I was having a chat with a new friend, N, on the topic of online personalities when she stopped me mid-sentence. Eyes wide open in excitement, her thumb swiped across the screen of her iPhone and proceeded to dance on its surface for several seconds. Beaming when she found what she was looking for, she slid her phone across the desk and exclaimed,
“Them! Their life is perfect!”
I looked at the images displayed on neat little squares. Tap.
I was about to respond when she spoke again. This time, I noticed the feverish pitch of her voice had disappeared; She sounded forlorn.
“I wish I could have a life like theirs.”
I was intrigued. “What do you mean?”
“Well, yeah you know. That girl, she’s so beautiful and she has a super successful online business. Her husband writes really well and has his own business too, and they really compliment each other. They live in a very fancy place and are always taking these wonderful photos and videos, travelling everywhere, without a care for money. Their blog posts are always so inspiring and you know…”
N’s voice trailed off and the room was silent for a moment.
“… they’re living the life that I want to have. But I can never be like them! They’re so… you know… perfect.”
In her silence I heard her say a thousand words. I looked down at the phone in my hand again. Swipe Two blissfully happy faces grinned back at me from behind the screen. I returned my gaze to N, only to find her head hung low, defeated.
I took a deep breath. I didn’t like what I had to say, but I knew I had to.
“Babe, I know them. The girl is one of my best friends. And they’re not as perfect as you think they are.”
Silently, I prayed that my best friend would forgive me (she did).
The Fallacy of Online Personalities
I have ruminated on this issue of online personalities for a very long while, being on both sides of the fence. On one hand, I struggle with issues of self-confidence and sometimes even jealousy when I see “a perfect life” portrayed online. On the other hand, due to myonline personality (the one you’re reading now), I’ve heard of people who get issues of self-confidence and jealousy because they think that I am the person they want to be.
The truth is that neither of these situations are better than the other. With the former, I beat myself up and suffer heartbreak because I feel I can never be as good enough as someone else. With the latter, I beat myself up and suffer heartbreak because I feel I can never be as good enough as the person people think I am.
And because my heart was broken either way, I had to resort to collecting hearts on social media to make myself feel whole again.
It was only after a recent spontaneous lecture by Shaykh Ebrahim that I began to understand what was happening within me. According to the Shaykh:
“The degree to which you flatten another is the degree to which you flatten yourself.” – Shaykh Ebrahim
In essence, the dimension in which we perceive others makes all the difference as to how we perceive them.
In N’s case, she perceived my best friend the only way she was able to — in 2D — because all she had access to was my best friend’s online personality made up of Facebook updates and Instagram pictures. And in my case, I was able to perceive my best friend in 3D, with all her depth and complexities, because I know her not just in reality, but I’ve had enough conversations with her to know who she is as a person.
Taking it a step further, when we continually view the life of others in 2D, we then begin to forget the complexities that live within us, and begin to view ourselves in 2D as well. Because N perceived my best friend’s life as perfect, then her own life is by definition the exact opposite: imperfect.
Sidetrack: This doesn’t just apply to online personalities. When we judge a person by first impressions, we are in essence perceiving them in 2D as well.
So to whom shall we place them blame?
As the answer usually is for the above question — ourselves.
I’ve read arguments online that the online personalities should take the blame because they’re the ones who create a false perfect image of themselves. But to these arguments I pose a question: “Why would anyone sane hang their dirty laundry in public?” Even in Islāmic thought we are asked to cover our sins!
The reason why we should blame ourselves is because it is us who choose to consume these images, and it is us who allow our thoughts and emotions to run unbridled and undisciplined. We see these images over and again, we flatten people, and subconsciously, over time, we begin to flatten ourselves.
We should blame ourselves.
After all that’s been said, I believe that it is still possible to consume content by online personalities without damaging ourselves to such an extent. What it takes is a keen awareness of what’s happening within us, and a determination to control our train of thought.
5 Steps To Accepting Yourself
Step 1: Remind yourself that online profiles are 2D (and cropped)
If you follow my Instagram account, you’d know that I’m in South Africa now, and you’d automatically assume I’m on a spiritual high for the past two months due to all the beautiful quotes and images I’ve been uploading.
While those images and quotes are not made up, what most people forget is that those content are from quite literally perhaps only 5 minutes out of the 1,440 minutes in my day! How was I during the other 1,335 minutes? I’ll let you in on a secret: In the first month, I was actually so miserable and bitter that my best friend couldn’t help but break out in laughter when I called her to cry and complain; she had totally assumed I was in a state of perpetual bliss due to the content in my Instagram account.
So the next time you see pretty beaches, hipster cafes, and perfect smiles abound, remind yourself that what you are seeing is only a screen capture of an entire endless reel of video footage; it’s not all there is to it.
Step 2: Know that everyone — every single one of us on this planet — is fighting a hard battle
Once you are reminded of the dimension factor, you then need to begin recognising the depth and complexity that each human being on earth posses; no one is without problems or trouble.
I once knew a millionaire who had all the money to do whatever he wanted and seemed like he was set for life. However, I later found out that the poor man could not even sleep at night without pills and alcohol because he was constantly anxious of people stealing his money and his partners’ loyalty to him.
No-one’s life is perfect. People have issues, couples have fights, everyone’s fighting a hard battle. That’s real life.
Step 3: Be aware that you yourself are in your own battle
Now that you’ve addressed the way you consume the media of the other, the next step is to then shine the focus on yourself:
Just as others have their battle, so do you.
This seems like a statement that’s a given, but often many among us are too harsh with ourselves, beating ourselves up for things we feel we have fallen short of. Be gentle with your own soul, and recognise that you too have your own battles and you’re not just wasting your life away.
Step 4: Identify and count the gifts and blessings you’ve been given
A depressed (not in the clinical sense) person is a person who does not count his gifts and blessings.
What really happens when you constantly view the online content of others’ is that you are constantly being made aware of all the things that you don’t have in your life. You don’t have that fancy Ferrari, you don’t have that beach holiday at the Maldives, you don’t have that handsome husband as a partner(!).
Thus, just by looking at the ratio of time you are online to the time you spend actually reflecting on your life, it is thus not surprising that your attention is occupied with the things that you are lacking with, as opposed to the gift and blessings that God has given you in abundance.
“Which of the blessings of your Lord shall you deny?”
So the next time you’re feeling like you’re never going to be good enough, count your gifts and your blessings, and know that God created you with all the things you need to have your own “perfect” life.
Step 5: Learn from the good and improve yourself each day
Lastly, learn and benefit what you can from these online personalities, but at the end of the day, make an effort to improve yourself.
I have been doing some mentoring work the past few weeks, and what I discovered was that when people feel despondent of their own lives vis-à-vis the life of others’, the true issue that lies at the core is that the person himself knows deep inside that he has not done all he can to be a better person and to lead a better life.
In the end…
… No one in this world can tell you (not even a million online personalities from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Whatever) that you’re never going to be good enough if you yourself know from within you that you’re doing the best you can each day to be the best version of you.
P/s. I’ve just put up Shaykh Ebrahim’s books for sale right here on Fadhilahwahid.com! Check them out :)