If you gave me one wish in 2014, I would have asked you to rip my eyebrows out.
My North Indian genes gifted me with bushy eyebrows, but middle school taught me to hate them with all my being.
In middle school, having an Instagram was a rite of passage. All around me, my peers and I got lost in the infinite scroll of our screens.
When makeup brand Anastasia Beverly Hills released a new brow pencil, social media went berserk. Suddenly, eyebrows had their own beauty standards.
As Christof (Ed Harris) said in the film “The Truman Show,” “We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.” Because of the way Instagram’s algorithm works, all I got on my feed was premium eyebrow content. Suddenly, every girl at school owned this eyebrow pencil. Locker room mirrors were crowded with middle-schoolers blending in their “inner brow” to make it look natural.
Since my untamed eyebrows could never be “on fleek”, I felt inferior to others who carefully shaped their brows every morning. I begged my mother to let me have them waxed, shaved, trimmed, anything, but her reaction always felt like I had just told her I was pregnant. “Not until you’re 18,” she would say.
In addition to the brows, social media perpetuated numerous other insecurities about myself. There was an overarching sense of obligation to post every semi-interesting activity in my life. “Pics or didn’t happen” held frighteningly true. Losing all sense of individuality, I didn’t know what my hobbies were, other than those liked by others. I didn’t know what music I liked, other than what was on the charts. I didn’t know what clothes I liked, because I was following the trend. I forgot what actual friendship felt like, because my friendships hung by a thread of snapchat streaks.
What I didn’t realize was that social media companies make their money by capitalizing off of human attention and brands make their money by strategic marketing campaigns that romanticize their products to the larger public. Social media is designed to perpetuate addictions into its users and most trendy products don’t just organically gain widespread popularity. Brands pay a lot of money to celebrities for endorsing their product, so at the end of the day, everything’s about the capital and the best way to manipulate a customer. Books by Jaron Lanier and documentaries like ‘The Social Dilemma’ have brought to spotlight the ethical problems of designing for addiction in the past year.
I lost sight of long-term goals and the love I already had in my life. I always wanted more, and the cruel reality was that I would never be satisfied using social media. There would always be something else I could change about myself, making happiness an unattainable state.
It became suffocating living with strong urges to reach for my phone all the time. Sacrificing sleep, grades and relationships, it seemed that I was slowly losing control over my life. Thus, in the fall of 2017, my frustration led me to make some changes. After a cycle of deleting and redownloading applications, I finally got rid of my social media altogether.
Today, I have an Instagram account, but my attitude towards the application is drastically different. I can go for months without it, but more importantly, I know that a lot of content on social media is a facade. And it makes sense that it is. If humans are given the option to present any picture of themselves to the world, the overwhelming majority are going to want to put forward the best one.
I have learned to stop seeking instant gratification, quick dopamine hits or a sisyphean task like happiness, for that matter. I’m working on seeking a purpose instead, which has been much more fruitful.
I am still concerned about impressionable children who believe that their number of followers or likes is positively associated with their worth in society or level of love they deserve. Beauty and happiness are subjective phenomena. Both social media and trends, through complex systems, objectify them. This causes people to quantify their worth and confuse their realities.
My mother was smart enough to not give into a middle-schooler’s whims fueled by societal pressures. It’s been six years and my eyebrows are still pretty much the same. I suppose I’ll get them done some day, but there’s no burning desire to do so.
The most ironic part of this story is that in 2019, a new eyebrow trend came in town: the bushy brow. The eyebrows that I grew up despising were now the envy of the industry. This brings up some questions. Does the Western World’s acceptance of my thick brows dictate my feelings towards them? And if so, what are young people trying so desperately to change about themselves today that might be accepted later on because of the approval of the beauty industry? The transient nature of trends goes to show how little they must be taken seriously.