Before joining FOCUS, I was an actor in Los Angeles. As an actor in LA, your Instagram isn’t just your Instagram. It’s your headshot, your resume, and your credibility, all wrapped in one aesthetically pleasing package. It’s even your key to the dating scene. No, yeah. You heard me right. There’s a dating app in LA that you can use only when you have a certain number of followers. You know, because you’re not a quality suitor unless you can afford a quality suit.
An actor’s success in LA is largely dependent upon his or her following. The bigger the following, the likelier it is to draw money to a project.
Think about it. If you were a producer investing millions of dollars, who would you feel more comfortable putting in your film? Joe Schmo with 1,300 followers? Or Joe the Bro with 1,300,000 followers? Mr. Bro will give you more bang for you buck no matter how talented Mr. Schmo is. It’s an easy choice.
My managers always told me this stuff, but I never bought it. And then, I remember proudly walking out of an audition one day and thinking to myself, “Self, you killed! That casting director loved you!” I literally thought the casting director would book me there on the spot because of how well I did and how much she enjoyed my work. She even emailed my agent, saying that she wished she could cast me in all her films.
However, when push came to shove, she ended up casting some other dude “because he had more Vine followers.” Yeah. Remember Vine? I was humiliated, and I vowed to never lose another role to a Vine star again. Never.
I set out—along with my manager’s nudging—to build my following.
I grabbed a buddy, and we dove into building our social media together. We researched how all the different algorithms work. We attended classes with Instagram experts. We “branded” ourselves because “no one will follow you unless they know what they’re buying.” We set up weekly photoshoots on the beach, around our neighborhoods, in the desert, anywhere and everywhere. We played it up. And the likes came pouring in. The followers followed. It felt good. Real good.
What started out as something to help me with my career slowly warped into something that controlled me. My identity was very much rooted in my job and very much tied to my social media. So slowly but surely, my identity became knotted with my social media.
The followers couldn’t come fast enough. No post could get enough likes. I rethought and scrutinized any caption a dozen times over. My reputation was on the line with each post because my job was on the line with each post. That’s one of the dangers of Hollywood—it makes you focus on yourself so much that before long that you forget anything else exists but yourself. That’s a story for another day, though.
All this is to say: I get it. I get what it’s like to have your identity wrapped up in social media. I get what it’s like to constantly be looking for approval through the virtual while losing a feel for the real.
Chances are you haven’t had Hollywood breathing down your back to boost your Instagram, but chances are that you can still relate. To wanting to be seen a certain way by people. To wanting a particular person, perhaps, to have a certain idea of you. To having your mood boosted because that person—or group of people—liked something you posted. To having your day made because that person commented on something you posted. (We all know comments > likes.)
Maybe you’ve even entertained the lie that “if I only had x amount of people following me, then maybe I could do/be (insert whatever).” I get it. Trust me, I get it.
But let me be clear here:
You are not your social media.
You are not the curated selection of images you put together.
You are not the number of followers you have.
You are not the amount of likes you receive.
You are not as funny as the funniest thing you posted.
You are not as deep as the deepest thing you posted.
You are not as simple as a profile that can be consumed within a minute of swiping.
You are a son/daughter of God.
You are carefully curated and intimately selected.
You are perfectly put together.
You are a follower of Christ, and you are called to gather others into following Him.
You are infinitely liked.
You are way funnier than what people watch. You are way deeper than what people read.
You are a human, made in His image, with a complexity not even a lifetime can fully grasp.
We all know social media can be a big problem. Social Media Addiction is a clinically recognized disorder. Biologically, dopamine is released when we receive notifications. Consequently, social networking lights up the same part of our brains that lights up when we use addictive substances.
Research has shown very clear correlations between social media use and poor mental health. Have you watched The Social Dilemma yet? There is a problem with social media.
But does this mean that social media is all evil, and we should delete it right away? Well, some people—and that group is growing—would say yes. But let’s not get extreme. There is good that can come of social media.
Let me be clear again:
Social media is not your identity.
Social media can give glimpses of your identity, though. Because your identity is found in your sonship/daughter-ship to God, your social media can show glimpses of God.
Social media does not make you beautiful.
Social media can be beautiful because of you, though. Because you are beautifully made in the image of God, an image of you can bring beauty into a beauty-deprived world.
Social media is not a real relationship.
Social media can really connect you, though. Because you are made to be in relation with others, your social media can be a doorway for you to walk through toward authentic friendship.
Social media cannot solve your problems.
Social media can give problems a voice. Because we are meant to care for our neighbor and be the voice of Christ, your social media can be a platform to—respectfully—spread awareness for social justice issues.
Looking at social media through this lens will put it in its proper place. Reminding ourselves of our true identity makes Instagram just another extension of our voices, rather than trying to be our actual voices. Thinking of social media as a mere spark from your fire will help you release its grip on you. It’s when we try to make our social media the flame itself that we end up getting burned.
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