2016-12-13

When Your Way Out Isn't A Way Out

I followed a link on Robert Murphy's blog, and then followed another link, and then somehow I found myself on The Other Side of the Internet. I don't recommend going there often, if at all. Still, "While I'm here," I thought to myself, "I may as well see if I can learn something."

I discovered an article written by one Sophie Gray, who, in an article tellingly entitled "Why I've Stopped Posting Ab Selfies to Social Media," opens with the following:
If you were scrolling through my Instagram account on July 15th you would’ve seen a feed filled with ‘ab selfies’ with comments littered underneath saying how I’m #LIFEGOALS and have the #PERFECTBODY.
Note the link to her Instagram account. We can already tell that this story is about to veer into sadness, but if Sophie can get a few more Instagram followers, then why not, right? She continues:
But if you were my boyfriend on that very same day, you would have seen a very different story. You would have seen a very different version of me. 
You would have been the one by my side as I stood crying in the baggage claim area in the airport. You would have been the one climbing into a rental car and embarking on a 38-hour drive home just because I couldn’t get on our connecting flight home. 
And guess what? My so-called enviable thigh gap and six pack weren’t the reason I wasn’t able to get on the flight.
It was because I had a horrible panic attack on our previous flight and was a total and complete fucking mess.
At this point, the average reader is keen to learn about how the relentless pursuit of physical perfection drove this poor woman into a melt-down. But Sophie never says that. In fact, she never says anything at all about what was behind her panic attack.

Instead, she self-diagnoses as someone who has "anxiety," and provides the unreferenced statistic that "1 in 5 people are living with anxiety." I haven't fact-checked that claim, because it is completely irrelevant. It's irrelevant to my blog post, it's irrelevant to her article, and it's irrelevant to her panic attack.

Sophie uses this statistic to do a quick calculation. She states (audaciously, in bold text) that she has 400,000 followers on Instagram (product placement again), and that this implies that 80,000 of them suffer from anxiety.

To Sophie, this means that 80,000 of her followers are suffering anxiety as a direct result of, or which is seriously aggravated by, her ab selfies. So, for their sake, she's not posting ab selfies anymore.

Well, gosh, I feel better now. Don't you?

It's possible that Sophie's desire to have lots of adulating Instagram followers drove her to a panic attack. It's also possible that her relentless pursuit of a perfect body drove her to a panic attack. And it is certainly believable that the combination of those two activities drove her to a panic attack. But if so, this means that Sophie's anxiety really has nothing to do with her followers. Changing her Instagram behavior might be exactly the right thing to do - for herself. So why does Sophie decide to do it for everyone's sake but hers?

It could be that she's just fishing for positive reinforcement from her nigh-half-a-million fans. Like, she's worried about how a change in behavior will affect her social media presence, so she wants to put the idea out there to them, so that they will say, "Yes! Do it! We support you!" Maybe she just needs that kind of adulation in order to make a positive change in her life.

But notice the difference between earnestly asking for support because you feel unsure of yourself and need to make a change, versus suggesting that it's really your support network who has the real problem, and that you need to make a change for them. Both activities feel like a positive change for the better, but while the former is an acknowledgement of personal weakness and an earnest request for help, the latter is a way of spreading the guilt around.

"I had a panic attack, therefore I'm going to do something so that you don't have one, too."

No, Sophie. You had a panic attack, so you need to make a change in your own behavior to prevent yourself from having another one. I don't know how many people have had panic attacks as a direct result of seeing her Instagram photos, but I suspect the number is much smaller than 80,000 and might even be close to zero.

Of course, Sophie has an incentive to ignore this. The thought that her Instagram followers don't think she's important enough to have driven them into a panic attack is, in essence, a narcissistic injury. It means she isn't as popular and important as she wants to be.

Notice the other ugly thing about this: A woman whose ab selfies are so glorious that they send people into panic attacks is still pretty marvelous, isn't she? So even by swearing-off her selfies she still gets to proclaim her superiority over her followers.

So she covers it with a self-serving story about how her ab selfies are driving anxious fans into panic attacks and that she needs to stop, for their sake.

My prediction: Sophie will stop posting ab selfies but will not stop being anxious.