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Social Media & Consumerism: Who Am I, if Not What Society Tells Me to Be?

For me, fashion is a creative outlet, a way to express myself through the pieces of clothing I choose to wear. For whatever occasions, whether it's going to university, popping to the shops, or going out for a meal, my outfits reveal a part of my personality. Even the old hoodie and leggings I wear around my flat while doing chores reflects a part of 'me'. I try to use social media as a positive tool in manifesting my creativity and confidence, trading each post as a way to connect with my friends and family, sharing positive updates on my life while I'm away from them in university.

I haven't always had this healthy relationship with social media or this level of confidence with myself, and my fashion sense. Instead, I used to find myself using social media as a way to constantly compare myself with others, feeling as though what I would wear wasn't adequate enough in comparison to the trends I'd see online. I was always one step behind in my never-ending chase to fitting in. As a result, I'd buy whatever my social media told me was 'current' and fashionable, relying on these purchases as a way to gain happiness. In my mind, by buying these products, I would finally stop comparing myself to others. However, according to Greenpeace, I'm not the only one who experienced this struggle, as:

"People don't shop because they need new clothes or shoes - much rather, they buy them because they are striving for more recognition, confidence, excitement and happiness."

By constantly buying what I'd see everyone else wearing, I lost any concept of my identity. I'd rely on clothing to gain this recognition and confidence, dressing how I assumed people expected me to dress, rather than wearing what I wanted. This caused me to lose confidence in myself, as my clothing never truly reflected who I was, and so I was never giving myself the recognition or validation to feel like I could truly be myself.

A quote that has resonated with me, and is particularly relevant to this struggle, is cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard's belief that:

"Our purchases reflect our innermost desires so that consumption is caught up with our psychological production of self."

My consumer choices reflected my desire to gain confidence and stop comparing myself with others on social media, relying on clothing to give me the happiness and validation I wasn't receiving online. However, through practising mindfulness, I came to the realisation that consumerism was not the solution to these desires. Instead, I needed to change the relationship I had with social media and its effect on how I perceived myself. Through this change, I saw an instant connection and improvement in my consumer choices, where I no longer relied on clothing to reflect my 'innermost desires'.

Here are some of the ways I improved my relationship with social media:

1. Changing the 'why'

The first step to improving my relationship with social media was changing the reasoning behind why I was using it. Initially, it was a way to connect with my friends and family, but slowly became a form of self-deprecation as I'd compare myself to others.

Instead, I changed my 'why' into using social media to gain positivity through forming positive connections with others whilst expressing my creativity. Rather than using posts as a way to seek validation from others through 'likes', I use my posts as a form of empowerment through finding satisfaction and joy within the process of curating my social media posts and sharing my authentic self.

2. Mindfulness

Whenever I am on social media, I try to practice mindfulness with every interaction. I question how my actions online make me feel. Through this practice, I find it easier to notice when I am gaining anxiety and comparing myself to others. Once I notice these feelings changing, I take time away from my phone, giving myself the opportunity to find other interactions that will provide me with the joy that social media is not, like going out for a walk to see a friend.

3. Consumer choices

After a while, I found that even these minor changes in how I responded to social media improved my relationship with clothing. Rather than attempting to keep up with trends through frequently purchasing new clothes, I apply the same mindfulness approach used towards social media in my process of shopping. With each piece of clothing, I ask myself: Do I love it? Can I see myself wearing it more than once? And if not, I leave it on the shelf. Not only has this approach helped me cut down on how much clothing I consume, it has helped me appreciate the clothes I do buy so much more.

Vidya Giridharan, a fellow Mindless Mag storyteller, shares an impactful and relatable story about how trying to keep up with all the fashion trends leads to us forgetting who we are. She also provides advice on how we can improve our consumer choices. You can find her article here.

Ever since I made these changes, I have experienced, alongside a reduction in the amount of clothing I am consuming, an improvement in my mental health and self-confidence, whilst still being able to enjoy the positive connections formed through social media.


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