The Evolutionary Reasons to Unfollow Celebrities on Social Media
We’re primed to watch and emulate high-status people, but celebrity Instagram shows how harmful that can be
We’re obsessed with celebrities now more than ever. If we’re not reading lurid magazines about their lives, we’re following them on Instagram, dissecting their song lyrics, or convincing ourselves we really did see them out grocery shopping.
This fixation isn’t new: status hierarchies go back to our hunter-gatherer days, when it was always a good idea to keep your eye on who was on top. You could look to them to emulate their successes, and simply be aware of the social situation.
But although our obsession is old, our 24/7 access to celebrities’ lives is relatively recent. It’s easy to forget, but Instagram only came into existence in 2010. Beyond tabloid magazines and celebrity interviews, the advent of social media has given us more than a glimpse, but rather a full-blown view into the lives of celebrities. More than ever before, we feel we truly know every glamorous, gilded facet of the celebrity lifestyle. And that’s dangerous.
The reason we’re so obsessed with them is that we want to be like them. Remember, back in the day, it was possible to become like the most popular and successful members of the group. You could see what worked for them and then do it, too. So we were obsessed with the people at the top, but in a more productive way, because we could hope to one day become them.
Today? We scroll through photos of rich, famous people who have nutritionists, dietitians, personal trainers, hundreds of dollars’ worth of daily skincare routine products, airbrushing, and plastic surgery, nearly none of which they show to us on their perfectly curated social media.
The effect is that emulating a celebrity is unachievable, but invisibly so.
We feel like we know everything about them, so we believe if we just stare hard enough, pay attention for long enough, believe with enough gumption, we can be like them, too. Even though our brains know better, that doesn’t stop us from staring and hoping that we could be like that too, if we could only crack the code.
Pair that with the fact that social media is merely a highlight reel. Celebrities or not, people only post the good stuff about their life. You won’t catch an influencer telling you about their raging diarrhea — you’ll only see the gorgeous shots of a holiday on the beach.
Constant access to unbelievable lifestyles, filtered to only show the very best of someone’s very good life? That’s a recipe for disaster.
Even for healthy social media users, unrealistic lifestyles invite unhealthy comparison
I noticed the trend in myself when I browsed on Instagram. I would be happily scrolling through the posts of some of my favorite celebs when I started to get these nagging feelings of inadequacy.
Despite fears about what we put in our bodies, what we view is also what we consume, and it can be just as harmful as any unhealthy aspect of our diet.
I had to face it: I was never going to be as pretty as Taylor Swift, or as fit as Chris Pratt. I’d never have skin like Zendaya’s, and I’d never be as successful as Ava Duvernay.
I consider myself a healthy user of social media. I’ve turned off all my notifications, monitor my time, and don’t follow anyone who promotes unhealthy habits like #teatoxing. (Kough, Kardashians.)
Despite fears about what we put in our bodies, what we view is also what we consume, and it can be just as harmful as any unhealthy diet. We are what we consume, whether that’s fast food or social media.
So when even just this limited window into the lives of celebrities began to affect my mental health, I knew I had to stop.
Social media affects your mental health more than you think
Humans are incredibly visual creatures, which is why Instagram is one of the most successful (and I believe the most dangerous) social media app. Celebrities present a heavily curated aspect of their lives for public consumption, and we eat it up and ask for more.
Instagram has been found to have profoundly negative effects on our psychological and even physical health. We take what other people show us as absolute truth, and suffer for it because we can’t ever compare favorably to it.
Our desperate desire to follow celebrities stems from our deep-seated belief that we can one day become like them. We used to compare ourselves to others to see what brought them social status, and how we could get that for ourselves, like being good at climbing trees. The problem is our Stone Age brains haven’t caught up to modern times — when we see these beautiful, famous people, we can’t help but try to emulate their traits in the hopes it will make us famous, too.
Logically, of course, we know that celebrities airbrush their photos and have much more money than we do for vacations and surgical procedures, but that doesn’t stop you from absorbing their perfect lives and feeling like, deep down, if you don’t have those characteristics, it’s somehow your fault. You didn’t work out enough. You didn’t try hard enough. You haven’t eaten well enough.
Even if you follow them because they’re funny, or because they have a cute dog, you’ll still be exposed to their flawless smiles (dental crowns), their high cheekbones (facial implants), their luscious locks (hair extensions).
Instagram has done an excellent job of making the unattainable lifestyles that celebrities lead extremely visible to us regular folks, and our brains can’t help but feel like if we just tried a little harder, we could be like them. When then faced with the inescapable conclusion that we aren’t as good, and never will be as good as the lives they choose to show us, it has consequences on our mental health.
So I made the choice to unfollow all celebrities.
It’s their job to look as successful and happy as possible. That means they constantly post pictures of luxurious getaways, toned bodies, beautiful faces. I don’t have those resources, nor do I have that lifestyle. By default, that means that I’ll always fare badly when comparing myself to them, which I inevitably will.
I couldn’t find a single celebrity or influencer account which consistently posted a realistic or even achievable lifestyle. So I purged them all.
Our love for celebrity gossip and lifestyle news won’t ever fade
But we can control the way we absorb this culture by limiting the types of comparisons we make every day. Unfollow celebrities and see how your life changes for the better.
The worst that could happen? You’re out of touch when they release a new single or start a new relationship, announce a new project, or start a new spon-con campaign.
But the benefits are that you might be happier. You might suffer fewer body-image problems. You might finally shed that persistent, underlying feeling of not being quite good enough, and when you look at the pretty pictures on your phone, you’ll be making the choice to consume them in a responsible, healthy way.