The Slumflower on the price we’re all willing to pay in order to present perfection on social media – Screen Shot
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The Slumflower on the price we’re all willing to pay in order to present perfection on social media

At some point in childhood, most of us came across the realisation that the world is conditionally accepting of us and we must earn love by being ‘good’. For the people who grew up in an environment where the unstable love from our caregivers felt conditional, unpredictable and monopolised, there was no escaping the binary thinking of only either being a ‘good child’ or a ‘bad child’.

As confused children on the receiving end of mixed messages from adults we deserved better from, when we are ‘bad’, rejection and disproportionate scolding is used to make us understand the weight of our behaviour—but instead of the outcome actually being better behaviour, it often results in self-loathing.

When you hate yourself, you create a tried-and-tested self that gains the approval, love and favour of others. The purpose of this false identity is to protect your real, hidden self from re-experiencing that abandonment. So my question is: Can perfection (both online and in real life) truly protect us?

The problem is, when these neglected children grow up, they tend to have issues regarding self-worth due to never having known unconditional acceptance. Presenting perfection online can therefore be rewarding as it often replaces the praise we never got as children.

What’s different about the praise in adulthood is that, a lot of the time, it translates to power—and in an age where the most interaction we have with other people is through the internet, being visibly liked by many people makes you powerful and therefore, finally worthy of love.

But when things go wrong and we do something netizens consider ‘bad’, the pile-ons, mass unfollows and experiencing character destroyal by complete strangers feels oddly familiar to the disproportionate scolding from the adults who once called you a ‘bad child’. This time round though, the scolding feels more traumatic because instead of two adults calling you bad, it’s thousands of adult strangers tormenting you and questioning your moral character.

Beyond outward projections of attempted perfection, there is also an inward grapple that is often overlooked and, in my opinion, worth observing. The internal feedback loop of shame and self-blame often presents itself as a form of hyperfocus. It leads you to obsess over how you could have done something differently and resent yourself for not having manoeuvred a situation in a manner that the current version of you, who now knows better, would’ve done.

This keeps you in a spiral of thinking you’ll never be good enough, plaguing yourself with endless ‘if onlys’ and ‘I should haves’. Other times, the shame and self-blame presents itself as you try to find ways to prove to others that you are lovable—even if on false terms built upon a version of you that exists because of approval, not authenticity.

We know that ‘perfect’ people aren’t happy but we still want to be like them. Why? Because it’s the closest we’ll probably ever get to the happy ending we’ve all been promised. And because looking happy is more accessible than being and staying happy.

But what do we tell ourselves that perfection is actually protecting us from? Because clearly, the fear of judgement and rejection is as universal as the human desire to experience nourishment and pleasure. Being scared of not being good enough has so much governance over our lives, that when the fear really takes us there, we are prepared to embody the lie that we have told ourselves to such a degree of realness that often times people who encounter us can’t even tell that we are in performance of a self-assigned role.

For some of us, we develop a codependency to constantly having achievements and moments we can brag about on social media as proof we are ‘good enough’. We put all our energy into getting as much attention as we can, as a version of ourselves that we only embody when the internet is watching.

Maybe we’re all in our own curated reality shows? So when it comes to consuming the lives of other people who are showing you exactly what they want you to see, remember: no matter how good it looks, don’t envy what you don’t understand, because you don’t know what they’re tolerating to have a seemingly perfect life.

From #MessyTikTok to #StayToxic, is social media sleuthing ruining your love life?

The daily doomscroll. On the toilet, in bed—wherever you’re doing it, just five minutes of flipping through your TikTok FYP represents an infinite number of ways in which you could come across a piece of information with the potential to ruin your day—and more often than not, your relationship too.

People are flocking to share intimate details of their love lives with complete strangers online. From #storytime and #messytiktok to #revengetok and #staytoxic, on TikTok, our deepest traumas can be triggered at any time with just a flick of our thumbs. This, in turn, begs the question: can watching these videos on a daily basis influence our own relationships? My personal opinion? Definitely. All too often.

Caught your boyfriend cheating? You can expose him, then douse everything he owns in glitter. Feeling lonely? A scroll through #breakuptok connects the ghosted, the breadcrumbed, and the unceremoniously dumped. A big trend is videoing oneself mid-breakdown. The dumpee might sob uncontrollably or stare into space, a single tear rolling down a puffy cheek. Most videos are overlaid with text narrating their story, ramped up with a sad song.


breakups are hard.💔

♬ original sound - Feelz

As an attempt at capturing and communicating the subject’s raw feelings, these videos can be upsetting, and even disturbing to watch (particularly if you’re going through, or have been through, something similar). While most users actively seek comfort and connection at a vulnerable moment in their lives, others want control and empowerment—and this is where things can get complicated.

