We are often told that social media is not a true reflection of our lives. A quick browse through social media demonstrates the selective nature of people’s presentation of themselves. The photos posted and the status updates, everything comes together to create the impression of perfection. The downside of social media is that you can only ever see the highlights of someone’s life, not the whole story. By presenting only the best parts of our lives we downplay the parts which cause us problems, for example when we are having a bad mental health day. However, 2016 seemed to be the year when we moved to a more self-deprecating social media landscape. Memes have started to take to subjects which present the less glamourous side of everyday life. This poses the questions: why has this happened and how has it changed the way that we use social media?
There has been an increased popularity of memes which poke fun at the everyday realities of living with conditions, for example anxiety, in 2016. This can be seen as a way of people coping and demonstrating the way in which the attitude towards mental health issues have changed and become less stigmatised. Humour is a great coping mechanism for many people, and the creation of memes focusing upon anxiety shows that we are able to laugh at ourselves, and so feel more comfortable with the situation. It is great to see that other people go through the same things, creating a feeling of community and unity. The fact that people in these situations are able to see that there are other people who are going through the same things as they are can be very comforting. Being able to make a connection with other people through the internet makes the perfect world of social media a less isolating place. Coming across a meme about sudden mood changes, for example, can relieve fears that they are alone and they are alone in these behaviours. This means that the world is a little less intimidating for people with anxiety. Situations which seem to be easy enough for some people, might be increasingly hard for others, and knowing that you are not the only one with these issues can make the world less daunting. The ability to joke at ourselves is a great way of normalising things, and so instead of hiding away the fact that situations can be hard, they are out in the open.
This demonstrates a shift in society, we are embracing the idea that mental health issues exist. The fact that there is openly relatable content on the internet for people who have stigmatised problems shows that as a society we are growing. Hard situations are made more normal, and we can create a frank and open discussion through these jokes. As content on the internet can become so popular it means that there can be further awareness towards the content, so jokes about mental health situations then facilitate more people understanding what it is like to live with them.
However, self-deprecating memes not only focus on mental health, but also the everyday situations. Again, by using humour as a way of coping and normalising situations such as constant napping and being behind for deadlines, we can make ourselves feel better. Memes are a way of relating to other people. The jokes they create have a way of connecting people, and creating a community. Laughing at ourselves is healthy, it allows us to admit that we are human, and as we are human we have weaknesses. The fact that we are the ones pointing out weaknesses on our own terms means that we still have control over the way that we present ourselves, whilst still acknowledging that our lives are not perfect.
I think we can all agree that on the whole 2016 was not the best year. The rise of self-deprecating memes can be seen as a direct reaction to this. In a year of doom and gloom laughing at the small things which get us down about ourselves can make them just a bit more bearable. In a world where things have become very clear that things are not perfect we can finally admit that our lives are not. We find solidarity in admitting that things are a bit shit, even if it is simply the everyday things.
We should revel in these imperfections, I think it’s a way that society is progressing. Instead of pretending that we have to be absolutely perfect, the internet is turning towards accepting that that is not possible, and I believe that that is only ever going to be a good thing. Rather than striving to be perfect and hating when we do not meet the standards we believe we have to fulfil, we are that much closer to having a society who can love ourselves just the way we are.
[Rachel Gillet – @DoddlePink]