It was late in the evening, and her child was sick, possibly very sick. Her husband was screaming at her as she sat at her computer, saying they needed to take their daughter to the emergency room immediately. But the mother of two didn’t take her eyes off her laptop screen. She couldn’t. She had just posted something on her blog and linked it to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and the response she was getting was phenomenal. She didn’t want to leave.
The 30-something Johnson County “mommy blogger” says at that moment her overwhelming desire wasn’t for her child’s health. Instead, it was watching her blog numbers go up and her likes on social media explode.
The 30-something Johnson County “mommy blogger” says at that moment her overwhelming desire wasn’t for her child’s health. Instead, it was watching her blog numbers go up and her likes on social media explode. “Was this going to go viral?” she kept asking herself. Every time someone left a comment, she compared it to having great sex. “This feeling just takes over your body,” she says. “It’s thrilling and appeals to your ego and really, really makes you feel good about yourself.”
As her husband bundled up their daughter and yelled and yelled for her to hurry up, she didn’t move. When her husband put their child in the car and drove to the ER without her, she says she didn’t feel any guilt. Neither fear for her child’s health nor the maternal instincts pounding in her brain were any competition for her immediate and all-consuming need for the incoming social media gratification.
That was two years ago. Today, the woman who looks like every other mom at Target pushing a cart stuffed with kids and groceries says she has shut down her blog. “Well,” she confesses, “I didn’t delete it, but I rarely post on it. Same for my social media accounts. I think that was better for me to not just nuke them. I’m proud of a lot of the stuff I wrote, so I didn’t want it all to go away. But I realized it had taken over my life.”
By “realized” she means that after she didn’t go to the hospital with her daughter (who did spend several hours in the Menorah ER to get her fever under control), her husband told her she needed help.“It was actually more of an ultimatum that I had to make a choice,” she says. “It was either my family, or my blog and social media. Of course, I chose my family, but to get off social media required therapy.”
Research shows that social media addiction can have a stronger pull than alcohol or nicotine. At Harvard University, studies on “self-disclosure communication” found that posting on social media stimulates the brain’s pleasure center as much as food or sex.
Amber Reed, a licensed clinical addiction counselor in Prairie Village, says the dopamine rush can be huge when you’re on social media. “You post something, and when it gets a lot of likes, that triggers the pleasure center in your brain and it makes you want to do it again and again,” she says.
Pew Research data shows 40 percent of Americans admit they would find it hard to give up social media. But a lot of us might need to. Some signs of social media addiction are wanting to cut back but being unable to, having cravings and urges, using social media even though it’s causing problems in your life, and withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, worry and sadness.
Adding to the social media addiction portfolio is the allure that you could strike it big (much like gambling, Reed says). Maybe something you post will go viral, or you could become famous by getting a book or movie deal or becoming a social media influencer.
Ellen McDonald, a veteran public relations and marketing professional in Kansas City, says the social media influencer landscape is one that is always in flux. “Locally, I would say the market is flooded with people who think they’re social media influencers,” McDonald bluntly states. “That’s the digital world we live in, and we’re still defining what it means to be a social media influencer. Another issue is that who ‘the’ social media influencer is can change hourly. It’s very transitory.”
That’s something “Julia” knows well. Just a few years ago, this Kansas City mom – with brunette hair that has effortless waves and deep blue eyes who looks like she would be at home on Taylor Swift’s squad — was making what she calls a decent income posting fashion photos of herself and her toddler on Instagram and tagging where their clothes came from. Things were going so well her husband was even thinking about quitting his job to run what they both thought was going to be a burgeoning social media empire.
“We were both surprised at how much money you could make and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity,” she says. “I had so many brands reach out to me it was wild. But the market got very crowded. I think every mom with an iPhone and kid in a stroller started doing what I was doing and calling themselves an influencer. The money got less and less, and I can’t imagine what would have happened if my husband had quit his job. That would have been rough.”
McDonald, with her years of PR experience, says putting all your eggs in the social influencer basket is “not a choice I would make.” She compared it to day trading — not sustainable over the long term.
Julia says it also messed with her head a little bit. Although having a job where you post photos of yourself dressed in cute clothes sounds pretty cushy, it was exceedingly time-consuming. The mom admits she spent hours editing the photos (VSCO, Facetune and Snapseed are her favorites) so she would look perfect.
"It was so bad my husband joked that nobody would ever recognize me because my Instagram pictures bore no resemblance to the real me. It got to the point that I was almost afraid to show up at events because I thought people would be disappointed when they saw me in person,” she says with a groan. She also confessed to editing her toddler’s image as well. “I know, that’s the worst, right?”
The now-former social media influencer says if her income had kept going, she might have, at 29, been tempted to do some cosmetic procedures. “Who doesn’t want to look like the Facetuned version of themselves?” she says.
An American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery survey reports that social media is now a driving force behind people’s desire for plastic surgery.
More than 50 percent of surgeons said they had seen an increase in patients who wanted surgery to “look better in selfies.” This has led to something called “Snapchat dysmorphia,” where people bring highly edited selfies and photos to a plastic surgeon and ask to look “just like this.” Instagram, with its selfie culture, is cited as the platform that most leads to feelings of anxiety, depression and negative body image.
Overland Park plastic surgeon Dr. Chris Surek, D.O., says what patients, especially millennials, usually want is fuller lips, larger eyes, thinner noses and blemish-free skin.
“If someone brings me an edited picture of themselves, I don’t see that as strictly negative because it gives me a place, as a surgeon, to have a discussion and start the education process,” Surek says. “What people need to realize is that their Instagram or Snapchat is 2D and we live in a 3D world with shape, depth and contorting.”
The 2D world of social media is creating an ever-growing minefield for the medical community. Reed says that, as an addiction specialist, she knows social media is going to continue to impact her profession with escalating depression, body image and addiction issues.
“We know the problem is going to increase exponentially, and one of the hardest things is that we don’t have a clinical line that determines what is too much,” Reed says. “As a society and professional community, we’re going to have to have that discussion.”
The “reformed” mom blogger, as she calls herself, describes social media as a monster that is always demanding to be fed.
“It feels good to be online — to share, to brag, to create, to think that all these people like you or even want to be like you,” she says. “What’s hard is when you let it take over your real life, but for so many of us, the life we’ve created online is so much better than our reality. So why would we want to leave that? For a long time, I didn’t.”