Instagram vs Reality: Social Media 'Experts' and Life Envy

Updated: May 2

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about the dangers of falling prey to the ‘insta perfect’ images portrayed on social media. Whether it’s a holiday destination, outfit, physique or personal life the constant comparison culture is killing people’s confidence and self-esteem. However, are we comparing apples for apples?

One of my favourite phrases is ‘don’t compare your behind the scenes with someone else’s highlight reel’. It was only when I began researching posts to share on my Quigley’s Psych Journey stories that I realized the sheer amount of misinformation out there, particularly around mental health. It goes far beyond a ‘highlight reel’ and much deeper into affecting peoples lives. I’ve found some of the most dangerous accounts on social media are those who perpetrate to ‘help’ us.

Have you ever seen Dara O’Briain’s joke about nutritionists? Skip to 3:50 here to watch. It’s one of my favourite clips of his and it makes the point that ANYONE can call themselves a nutritionist. It doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re talking about, or they won’t be able to help you. What it DOES mean however, is that there is no governing body, no formalized education and potentially a lot of gaps in their knowledge.

The same is true of anyone calling themselves a ‘coach’ i.e., life coach, relationship coach, wellness coach etc. While they might be brilliant, they might also be a complete charlatan. These are not protected terms. What that means is anyone with a talent for social media marketing can set themselves up under these titles and charge money for services. It’s completely unregulated. And while trying a meal plan for a week and finding it doesn’t work, might dent our pride and lose us a few dollars, taking advice about our relationships, career choices and mental health warrants a more cautious approach.

Just because someone has a large following does not mean they know their stuff. It means they know how to run social media and have a talent for marketing using social media platforms.

I truly believe most people have good intentions and genuinely want to help. However, we don’t know what we don’t know. And often advice given can do more harm than good without proper training and experience. So how can we as consumers of social media step back and critically evaluate any advice given to us on these platforms?

Example A:

An ‘influencer and relationships expert’ in her late twenties whose longest relationship is two years, telling her substantial following how to have a happy long-term relationship. She often gives relationship ‘must dos’ and ‘must not dos’ on her stories and feed. She believes she’s an expert in this area because she has studied a lot of books on relationships and has learnt a lot since her last breakup. Her current relationship is less than one year, and they have no financial or other interdependencies (mortgage, children etc.).

One of her followers is, 42 years old, married 15 years and has three kids. She’s having some challenges with her marriage and the pressures of parenting. Do you think the ‘experts’ relationship advice will apply?

Some of it might be useful, or might provide an outside perspective, but most of it probably won’t. This ‘expert’ has never been in her followers’ situation, and while she’s read a few books, that doesn’t mean she understands the intricate balancing act of emotional and financial responsibilities that come with a long marriage and child rearing.

Example B:

A single, childfree ‘nutritionist/fitness coach’ in his early thirties and has been working at gyms for 10 years. He regularly posts ‘hacks’ about making quick healthy meals. He is consistently advising how to make exercise easier to incorporate into daily life, and how there is ‘no excuse’ to not get it done. He is a competitive athlete and has now moved to selling fitness and meal plans online. The meal plans are ‘tailored’ to individual clients, but all include the same basic principles and a lot of the same meals.