken a positive turn, and I was ready to share some very exciting news with my wonderful friends and followers on The Gram. I was pregnant, and this time I’d made it past the 12 week marker and got to see the life growing inside me! So, now that the morning sickness had mostly subsided, I was feeling pretty bloody amazing, and motivated, and healthy and happy. Things in my personal life were better than great, and I let that positive energy flow onto my feed.

All Good Things Come to Those Who Wait..

During the months of my pregnancy I found posting on Instagram easy. I was full of life (literally), and feeling empowered. Pregnancy is the most empowering thing I have ever experienced, and I can’t wait to do it all again some day. In reality I felt like I was pregnant forever, but when I look back through my Instagram now, I don’t know where the time went! I am so glad I took all those photos too, as they serve as a constant reminder of the incredible journey my body went on, to bring our little love bug into the world, and into our arms. My words flowed freely, as I opened up about my pregnancy and my feelings of excitement and anticipation. I really do believe that we instantly make ourselves far more attractive when we are authentic and talk about the things we are passionate about, as this was a period of time when social interaction came very easily, and I made several strong, meaningful connections. The months went by, and I settled into motherhood. For a few weeks, while I couldn’t train post birth, my Instagram was pure baby spam. I was well and truly in the newborn bubble, and my followers all knew it. haha. -not sorry, she was/ still is PERFECT ❤ .

Pressure, P-pushing Down On Me..

I settled into motherhood, and back into a routine of training, which, as always, I shared with my followers. I was still very much in a state of enjoying Instagram, but was having my own personal battle about how much of my private life I should be sharing on my public page, more specifically, my daughter. With a public account you really do have very little control over who is viewing you content. Even if you block someone, what is to stop them from making a fake account and viewing your content on there? This was something I deliberated about for months, until eventually I decided to put my mind at ease, and create a private account, where I could have full control of who was following us, and viewing my images of our precious baby girl. I instantly knew that I’d made the right decision, and that account has remained under lock and key ever since. However, this also meant that my content on my original account was becoming more fitness orientated than ever, with very little in the way of my personal life. In a way, I thought this could even work out to my advantage; as the fitness community had massively grown in popularity, and Instagram started to become more widely used as a business tool, I could feel myself starting to feel under pressure. Every Tom, Dick and Harry seemed to be getting some sort of endorsement or sponsorship deal from one place or another, and here I was, not really making any grounds, and still posting the same content I had done for years. A part of me believed that if I were a credible Instagram ‘#fitspo’ I would have been offered endorsements by now, and being the over-thinker that I am, (classic Cancerian trait, that) I let myself get stuck in the trap of caring too much about how other people viewed my content, and became all the more drawn to the aesthetic side of body building. Somehow I was being sucked in to this new ideal of following set rules to make your page more appealing to gain more followers (because more followers means more personal growth, right?! *palm to face* *if my eyes could roll any further back, I’d lose them in their sockets*.) Was I sticking to a theme? Was my content aesthetic visually appealing enough? Was I saying the right things? How could I engage better? .. Even now, I’m just like, WTF Lis. How did I ever let it get like that? But I was in a comparison trap. During this time I was being coached by a reputable, highly successful bikini competition prep coach/team, but I was finding myself surrounded by confident, drop-dead-gorgeous women, and I felt way out of my depth. Instead of feeling empowered, I felt inadequate, and the pressure piling on. As an attempt to prove myself, and just how dedicated ,*cough* obsessed *cough*2 I was, I would post every single workout I did, every single day, often twice a day. 

“If I don’t post the workout, did it even happen?”

Lets be honest, does anybody really need to know that I trained legs for the third time this week for like the 18th consecutive week?! *yawn*. I was getting bored of posting the same old thing every day – ‘today was shoulder day’, ‘glute session going down’ blah, blah, blah.. I mean there are only so many times I can post a photo of myself flexing before I look at my feed and cringe. There’s nothing wrong with a good ol’ flex Friday if you are proud of what you’ve just accomplished, but what I felt wasn’t pride, and it was getting dull. I was posting more out of obligation than actual enthusiasm. My public Instagram was becoming such a chore, and I was starting to all together hate it and the way I could allow it to make me feel like utter shit.

So, I asked myself, why? Why am I putting my body through this? Why did I start training in the first place? Was it for fitness or aesthetics? Why do I need validation? Why do I have to post every workout? That was when I decided enough was enough. I de-activated the account all together for 3 weeks in the spring of this year, and very suddenly ended my contract with my prep coach. That over riding ‘why’, was an awakening for me. So I took those weeks, where I pretty much came offline all together, and just did me. I substituted the gym for the great outdoors a few times a week, I ditched the strict, regimented diet, and I spent actual time with my family; actual and mental. It felt like I’d not spent time with my family for weeks. Obviously I had, but I hadn’t been fully present, as my mind had been elsewhere; too busy tormenting myself. Sure, I still trained most days, BUT I made it fit in around me actually living my life, rather than making everything else fit around my training.

Lessons Learnt, and Staying True to Myself

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The impact that my public Instagram had on my mental health took a lot of the joy out of it. I resented it for letting me become that person, to a point where my personal life was being impacted. There was a time when my life revolved around my fitness, and building a certain image online to try to get recognition within the Instagram fitness industry, but I can certainly say, that that is not the case today. A few short weeks of clarity, and peace, by just switching off the noise of social media, reminding myself who I was when nobody was watching, and taking time to reconnect, really did do me the world of good.

If you ever feel the pressure of social media getting on top of you, I cannot recommend a little offline time enough! What we see online, is NOT real life. Life is for living, and there is only so much living one can do whilst staring at a phone. I can’t even tell you how easy it was to just switch off from those negative thoughts that had consumed me, once I’d spent that first 24 hours away from social media! Logging off is a great way to regain perspective and remind yourself just what really matters; what is right in front of you.

There’s a huge part of me that hates the advances that have been made in technology, because we are a generation obsessed. Mental health and anxiety is at an all time high across the generations, and I don’t believe for a second that it is a mere coincidence. There is a very dark side to social media that a lot of people don’t talk about. The side that makes you compare, and obsess, and feel inadequate. I definitely do not believe for a second that I am the only person who has experienced the pressures to this extent, so if you are reading this and it sounds familiar, just know that you are not the only one. Social media is such a huge part of day to day life these days, but it is not your actual life. Life is what happens when we aren’t staring at a screen. Life is what happens when you step out doors and seek adventure, when you soak up the presence of the people around you and bask in those small moments of content.

Everything I do in my life, whether I share it on my socials, or keep it for my own personal memory bank; I do it for ME. I spent a long time – too much time-, posting my content for the sake of others, trying to please others, and seek validation from places that I really didn’t ever need it. It didn’t serve me well.

“Anything that costs you your peace of mind is too expensive.”

I still use my original IG, (far less frequently) but no longer post anything that is forced, I post the things I want to post for myself, not because I feel I have a point to prove, or a reputation to uphold. Though I still train 5/6 days a week, you won’t find that daily gym check-in selfie. And I tell you what, training for myself and being accountable to myself, brings hell of a lot more empowerment and happiness into my sessions.

At the end of the day, everything you do should be to contribute to fulfilment in your life. If something is not serving you in a positive way, change it up or let it go. I hope I haven’t gone on too long, but if you are still here, thanks for listening to me waffling on.

Sure I still feel pressure from certain areas of my life, but social media is not one of them.

Lot of Love

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