With Instagram now counting 1 billion users worldwide— and Gen-Z being more likely to use it everyday than adults aged over 34—for young Arabs, social media has sparked a revolution of sorts. Helping them shape their reality and create innumerable safe spaces of expression.
Not to mention, in today’s globalised world where mass culture is still overwhelmingly white, the photo-sharing site has become a place and platform where we can represent ourselves on our own terms and build our “tribe”.
But unfortunately it’s not all good news. According to a recent survey, Instagram is the worst social media network for mental health, increasing levels of insecurity, FOMO and bullying. Although we can now constantly be connected, another study found that the more time people spend on Instagram, the more depressed they actually become. And that’s because on one hand, giving everyone a platform can be empowering, but it can also be highly detrimental – especially if the person at hand wants to fat-shame, be xenophobic or incessantly troll.
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stepping into 2019 I want to be more open, I want to be more open about the things I struggle with, and be able to be more vulnerable. I’m a 22 years old, and the truth is no matter how amazing life may look from the outside I struggle… I’m insecure, I’m fragile, I’m hurting, I have fears, I have doubts, I have anxiety, I get sad, I get angry. I have had more days than I can count where I’ve found myself scrolling through Instagram comparing myself, comparing my looks, feeling like I’m not good enough feeling like I lack so many things and really struggling to be confident in who I am because I constantly feel like I’m just not good enough. Every single day is a confidence battle for me. I’m not writing this for a pity party or for sympathy but just to simply say, I’m a human.. I’m a young woman, I’m learning who I am and, it’s REALLY FREAKING HARD. It’s hard finding who you are, but what’s even harder is being picked apart and compared to other women while trying to do that. There are days that I’m simply broken because of it. It would be incredible if other young girls and women could find it in themselves to lift each other up, to stop making other women who are struggling JUST LIKE THEM, feel incompetent and less than. We ALL have flaws, and that will never change. What I do know is, God made us individuals for a reason, with our own beauty, our own personalities, and our own story because there’s a specific plan and purpose for each and every human created and he makes no mistakes!! So this year I’m gonna do my very best to just be ME and be confident with who I am. Cause I am enough, and I’m loved, and you are enough and you’re loved.
Une publication partagée par Hailey Rhode Bieber (@haileybieber) le
We caught up with five regional Gen-Z Instagram users to find out how the app has triggered their anxiety.
Samia, 21, Dubai
I’m not a person that really enjoys taking selfies or pictures in general, but I really feel pressured to post content often. I’m friends with loads of super creative people that post almost daily, so I feel as if not posting is translated as “oh she doesn’t do anything interesting”. It got even harder when I moved to Dubai, because I didn’t know anyone, and I really felt like people were using my Instagram (which I haven’t updated in like two years) as a way of determining how cool I am. I think more and more people use social media as a way to kind of ‘brand’ themselves, and people really see it as a representation of who you are as a person. It was particularly intense around New Year’s Eve, when everyone was posting recaps of their year, their best outfits, and their best vacations. Instagram feels like a contest sometimes.
Khaled, 16, Cairo
I’ve had Instagram for a very long time, so I quickly fell into the habit of posting everything and as a kid living in the “upper class” of my society here, it makes it so much harder to keep up with what everyone else is doing, what they wear, where they travel, the food they eat, etc. I constantly felt the need to gain that emotional validation from likes as well as keeping up with my posts and presenting myself online as someone I am not. I would go through phases of depression because of social media and Instagram made me feel the need to show off, even though that inherently was not the person I was.
Yasmina, 21, Beirut
First off, Instagram has really helped me put my work and name out there, which is one of the only positive aspects to it other than meeting cool people at times. Sitting for too long on it can give me quite a lot of anxiety because as I scroll through different people’s pages, mainly photographers, I feel like I’m not doing enough. Sometimes I don’t believe in myself seeing and knowing that there is saturation in the industry and there is an endless amount of photographers, online magazines, models, etc. I sometimes also feel like I’m not doing enough projects or “shoots”, and it forces me to try and do more and a lot of the time I’m not so pleased with the outcome. It makes me anxious having to make a post or a story of some sort that has to appeal to an online audience. Seeing that my job as a photographer relies heavily on visuals and drafting new ideas continuously. Recently I’ve been trying to separate myself from it and really focus on who I am as an artist, photographer and person because at the end of the day our Instagram page does not fully define who we are as individuals.
Hussein, 22, Dubai
Instagram for me is important because it’s the only way I can express how I feel and how I present myself but it has made me anxious a lot because there are a lot of guys with amazing physiques, which makes me very insecure about how I look. It’s really weird, it somehow makes me feel like I want to be that person and wish I could be as comfortable as they are. It has made me question my number of likes and followers, it really got to my head.
Parvané, 19, Dubai
Sometimes I find myself lost in a scrolling obsession. I get super scared because I leave my phone one minute and then go straight back to it and scroll again. I find it comforting, whereas in reality I’m just wasting time, and that’s super stressful. We’re so deep in social media, it feels like there’s no way out. It made me crazy for a couple months. Also due to the algorithm, I lost a lot of followers, my engagement dropped; I was obsessed with numbers and always over-thinking my content. I lost track and almost deleted it, it felt like a monster on my back, telling me I was not doing good enough and that people didn’t want to work with me anymore.
Illustration by Roshbena