Copping with FOPO
Enter social media: a new world where personal branding and image are everything. Apps like Facetune allow you to analyse and edit every aspect of a photo, from the overall lighting down to your skin texture, body contours, nose size — the list goes on. Women have faced distorted beauty standards and unattainable perfection for decades, even before the glossy magazine era when stick-thin models with perfectly smooth skin graced the cover and celebrities who dared to have one ounce of body fat were slammed by the tabloids. But now we are immersed in an online world where even our friends and peers appear as perfect facades.
It’s a phenomenon that celebrities, influencers and filters have curated, and there’s no denying the effects this has on self-esteem. In fact, many experts have cited unrealistic beauty standards cultivated by social media as a leading contributor to the cosmetic surgery boom.
Plastic Surgery report found that 11.36
million cosmetic surgical procedures and 10.89 million cosmetic injectable procedures were performed worldwide. The term “Snapchat dysmorphia” is now used to describe the millions of people worldwide seeking out cosmetic surgery to enhance or “filter” their face in real life. And this doesn’t only have individual impacts; society’s perception and expectations of beauty and what is considered “natural” have shifted immensely.
On TikTok, the #MainCharacterChallenge emerged in mid-2020 as the lockdown took over. This trend is all about “romanticising your life” through dreamy 30-second videos of rom-com-esque moments in your life with a soundtrack that captures the aesthetic: think kissing in the rain, dancing under the moonlight, road tripping down coastal roads with friends and running along the beach at sunset. At the time of writing, #MainCharacter has 5.4 billion views on TikTok. And let’s face it — it’s nice to escape reality for a while and we all want to be the main character, at least sometimes.
But the problem arises when we realise we are unable to portray this perfectly moulded character and carefully curated life in reality. Siauw explains that this facade can become dangerous to our mental health as “these behaviours are not possible offline; in real life (IRL), we cannot delete or crop out the messy parts of ourselves and our lives.” Yet we attempt to. We are so driven by the need to be liked and validated that we often become preoccupied with perfection.
The validation we seek through social media gets lost in translation IRL, and we find ourselves falling into a toxic rabbit hole of standards that just aren’t possible to achieve in the real world. Social media offers us a detached reality in which we can filter, curate and mould every aspect of our lives. Siauw notes that this creates a never-ending cycle of social comparison to unrealistic standards, “which unconsciously and spontaneously occurs whenever we see other people’s posts about life updates and has been linked to poor emotional wellbeing, social anxiety loneliness, low self-worth and low body dissatisfaction.” It’s like a line of dominoes.
We see flawless images and glimpses of seemingly perfect lives, so we work hard to curate our own, then our followers feel the pressure to live up to this standard and so they do the same and so on. Each time we fall into the trap of social media FOPO, we exacerbate the problem and so it spreads.