Sunday Chronicle cover story 20 Jan 2019 Imitating virtual li ...

Imitating virtual lives

Published Jan 20, 2019, 12:00 am IST
Updated Jan 20, 2019, 12:16 am IST
Social media platforms are also a way for celebrities to grab attention by displaying semi-nude pictures or issuing controversial statements.
For better or worse, social media personas of celebrities have a powerful impact on how today’s teens view themselves as well as the world around them.
 For better or worse, social media personas of celebrities have a powerful impact on how today’s teens view themselves as well as the world around them.

Seventeen-year-old Sanjana stands in front of the mirror trying to master the art of creating a perfect Cupid’s bow on her upper lip using her Bobbi Brown lip liner. That ought to be easy since her favourite celebrity Kylie Jenner made it look so effortless.

Juhi GodambeJuhi Godambe


There are tubes of branded foundation and lipstick strewn around on Sanjana’s dresser and a designer dress is waiting in her closet — yet again modelled on the lines of what Kylie had donned at an event. She has a party to attend and is in a hurry to post her photos on the social media platforms where she virtually lives in. Sanjana particularly loves the way Kylie pouts and so, after clicking a selfie with a saucy pout and a hint of cleavage showing, she immediately posts it on Instagram.


Sanjana is not alone. She is the symbol of an emerging millennial generation who looks up to these public figures and replicate their appearances — including the body language and behaviour they display on their social media profiles. There is no arguing that, for better or worse, celebrities have a powerful impact on how these teens view themselves as well as the world around them. Being a teen is hard enough, but the emergence of Instagram and Snapchat has only made their lives more complicated with these platforms commanding a large number of followers between ages 18 and 29.


Sakshi Dhoni’s Instagram photo.Sakshi Dhoni’s Instagram photo.

“The younger generation, nowadays, is struggling with a fragile sense of self — they are always looking for opportunities to get admiration from the world and feel better,” observes Dr Pulkit Sharma, consultant clinical psychologist and spiritual therapist at Imago Centre for Self at Pondicherry and Auroville.

Celebrities, too, have realised the power of the social media and have no qualms in laying bare their lives in front of thousands of their followers in carefully placed gorgeous photos. Recall Ranveer Singh-Deepika Padukone’s or Priyanka Chopra- Nick Jonas’ ‘mind-blowing’ marriage photos that were first shared by the stars themselves on their Instagram handles.


Social media platforms are also a way for celebrities to grab attention by displaying semi-nude pictures or issuing controversial statements. Singer-actor Miley Cyrus  posted her half-nude, compromising photos for shock value, while reality show star Farrah Abraham displays every single detail of her daughter's daily routine, including letting the world know that she gave her $600 for a tooth.

Closer home, Sakshi Dhoni recently got trolled when she posted an Instagram photo showing her cricketer husband buckling her shoes. Her intention was to show the world how normal a husband Dhoni was. These awe-inspiring, or sometimes, outrageous but cunningly planted posts include intensely personal moments, reflected glory by exhibiting snaps with their celebrity friends/ siblings/spouse just to generate more comments or likes, or to make unwanted controversies as a ticket to fame.


Dr Sharma continues, “When celebrities indulge in narcissistic behaviour, the younger generation feels compelled to imitate it, believing that it is a valid and desirable way to feel good about them. While celebrities manage to get away with anything they do, these youngsters end up suffering. They end up sacrificing nearly everything — their time, energy, money and precious years of life — in putting up a false display and sooner or later, get anxious, depressed, agitated and suicidal.”  He sums up with a grim warning, “And yes, some also become victims of identity theft and cyber bullying and these traumatic experiences haunt them for a long time.”


It is not only the celebrities, but an increasing tribe of social media influencers who seem to be holding sway over Gen X, emerging as celebrities in their own right. These influencers are normal people, but with a passion for fashion, fitness, travel, music or art—  they share their photos with their followers worldwide, using Instagram as the preferred medium. The photos and videos, set in mind-blowing locations or exotic destinations, of impressive fitness workouts or branded goods, are lapped up by a generation of followers who emulate them.


Again, social media is a double-edged sword where the platform can be used productively and constructively to help teenagers navigate and get a sense of the world they are growing up in. Or it can become a virtual platform that helps them show off their selves as well as their material possessions — nothing more than a playground for vanity and ego.

