ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND MENTAL HEALTH Over the last decade, social media has enabled connection, education, advocacy and inspiration like never before, but its effect on mental health is cause for concern. Perth-born beauty influencer Lauren Curtis, 26, writ
Iam not even sure how many followers I had when I first realised it was substantial. I was 18, and I had started watching YouTube videos to learn how to apply my own make-up. Having previously studied photography, it made sense for me to combine that with my blossoming love of make-up. I filmed myself trying new products and slowly my YouTube channel started to take off. Every morning, I’d wake up and count how many emails I had that read: ‘You have a new subscriber’, and it got to the point where there were too many to keep track of.
When I started vlogging on YouTube in 2011, a really small community of people from around the world was interacting with my videos. It was quite low-key and on a very small scale, so it was a safe and supportive space. That began to change when my channel started becoming successful. Obviously, as with anything, the more successful you become, the more people there are judging you.
Most of the attacks I get are about the way I look. There were times when I would post a selfie and people would say things like: “Have you gained weight?”, “Your skin looks bad”, “You look so much better with make-up” or “You’re fake.” They might direct message me with something nasty or just comment on my page. Some people talk about me in third person, as if I’m not reading the comments on my own posts. It’s absolutely mind-blowing that they can say such hurtful things so easily, but unfortunately you learn to expect it after a while. It’s just the harsh reality of social media.
I think the number one problem is the comparison that takes place. Instagram is a highlight reel: it’s the best parts of everybody’s lives combined into one little app. No-one shares the bad stuff; you don’t often see the mental health struggles, the fights with partners and friends, or the tears. It’s not an accurate representation of reality yet people are comparing it to their reality. You’re always going to fall short if you’re comparing your lows to someone else’s highs, so it makes sense people are struggling with mental health issues and low self-esteem.
Having a large social media following has definitely changed me as a person. It’s meant I’ve become very paranoid about what I say, what I do and what I show. If I say the wrong thing or don’t think about how it will be taken, then I can – and will – be torn to shreds in the comments section.
A few years ago, the negativity became significantly worse and I reached breaking point. I was reading comments from followers saying that I seemed depressed and unlike my usual happy self, and it was at that point that I knew I needed to take some time away from social media and focus on my mental health. I posted far less frequently for about six months (which itself caused backlash) and when I returned, I felt completely renewed.
I find the best way to deal with negativity is to limit my exposure to it. I try not to open Instagram first thing in the morning or right before I go to bed, so that I’m starting and ending my day doing the things I truly care about, like talking to my boyfriend or cuddling my dog. When I started my page, I reacted to anyone leaving nasty comments, but I’ve since adjusted my approach: now I simply block those people and delete their comments, as it’s not worth anyone’s time.
I realise that people only see the glitz and glam of being an influencer. Physically it’s easy, but mentally it takes its toll. It’s because of these experiences that I decided to dip my toe into podcasting, which has given me another platform to discuss these topics. Earlier this year, I took the plunge and officially launched my podcast, Mental Makeover, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
I hope people realise that it’s not social media’s fault: we choose the kind of content we digest and who we follow. Sometimes the people we choose aren’t good for us because we follow them through jealousy or envy. It feeds into our negative self-talk. I want to remind everyone that we all have negative thoughts and we’re entitled to them, but you don’t need to share that negativity. Think about what you say on social media. We’re all human and we’re all just trying to do our best.
I’m lucky that I’ve got an incredible support system, and as I get older, I’ve come to accept myself for who I am. I remind myself that at the end of the day, if all this goes away and I don’t have my mental health, what do I have? While I’m so grateful for social media, that’s the way I think about it: it’s borrowed real estate and it’s not part of my identity anymore. For me, it isn’t about showing off how much money you have or how perfect your life seems, it’s about valuing authenticity over everything else and letting that govern what you share.
I don’t just post the pretty stuff now because that’s simply not my life. I share the bad days, the good days, the glam makeovers, the acne breakouts, the fun travel adventures and the boring Saturday nights. It’s all equally important and as soon as I started sharing it, the negativity almost stopped. It’s been eight years since I filmed my first beauty video and I am truly happier than ever. It’s been a wild ride, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“For me, it isn’t about showing off how much money you have or how perfect your life seems, it’s about valuing authenticity over everything else and letting that govern what you share”