Just check the comments under any viral video that details cheating, lying, or betrayal. Here, hundreds of users will lend support, detailing their own traumatic experiences, while others share tricks to prevent heartbreak and betrayal. Spoiler alert: you can’t really achieve the latter—but reading them will make you think you can.

Suspicious lovers swap notes on how to check a partner’s internet history to see if they’re cheating. Tinder users remind each other that you can check when your hook-up last used the app, because their geographical location updates each time they open it. Some even admit to looking at their ex’s Spotify playlists, searching for hidden meaning. Meanwhile, unrequited lovers screenshot their crush’s Snapscore to check if it’s just them they’re ignoring and some people even scrutinise their partner’s Venmo purchases looking for clues.

Seasoned sleuthers can go so far as to hack into or create fake Instagram accounts, specifically with the intent to monitor what their person of interest is doing. Some send text messages hoping to catch them red-handed by pretending to be someone else entirely, while others employ ‘honey trappers’ to test their partner’s loyalty. Many of these practices could be classed as cyberstalkinga criminal offence under American anti-stalking, slander, and harassment laws—plus, they’re detrimental to overall health and happiness.

Relationship expert Jessica Alderson told SCREENSHOT: “Many of the viewers of videos and comments like this would have never thought to conduct research like that. In addition, seeing other people social media sleuthing and telling their stories can make people insecure about their own relationships which, in turn, can cause them to do things that they wouldn’t have otherwise done. This is more likely to cause problems than provide solutions.”

Alderson went on to add: “It’s now easier than ever to look someone up online, and with that has come a greater potential for misuse. This can result in serious psychological consequences such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.”

Whether you’ve just been broken up with—drink your water, eat your vegetables, you’ve got this—you’re navigating a situationship, or you’ve been with your person for years, copying this TikTok activity puts you at risk of unnecessary issues and disputes.

Few of us could truly say that we’ve never engaged in a little light stalking. You know the drill—you meet someone new, give them a follow, and carry out a routine vibe check. It’s all too easy to find yourself lurking five years deep into their grid, doing everything not to accidentally tap the heart button as you note that their ex-partner is annoyingly beautiful, a great dancer, and speaks seven languages.

Suddenly, your mind works overtime to piece together the ‘evidence’ it has now gathered, weaving a (completely made up) narrative that clouds your thoughts. Out of nowhere, you might feel insecure, unsettled, and even a bit sad—a feeling that can linger.

You’ve given your brain the chance to ruminate on a person’s past—a past they are completely entitled to have. At best, you’ve robbed yourself of an opportunity to start fresh with this person, hearing their stories the way they wanted to tell them. At worst, you come out feeling less cool, fun, or attractive than previous people they’ve been close to. This can do nothing but hurt your relationship or hook-up, and it might stop it from happening altogether.

It’s a lose-lose situation. So, what do we do about it? For a lot of us, the process involves the hardest task of all: taking a break from social media altogether.

“Focus on making your life the best it can be. This might involve spending time with your friends, pursuing your passions, or taking on an extra project at work,” Alderson advised.

“Essentially, you want to divert your time and attention elsewhere, to activities that make a positive difference in your life,” she continued.

Easier said than done. Need some tips? Alderson’s got you covered:

– Practise mindful social media use. Take regular breaks from your devices and spend that time engaging in activities that don’t involve technology, such as physical exercise, reading, or creative hobbies.

– If you catch yourself feeling tempted to start looking up information about people online, pause and ask yourself what you’ll gain from doing it. Consider whether the risks outweigh the benefits. One point to be particularly mindful of is that what you see online may not be accurate, and it can often be misleading.

– Setting clear boundaries when it comes to looking people up online can help if you are prone to social media sleuthing. For some, this might involve not Googling someone until they hit a certain milestone, such as the fifth date or the ‘exclusive’ status in a relationship. For others, this could mean no social media sleuthing at all, or only looking up certain information once if you feel like it will improve your sense of safety on a date.

– Ask yourself whether your interest is coming from a healthy place. Wanting to discover more about someone you like is completely natural, but before looking them up online, reflect on whether your desire is coming from a healthy place or a place of insecurity. This is one of the best litmus tests to help figure out whether you should take a certain course of action.

What to do if you’ve become a victim of social media sleuthing

– Take steps to protect yourself online. This could include changing your privacy settings and being mindful of the information you share publicly. A social media audit is always a good idea, which involves going through all of your accounts and deleting or adjusting any information that you don’t want people to see.

– Give yourself time to grieve. This might take a while, and that’s okay. When someone has invaded your privacy in this way, it can be a traumatic experience. You want to ensure that you process your emotions as best as possible in order to reduce the risk of experiencing trust issues going forward. 

– If you’ve been a victim of social media sleuthing, you should seek help from people close to you or professionals. It can be hard to heal and move on.