Becoming an online ghost was not something I had planned. It just sort of happened.
I first appeared on Instagram in 2012, lured in by the presence of my favorite celebrities and the belief that I could look directly into their private lives. My account was all concrete and alive, hungry to be filled with spontaneous pictures of my everyday life, liked and approved by my whopping 59 followers.
Instagram was the only social media platform I was active on. At the time it was still small enough that not many people from my hometown could peer into my life, but big enough to be exciting and bubbling with new content everyday.
I enjoyed the infinite scrolling sessions, the immediate rush of excitement from the shower of new posts that would appear in the few hours that I was away from my phone, and the rewarding feeling of seeing that someone had liked my poorly lit pictures of me and my friends. I was posting, liking, scrolling, commenting, all alive and well. I was a living, breathing, concrete social media user.
Until I wasn’t.
As many ghosts can confirm, disappearing is usually not a sudden, overwhelming experience, but rather it’s something that happens slowly and quietly. With me, it started when the number of my followers increased. The more people could see me, the more I wanted to hide.
Posting new content on my feed started to feel very performative. If once I would snap spontaneous pictures, not worrying about their quality or beauty, now I was hyper-aware of everything I did on my account, as I had a wider audience watching me.
A feeling of deep anxiety took over me every time I hit the “share” button, as I would wait anxiously for the likes to come in. I was awaiting my judgement, with my heart palpitating too fast and my breathing becoming heavier by the second.
Having struggled with anxiety for a long time, I knew right away that I was experiencing its symptoms. After doing some research, I found out I wasn’t the only one crippled by anxiety in the social media realm.
Various studies have found a connection between the use of social media platforms and an increase in anxiety and depression. A need for validation, mixed with feelings of self-doubt and loneliness, are the main facilitators for a decline in mental health.
These symptoms appear to be worse in women. Societal pressures, beauty standards, and unrealistic expectations, are reinforced in the vacuum of social media, and women are overexposed to harming sexist social constraints.
Keeping this in mind, I slowly faded away from Instagram. I was reclaiming my privacy and my wellbeing. I wanted to protect my mental health and avoid this unnecessary stressor, so I only posted sporadically and mostly used the app to connect with my long-distance friends. One moment you could see me, then I’d be gone for weeks.
But as I morphed into an Instagram ghoul, something really cool was happening.
A wave of feminist accounts was flooding in, and more and more badass girls were using the stage to advocate for women’s rights. I was excited to see how ideals I had stood by my whole life were being spread so efficiently by amazing women all over the world. I was in awe at the amount of art and advocacy work that was getting done online, so I began to feel guilty for not using my platform to join the voices of empowering feminist girls everywhere.
Even though I was an active feminist offline, working for non-profits and using my voice in debates and everyday life, I still felt ashamed that my “irrational” fears and mental health struggles were preventing me from feeling a part of the online movement.
So I started to wonder what my social media silence looked like from a feminist perspective.
Self-care practices, along with mental health advocacy, have been staples in feminist activism. In a world where women are oppressed, silenced, and hated for their very identity, finding spaces to create personal happiness and tend to one’s psychological needs is necessary. My choice not to be active on social media as a way to avoid anxiety and self-doubt was a self-care act and therefore an inherently feminist act in itself.
But I also believe that there is more to being a social media ghost as a woman than self care.
Women are always looked at. We are trapped by the male gaze following us everywhere we are, even inside our own heads. Ever since we are little girls we are socialized to look at other women through men’s eyes, and consequently to look at ourselves that same way. We are constantly subjected to an audience that mostly focuses on our appearance and how we present ourselves to the world, so we try to look at ourselves from the outside, constantly watching through the eyes of others. As Margaret Atwood once said, we are our own voyeurs.
The highly visual component of social media allows for our lives to be constantly seen, judged, and scrutinized. We wonder what those who are watching see, and we become hyper aware of the appearance of not just our faces and our bodies, but also our lives. Our existence becomes commodified. Our objectification as women transcends our bodies and expands to our very lives.
Growing up as a girl, aware that the world was watching me and loved to look at me, I felt that through social media my life was becoming a performance. I had to impress an audience and my worth was going to be determined by the audience’s votes on it.
As a woman, my need to reclaim my privacy and my life as my own translated to my stepping away from social media. Taking control of my image meant not giving much of an image for the online world to judge.
Becoming a ghost was thus in my eyes a feminist choice, both for its self care and its empowering nature.
Now that I’m a full-on spirit, my social media-related anxiety has decreased. Sometimes I appear in the over-saturated feed of my friends and my favorite feminist accounts, through the tap of a like, or through comments to their stories. Sometimes I even post pictures, comforted by how little of my life I’m showing.
So if you are a ghost like me, don’t feel like you’re a bad feminist for not being active on social media, but reel in the conviction that you are engaging in a feminist act of self-preservation. Always put your mental health first and rejoice in the power that comes from protecting your private life from the ever-present scrutinizing eyes of society.