Monday, 24 September 2018

The Week I Realised The Damage That Instagram & #Ads Can Do

For a while now, I've heard people on social media talk about the potential damage that the rise of social media "Influencers" and "#Ads" can do to the mental health of their followers.

And I'll be totally honest, as someone who makes their living from doing those ads, I've found this all a bit irritating and inconvenient.

I mean, after all...this blog and its associated social media channels are my business. I built them up single handedly from nothing, and they have enabled me to feed and clothe my children and keep an (extortionately priced private rental) roof over their heads for 5 years while my other half has been out of work.

So the suggestion that these ads might be damaging to the mental wellbeing of my followers was hurtful to me on a personal level. I pride myself on starting conversations around difficult topics with the intention of helping others - I talk openly about mental health, anxiety, domestic abuse, PTSD, therapy, financial strain and fatphobia because I want to use my platform here for good and have conversations that matter. I want to help people to feel less alone.

So the thought that something I'm doing online might be having the opposite effect was too devastating to even consider.

So instead I found myself feeling angry and put out at the suggestion, and I tried to tune it out. Because I didn't want the guilt. I just didn't want to hear it.

I told myself these people were wrong. That they were thinking too deeply about it all, that they were making unnecessary leaps.

Until this week, when I finally experienced the effects they were talking about first hand.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that pretty much everyone I was following on Instagram was talking about Mrs Hinch and her #HinchArmy.

Incase you've been living under a rock, Mrs Hinch is an Instagrammer who does stories about cleaning her home - her account is the fastest growing one that Instagram has seen this year, and she's selling out the cleaning products she uses faster than the companies can make them!

Keen on a bandwagon, I followed her account for myself and, just like everybody else, I quickly fell in love with her.

She's hilarious to watch, she's so down to earth and likeable - and even though I've always disliked the YouTube speed cleaning and organising videos that everybody else seems to love, I found myself really enjoying watching Mrs Hinch  and her funny and snappy Insta stories.

Now here's where I should also mention something vital to this story...I suffer with OCD.

And, contrary to popular belief, OCD does not always mean that you spend every moment cleaning your simply means that you are prone to developing obsessive behaviours, and fixating on particular things. These can be pretty much anything, and having control over things can be a big factor.

At first, watching Mrs Hinch painstakingly clean every inch of her beautiful, pristine home was soothing to me.

Her house appears to be completely clutter free, is decorated beautifully and every corner of it shines like a new pin - but still she cleans it to levels I've never seen before on a daily basis.

In particular, something about the way she shined her kitchen sink before bed every night soothed me.

And before long, I felt the need to emulate her.

We live in a rented house, and there is a lot about it that I don't like and wouldn't have chosen for myself if I'd had the luxury of a good credit rating, help with a house deposit and a good education leading me in to a well paid job leaving me in a position to own our home...but I didn't have any of those things, and so renting whatever home was available and in our price range was our only option, and still is.

It doesn't really feel like our own space, it's not decorated in the style I'd choose and in all's pretty tatty in a lot of ways and a lot of it is in dire need of repair and redecoration.
 But as with most private renters, we live in constant fear of being asked to vacate at a months notice so we don't rock the boat by daring to ask for a home that's in a good state of repair.

Because of this, I admit - I've let the organisation and the cleaning in the house go over the last year or so since I had my third child. It's not filthy, but it certainly was nowhere close to Mrs Hinch's incredibly high standards!

But having spent evening after evening watching her stories...I wanted my house to look like hers.

No...I NEEDED my house to look like hers.

So I went out and bought myself a #HinchHaul...I spent money I didn't really have on the cleaning products that she used and loved. Jon would try to suggest alternative products when a store didn't have the specific brand I was looking for and I manically told him that no other products would do...I HAD to have the exact same ones that she used, otherwise the results might not be the same.

And so, with my #HinchHaul in place, I started the process of trying to "Hinch" my home.

And for a while, it felt good. I liked shining my sink at night, I enjoyed swirling Pine scented toilet duck around the loo before bed.

But then bit by bit the obsession grew and the buzz wore off, as I started to realise that no matter what products I used and no matter how hard I home was NEVER going to look as good as hers, or any of the other super-clean and super-styled homes I was seeing on social media.

They don't have wallpaper that's peeling off because of damp on the walls. They don't have piles and piles of plastic toys that their children don't want to part with. They don't have pram parts and bikes in the dining room because there's simply nowhere else to put them.

Around the same time, I also developed an obsession with watching family meal planning videos on YouTube and I started trying to emulate those women too.

And again, the more I watched them, the more I wanted to be like them. And the more I tried to be like them, the worse I felt.

I told Jon how these women were "proper mums" because they talked about things like having their own favourite quiche recipes and they knew how to make things like white sauces without needing any instructions. To me, they felt like story book mothers. The kind who just knew how to cook for and look after their families in the proper, traditional sense.

I knew none of those things. I have no idea how to make a quiche without following a Jamie Oliver recipe, I certainly don't have a "favourite tried and tested recipe" for one. If we're having quiche for tea, you can bet your bottom dollar it came in a box from Asda.

But I wanted so desperately to be like these "real mums" I bought the ingredients they used and I followed their recipes to the letter.

And within a week, I was spending hours in the kitchen every day trying to cook elaborate family dinners which would always end up taking 4 times longer than I'd planned meaning the boys were hungry and I was stressed.

Once they'd gone to bed, I'd then spend my evenings trying to "Hinch" my house and would end up in tears most nights because no matter what I did, it just never looked like I wanted it to.

And that's when I finally started to realise that all the things I'd heard about the power of Influencing and the damage it can have to people who's mental state is already fragile were true. And here I was, experiencing it all for myself.

I was unfavourably comparing my life, my home and my abilities as a mother to these women online despite the fact that all I knew of their lives was the 20 minutes or so I got to see in videos.

I couldn't achieve the same things as them and so I ended up feeling like a worthless failure and I could feel myself starting to fall in to a deep depression.

And this is the problem with #ads - brands use bloggers and influencers to sell a lifestyle to consumers alongside their product. They want our followers to feel that if only they go out and buy this item, then their lives can be as great as ours too.

And as much as I don't want to believe it and as much as I know it's never the influencers intention, there genuinely is damage to be done by that.

As someone making money from those ads, this leaves me in a tricky position - as I simply cannot afford to walk away from them when they are what is keeping a roof over my children's heads. But at the same time, I hate the thought that anything I say or sell on here will leave people feeling down or less than in some way.

My only advice is this - if there is anything online that makes you feel even slightly as though you are lacking or that your life isn't living up to somebody else's, unfollow them immediately.

Even if that person is me.

Because it is never ever worth risking your mental health for the sake of someone you follow online.

I loved Mrs Hinch but right now, her account just isn't right for me. It doesn't bring me to a good mental space (which is a shame as I know it has the opposite effect on thousands of women, which is amazing and she has achieved fantastic things...I have no desire to cast any shadow on that. I am in the minority, and it's all about my own mental health and not a reflection on what she does at all.)

And so I've had to step away, from that and all of the other "perfect home" accounts on Instagram and YouTube and all of the meal-planning mummies too, so that I can start to see the value in my own life and home again, without comparing it or myself unfavourably to hers.

It's so important to make your online space a healthy one for you, whatever that may look like.

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