- High self-esteem is healthy in principle, but on social media, it often manifests as boasting, preening egoism.
- Having felt excluded from mainstream society, people with low self-esteem may feel banished and invisible when engaging with social media.
Low self-esteem was never cool.
Why would it be when–for us, the afflicted–every mirror is the face-distorting funhouse type, all floors lurch underfoot, both sun and moon are searchlights, and our oxygen is toxic shame?
Low self-esteem was never cool, but now its exact opposite–a preening, gloating, mirror-gazing self-absorption–is the zeitgeist. Social media was made for this, so blazing out of every screen is Watch me lip-synch, stretch, apply eyeliner, dress for school, open a box, eat octopus, play Minecraft, discuss myself, sunbathe, shave. You know you want to, and I know 10 million strangers worldwide want to, too.
And what do influencers influence the influenced to do? Praise, pay, and imitate them, replicating that cocksure gaze exponentially: I'm great because I say I am.
Celebrities are no longer just astronauts or pitch-perfect sopranos anymore, but those who strut the most and best, who sing the fiercest love songs to themselves.
Self-hatred was never more outré.
We, its victims, may have always felt inept and gross. Whatever lies and traumas made us hate ourselves to start with hardwired into our hearts the belief that every word and action is, for our flawed selves, a cruel test–rigged, to begin with, then graded by heartless martinets.
We always felt excluded, but now we feel banished from society because the most desired and praised single skill, the golden-ticket skill most cultivated and rewarded, is the one that seems most uniquely unattainable. It's as if ballet became required, but we had no legs.
We have a weird relationship with skills. Self-hatred taught us to hide, lie, apologize, grovel, obey and overcompensate. Self-hatred told us: You deserve to disappear, which we sometimes fought off by thinking silently and secretly, "But I can speak three languages!" or "Being a good listener keeps me from being the worst person in the world."
But now, baffled and miffed, we observe idols idolized not for talents, accomplishments, and skills as we define them but for sky-high self-esteem itself. They flaunt their new shoes, and we think: That's all they had to do? It's unfair.
So much for our meritocracy.
We aren't the only ones perplexed and perturbed by this rampant self-display and blunt self-psalmody, which is sometimes aggressive, sometimes argumentative, sometimes seductive, and which now shapes and somewhat replaces conversation, entertainment, education, and even sex.
Studies suggest that social media inspires and nurtures narcissism–at lest when consumed in huge quantities. TikTok claims to have 1 billion users per month. Screen use among young Americans increased over the last few years–more rapidly than the previous four years–to five hours daily for tweeners and eight for teens.
We envy those who love themselves. We really do. We wonder how it feels to document oneself dancing in shorts, eating squid, or having plastic surgery. We wonder how it feels even to want to do these things, much less expect applause for it and maybe fame–which thousands obtain in those exact ways.
If social media feels yet more triggering with every passing day, this might be why: It broadcasts nonstop flaunting of the very thing we most painfully lack, the treasure we were born with but lost, that precious cache stolen, bullied, or beaten from us, the jewel we've spent our lives struggling to regain.
But zeitgeists do not always reflect the truth. If you are a good listener–and even if you're not–you aren't the worst person in the world.