PETALING JAYA: Being exceptionally good looking meant an easy rise to social media stardom for Caroline, but her influencer status took its toll on her mental health.
The 29-year-old said the pressure for her posts to meet her followers’ expectations left her feeling like a failure when they did not get enough likes.
She would cry about how lucky she was to be an influencer, while also battling stress, body dysmorphia and low self-esteem.
The public relations specialist, who is an expatriate in Kuala Lumpur, said likes, positive comments and followers were the only thing that made her life feel worthwhile when she was addicted to social media.
However, it all became too much as she felt that she had to stage a photo shoot for everything that she did in her daily life as her identity soon revolved around how many likes and comments she could get on Instagram.
“I became extremely insecure about my looks. I used apps like Facetune religiously.
“Once, I went on a vacation with my friends and we were at the desert during sundown and I had a small window of time to get the perfect photos.
“I had climbed up on a really high and dangerous sandbar, expecting my friends to follow me as they usually do.
“But when I got up there and looked around, my friends were off somewhere else taking their own photos and by the time I could reach them to come help me take my pictures, the golden hour was almost over.
“My friends tried their best to take my pictures but none of them were up to my standards and the opportunity was gone, just like that.
“I sobbed really hard in the car on the way home and made things super awkward as no one could understand why it made me so upset that I couldn’t post the perfect picture,” said Caroline.
From then on, Caroline said she knew she needed help.
She started listening to self-help podcasts and TED Talks on YouTube about dealing with her addiction to getting social media validation.
First, she made her Instagram account, which had thousands of followers, private.
“I forced myself to start limiting the amount of attention that I could get.
“After a few months, I started removing all of my followers and only kept people that I personally knew on my Instagram, which came down to about 400,” she said.
Caroline said she also used to fixate on Instagram models, particularly those from Russia, and always attempted to be as glamorous as the women.
“This wasn’t healthy and it was taking up so much of my time. I was comparing my looks to theirs and no matter how many compliments I got, it just wasn’t enough.
“I even dated a man I wasn’t into just because he was rich, good looking and made me look even better on social media.
“I slowly gave all of that up and deactivated my Instagram a year ago. I even forced myself to stop wearing makeup when I went out.
“And guess what, it wasn’t the end of the world.
“Now, my mental health is so much better and I’m just trying to live in the moment,” said Caroline, adding that nowadays, she would occupy her free time by reading and exploring the city.
Another social media influencer, Miera, 30, also quit her social media career because of the impact it had on her mental health.
Before quitting, Miera had about 6,000 followers on social media and was regularly getting products sent to her house for paid reviews.
“Comparison was the thief of my joy. I would always compare myself to social media stars and would wonder why I wasn’t as successful as some of them, even though I was being told left and right that I was better looking.
“I spent all of my 20s trying to get more and more followers but it wasn’t easy and it was making me so frustrated all the time.
“I had 6,000 plus followers but I bought 2,000 of them,” she admitted.
Miera said that she was battling severe depression and anxiety in secret but kept up appearances on social media.
Miera was also in a troubled and abusive relationship but gave away none of it in her posts and videos.
“It was killing me. Everyone thought that I was happy and had such a great life but they don’t know that on some days, I could barely function.
“But the social media posts gave me an alternative stream of income so I kept doing them,” she said.
It all changed when Miera finally secured a permanent job at a marketing agency in 2020.
“For the first time in my life, I was in a really great environment and was just thriving at work, where I met my best friends.
“They made me see that I was holding on to something fake and that I needed a cleanse. I also started therapy, which was long overdue.
“I deactivated my Instagram account and no longer post any updates on Facebook or any other platform,” she said.
Miera added that the move to quit social media cold turkey has been positive for her mental health.
“It is truly liberating when I go to a restaurant and no longer feel any need to pull my phone out, take a picture of my food and put it on the Internet,” she said.