Park: Life, Unfiltered

by Annika Park | 5/14/15 6:06pm

The much-anticipated Green Key has finally arrived — students have been posting about their excitement for the weekend on social media outlets for days. As excited as students may be, however, there are many others who say that they feel an intense feeling of “FOMO,” or “a fear of missing out,” for the upcoming weekend, much of which seems to stem from a desire to feel included in a crowd, to feel as though they are part of a group. Social inclusion is something many of us value highly, and it’s astonishing how much we fail to pay attention to it in our daily lives.

We live in a divided world, one in which social media makes the image that we project to others one that is significantly malleable. As we choose what filter to put on an image, for example, we are also filtering ourselves or our lives to look more desirable than they are. As I flip through my own Instagram profile right now, I have a photo of the side door of Baker Library, its stairs sprinkled with fallen blossoms after a light drizzle. It’s filtered to perfection, almost ethereal-looking in its serenity. Yet when I typed in the caption — “Post-rain gloriousness” — I could only think about how anxious I was heading to afternoon practice.

Why are we all so obsessed with projecting an image of perfection? Why do we always have this need to show others that we are OK, when we’re not? In my view, this is the nature of being a college student. Leaving home to attend college, we often lose the safety nets that keep us grounded, that allow us to be happy with who we are. We need to find new friends, adjust to a new environment and cope with increased academic demands. Particularly for varsity student-athletes — like Madison Holleran, the track star at the University of Pennsylvania who committed suicide last year after battling depression — the struggles of balancing academics and athletics can be tough. For some, constructing a perfect self through social media platforms can be a coping mechanism when in a new environment.

It’s a catch-22 — a painful cycle of trying to meet others’ expectations of perfection as well as our own. Young 18- and 19-year-old students entering college are likely still constructing a complete sense of self-worth, and it’s easy for many of us to get tied up in a world where we can portray our lives as perfect.

None of this eases the challenging transition from high school to college. It takes a couple of years before we’ve all settled into a comfortable rhythm. Making a group of consistent and tight-knit friends requires more effort than it may have in high school due to sporadic classes and separated residential communities. Not even Greek-affiliated students or varsity athletes — whom many assume have the privilege of a guaranteed, pre-determined social group — are immune from the feelings of anxiety and doubts of self-worth that social insecurity causes. Pursuing the perfect online image can seem like the ideal remedy to a sense of inadequacy in real lives, but I believe this sets us up for more disappointment.

There’s no doubt that the prestige of the Ivy League name convinced more than a few of us to come here. Dartmouth is picturesque and pastoral — but sometimes life isn’t as idyllic as admissions brochures would have you believe. Because so many students seem to have it all together and appear chill and laid back, it can be even more alienating for students who feel differently.

So I will start. When I posted a selfie of myself and a friend after a night of hopping around fraternities, it was not because it was a memorable and enjoyable night, but because I thought that’s what a night out should look like to my Instagram followers. When I posted a scenic photo of a sunrise a couple weeks ago, underneath my witty caption lay a surge of disappointment as I fell behind my teammates on just a short morning run. Never do something because you think that it will enhance how others perceive you. If we are not honest with ourselves and others, no number of likes will make us feel better. Stay safe this weekend, my friends, and remember, it’s okay not to be okay.