Young people love Henry David Thoreau. “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours,” he said. His philosophies are comforting for those embarking on their endeavors of choice upon leaving the nest. “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer,” he advised. “Let him step to the music which he hears, how ever measured or far away.’ Although Walden mentions achievement of this optimal lifestyle comes from living simply in nature and removing oneself from society, his advice can be applied in a more modern sense.
Venturing from the security of home and into the college world, I’m inspired to “live the life I’ve imagined” by seizing the opportunities my university presents, but more importantly, to recognize that my choices will differ from my friends. Paths are meant to be uncrossed. This is a philosophy all young people should be reminded of. However, there seems to be an obstruction between independence and peer affirmation that hinders Thoreau’s words.
How can we idealize our own lives when we’re too busy idealizing the lives of others? I’m talking about social media. Female Instagram models, in particular. Our timelines are pervaded by the impossibly-lived lives of unbelievably wealthy, perfect-bodied women that travel the world in designer clothes and shoes. Their followers range in the hundreds of thousands, which closely match the number of “likes” their photos receive. These women are famous for the lives they project onto their social media accounts. Sound familiar? I’m sure we follow a couple. We don’t know them, but we know everything about them.
It’s an unavoidable, natural human tendency to compare ourselves to these “models.” Maybe if we were just a little bit skinnier, a shade tanner and few thousand dollars richer, we could live this fabulous life. But, it’s too late. The standard has been set. So, we resort to the next best thing: imitation. Catching the perfect photo opportunity becomes extremely important, as is overall physical appearance: tight abs, long hair and flawless make-up. Young people attempt to mold their appearance to these women to gain the satisfaction they need, or the affirmation that their lives are successful. Every “like” equals a nod of approval. What happened to living a life uniquely ours? Thoreau would advise us to run quickly in the opposite direction of these Instagram “dreams.” The music of our drummer seems to be fading.
Thoreau also said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” With this is mind, it’s about time young women start seeing photos of Instagram models differently. A stronger light than a camera flash must be shed. Although these photos reflect the beauty ideal, they do not reflect reality. It is one thing to see these photos, but it’s another to view the image as authentic, even achievable. It is not. We will never know the real emotions of the women behind the phone screen, or the pain or dissatisfaction they may be feeling. Perhaps they crave public approval as well. That is not a mindset to carry in our young lives. Independence can no longer afford to be sacrificed for public affirmation. There are too many unique lives waiting to be lived.