Shay Mitchell on the Pressures of Social Media and Staying Grounded IRL
At 7:46 a.m. last Wednesday morning, I was lying in bed, scrolling through Tumblr. I was about a half hour into my search for what to post next on Instagram (and about to be late for a spin class). My brain had prioritized social media over getting coffee or figuring out what workout pants to put on.
My last few Instagrams had been of me, food, or a beach somewhere, so I was thinking I should post a quote next. And then, boom. I found an image of the perfect quote—“Everything isn’t always as it seems … ”—on a nice, clean white background.
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Without a doubt, the subject I’m most often asked about in interviews or by friends is social media. (That is, of course, after “What’s it like to kiss a girl onscreen?”) I would be lying if I said my Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and YouTube accounts didn’t matter much to me. But I have a complicated relationship with them.
On one hand, I view those platforms as vision boards and places to share things I’m passionate about—ways to connect with people and myself. I remember a day a few years back when I was feeling totally exhausted and uninspired. Then I scrolled past an inspirational quote a blogger had posted on Instagram: “The world is your oyster.” My father used to say that to me throughout my childhood. I closed my eyes and was immediately back in my first bedroom in Vancouver, tucked into bed as my dad came in to say good night and remind me that “the world is your oyster.” If someone can get even a tiny bit of that kind of goodness from something I’m posting, then it’s worth it.
Also, my feeds give me a certain amount of control over my image that I don’t always have. On Instagram you may see me all glammed up and ready for a red carpet, or sweaty and in braids and wearing a well-placed towel after a boxing session, or diving headfirst into a pizza. You see that because that’s what I want you to see. You don’t get any shots of what it’s like before I get into hair and makeup, when I have on zit cream and undereye gels for reducing puffiness. Or what I looked like huddled in the corner of the boxing gym trying not to puke after running intervals.
Being in the public eye is such a weird thing. People can write or say whatever they want about me. I wouldn’t call myself “controlling,” per se, but when there are many variables out of my hands, it makes me really think about the parts of my image that I do have power over. Social media is something you have ownership of, and that’s so empowering.
But I’m 30. Looking at my cousins, who are between the ages of 2 and 18 and on phones all the time playing games, texting, and posting on social media, all I can think about is how I would have handled having all that during my adolescent years. And to be honest, it stresses me the f— out. I feel lucky that I was able to leave school, go home, and escape the bitchy girls who made me feel like an outcast. That freedom doesn’t exist anymore.
Girls have their social game faces on at all times, and with that comes competition, bullying, and one-upmanship. I feel that pressure myself. Sometimes that need to present a perfect image can become all-consuming. There are moments when I feel the desire to post something and I can hear my inner voice saying, “It’s a latte … people have seen them before … just drink it before it gets cold.” So once in a while I have to put myself in check. The other day someone asked me, “What did you do this weekend?” and my actual response, before I took a minute to think about it, was, “I don’t remember. Let me check my camera roll.”
In those moments, I realize I need a break and try to be more mindful. Maybe I throw on Spotify and relax or meditate or cook. I try to rediscover balance.
Social media can be an amazing way to connect with people. But when social media stops inspiring you and starts making you feel crappy about yourself, you need to remember what’s real and what’s not.
Last Wednesday I may have been sitting in bed late for a spin class because I couldn’t choose a pretty quote to post, but next week I’ll make it a point to be the first one on a bike—and to leave my phone in the locker room.
Mitchell stars in the final season of Pretty Little Liars and Sony Screen Gems’ upcoming film Cadaver.
For more stories like this, pick up the June issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download May 12.