It me. Megan Nager, an actress and comedian from LA.
In May of 2012, I found myself facing college graduation with a lot of anxiety and fear of the future. The majority of my friends were moving to New York to work in finance, and I knew that if I did that I’d most likely have a nervous breakdown within a week. What I was truly passionate about was acting. I had always wanted to be a professional actor but was honestly too scared to take the risk. After a lot of internal debate, however, I decided to apply to an acting conservatory in LA, and received a phone call the morning of college graduation congratulating me on my acceptance. I moved to LA in August of 2012 and have been here ever since.
During my first year in LA, I pursued as many creative outlets as possible. I performed improv, stand-up comedy, and even began producing my own content. I eventually formed a small production company with a friend, and for two years we produced music videos, short films and web-series. Creating my own content allowed me to put all of my skills to use at once and it went from something I pursued as a side gig, to pretty much a full time job.
During this time, I had little interest in social media other than using it to post unedited, usually embarrassing photos of myself with my pet pug. However, with the increase in popularity of apps like Twitter and Instagram, I started to realize that I could use social media as a platform for the content I was creating. So, when Instagram announced that it was expanding its video length to sixty seconds, I took it as an opportunity to create even more content, and for a much smaller budget.
Because I love comedy, I started to produce sketch comedy videos weekly, and I also began taking pictures strictly for Instagram. I became obsessed with the aesthetic of my account, and would spend hours laying out and planning my posts. In addition to managing my own Instagram account, I was also creating content for my production company’s Instagram and for two other small fashion brands. Between the four accounts, I was spending the entirety of my week on social media. When I wasn’t posting, I was planning out my posts, editing videos and pictures, and scrolling through other Instagram accounts for inspiration.
At first, I loved what I was doing. I was able to use social media as a creative outlet and promote my work. However, the more time I spent on Instagram, the more I started to realize I was becoming dependent on the validation I would receive from my posts. It sounds silly, but every time I would post something and see the likes trickle in, I felt my self-esteem boost a little. It was like a drug. And if one of my posts didn’t receive as many likes as others, I would internalize it and drive myself crazy trying to understand why.
This time period coincided with the end to a very unhealthy two and a half year relationship. My ex and I ended things on a pretty horrible note, and, three weeks later, I found out he was dating a pin-up/lingerie model. After many unhealthy hours spent stalking this girl on Instagram, I began to wonder if that was the reason that I was single–because I didn’t look like her. I certainly wasn’t posting the same types of pictures as her on social media and I’d probably sprain my back trying to strike the same poses she was.
Through my unhealthy stalking-phase, I discovered that there was an entire world of women posting overly sexualized pictures of themselves on Instagram. And, the weirdest part of it all, was that a lot of these women were posting motivational, sometimes even religious quotes underneath these overly sexualized pictures. It was like they were trying to offset the fact that they were practically naked by emphasizing that they were also deep and intelligent.
So, what did I do? I did what I usually do with shitty situations in my life and I turned it into comedy. I began to make sketch comedy videos that I felt were making commentary on the very superficial side of social media. That’s when I created one of my comedic characters, Serena–a fitness model who would provide bad fitness advice while being overly sexual. Here’s one of Serena’s videos:
After Serena, I created Lacey, an Instagram model:
Between the two characters, I was able to express my frustration at the superficiality of social media and the problems it was creating for women’s self esteem. It was empowering, and I felt like I was able to use my comedy for good. However, the more time I spent creating these videos and taking these pictures, the more I began to obsess over my own appearance. Like I stated above, I had already experienced the validation-seeking side of Instagram. However, this time, I began to focus on the way I looked.
I had stopped creating content for other social media accounts and was strictly focused on creating content for my own. The amount of time I spent searching for “inspiration” and looking at beautiful women on Instagram, the shittier I began to feel about myself. I started to notice things I never did before–smile lines, forehead wrinkles, cellulite on my outer thighs.
I even began to notice how social media was affecting men’s standards of beauty. I had been on several dates where men brought up Instagram and talked about how it was so close to watching porn that they just needed to open the app to get turned on. I internalized this, and left several dates feeling horrible about myself. If guys were constantly scrolling through pictures of flawless women on Instagram, how were they supposed to find someone like me attractive?
It wasn’t until I went on a trip to the beach with my friends that I realized how bad my insecurities had gotten. I refused to take my beach cover up off, despite the fact that I had been working out constantly and eating healthy. Objectively, I looked great. However, in my mind, I didn’t look like a photo-shopped Instagram or fitness model, and because of this, I felt fat. I had never in my life been insecure about my weight, and when I began to reflect on what was happening, I realized something had to change. I slowly decreased the amount of time I was spending on Instagram, and I stayed away from looking at tons of pictures of women in bikinis or booty shorts.
In the past two years, my perspective on social media has drastically shifted, and I no longer feel as self-conscious as I did during the time period I mentioned above. However, I learned a lot through the experience, and it made me realize that as great as social media can be, it can also be toxic. That’s why I limit the amount of time I spend on social media, and I try to focus on the things I love about myself and not compare myself to pictures of celebrities. For instance, just because I don’t look like Kim Kardashian in bike shorts, THAT’S OKAY. And, instead of scrolling through pictures of models, I try to stick to watching comedic videos that make me laugh. I still create videos with Serena and Lacey in hopes that they can shed some light on the really ridiculous standards of beauty on social media.
Remember to love yourself.
(Story by Contributing Writer, Megan Nager)