Juhi Godambe from Mumbai is a blogger and social media influencer with a large number of followers on Instagram, who keep up with her trendy fashions and fabulous looks. Her fashionable photos and informative blogs have notched up a large following. Juhi prefers to be called a blogger, though. She started off blogging about fashion as a hobby when she was just 21. “I simply wanted a space to write about my personal style in an organic way and when Instagram became the go-to place, a lot of brands started noticing my content and the number of followers. Soon they connected with me offering to pay, and it’s my profession now,” she says, adding that she posts every day, thrice a day.


She tries to maintain a balance between the commercial and organic side. Her photos have that oomph factor — no wonder there — given that she studied fashion in London.

While she is happy about the large number of positive reviews she gets for her posts, she is aware of the responsibility she has. It is easy for teens and youngsters to pester their parents for the cosmetics or accessories that she is seen endorsing. She agrees, “I do have a lot of youngsters following me and I try to be mindful with my content. I have refused to endorse alcohol or cigarettes. I know the young generation is definitely influenced because the moment I post a photo wearing a branded clothing line or an accessory, I get queries about its availability from youngsters who immediately want to buy it.”


Looking and feeling good is obviously a positive thing and there are a lot of celebrities and social media influencers who give a lot of thought to what they post. What is scary is the thought of how self-obsessed the young generation is with themselves and the celebs they follow. “This is actually one of the gravest issues that society is facing at this point,” states Dr Lizzy Shajahan, psychologist and life coach who tries to decode the mindset of the youth. “In my opinion, the entire blame cannot be put on these kids because they are vulnerable at this age, and teenage is a time when kids are very confused about their own identities. They live in a fantasy world created by them. Their minds long for a person whom they can make their role model and follow. This thought makes them keen followers of celebrities and persuades them to try doing everything these celebrities do.”


She adds that the young generation fails to understand that celebrity life is something entirely different from what they perceive and that the narcissist posts that people upload on their social media accounts are just another way to increase their number of followers. “It is unfortunate that the youth finds this interesting and tries imitating their favourite celebrity. In the greed of getting as many likes for their photos, teenagers nowadays don’t think even once before uploading their intimate or revealing photographs. This, on their mind, forms the benchmark of how ‘cool’ they are. One of the worse situations is that these self-obsessed teens, if neglected by anyone, cannot tolerate the impact of it and end up being depressed and attempting suicide,” she warns.


Vascular radiologist and fitness trainer Swetha Devaraj, despite being aware of the pitfalls, prefers to see the positive side of having an immense number of followers on her Instagram handle, which gives tips on fitness. The posts include photos of her super toned body and videos of her fitness regime. “I think social media plays a huge role these days in everyone’s life regardless of the age group. And of course, teenagers like to keep abreast about the recent trends, be it fashion, movies or adventure, especially through Instagram because of its amazing reach. It is a great space to be informed and stay updated and it even opens up a lot of doors in terms of career choices,” she opines.  


Talking of the responsibility she wields, Swetha opines, “The posts can give teenagers great ideas about the opportunities they have and also a healthier lifestyle if they follow people in the fitness industry.” But she also warns, “Since it is an open space, it can be a great distraction from studies and other important  activities. It is equally easy to go in the wrong direction, if not properly guided by their parents. This doesn’t mean that parents should monitor their kids all the time, but it helps to give them friendly advices as to what would be a great page to follow from time to time.”


She adds, “As a fitness influencer, I have people of all age groups messaging me, from teenagers to senior adults, about how inspired they are and that I make a difference in their lives every day. Because my posts are always about healthy living, healthy eating, workouts and travel — all about a lifestyle change. Some of them even became our clients for online training. And people always want to know more about positive living and are drawn towards what makes them happier. This motivates me a lot to keep doing what I do.”

While she has a large number of positive comments flowing in, there is no escaping the vile ones which have to do with her sports attire. Swetha remarks, “I get comments on social media and on the roads about the workout attire I wear, but it doesn’t stop me as it’s my right to wear what I want. It’s the people’s perception that needs to change, not my attire. So I just ignore those comments and trolls and focus on what I like doing.”


(With inputs by Vidya Nair and Gautham S.)