The self-worth dilemma
Lensa AI & an interview with Jayme Cyk.
If we’re on the same social media algorithms, you may have seen a lot of people sharing illustrative and anime-inspired “magic avatars” of themselves last week. I’m talking about these, which were created with AI through the photo-editing app Lensa. If you’re cynical like me, you might have also noticed that whenever these AI avatars were female-presenting, they were cartoonishly sexualized—everyone was suddenly hot and thin with huge boobs. 😑
I have to admit that I’m disappointed with Lensa. Don’t get me wrong, I’m truly obsessed with the possibilities generative AI unlocks—you’ll remember I made AI Emma back in April and also recently gave her an upgrade. I also know that AI is usually as biased as the people creating it, so we’re seeing an all-too-familiar scenario play out (Wired reported that Lensa will generate sexualized avatars from childhood photos. Sigh.) This is all disturbing, but I’m particularly troubled by how these avatars are reflecting us (or rather, not reflecting us), and I’m left wondering how this all affects our general sense of self-worth online.
Coincidentally, we’re exploring this topic with the mental health community, And Repeat, this week, specifically thinking through the ways traditional social media warps your sense of self-worth. The thing about social media is that it has obvious negatives (fake personal brands, perfectly edited lives, capitalist algorithms) but also huge positives (reaching new communities, discovering authentic content). We’ve all seen news articles about Instagram’s impact on teen girls and the impact beauty filters have on the perception of our own beauty. But I wanted to go deeper about the dilemmas we all face around self-worth on socials, so I sat down with And Repeat’s co-founder, Jayme Cyk, to dig into it all a bit more.
I’m really interested in Jayme’s perspective as she has a very authentic series on her personal account called “Stream of Consciousness” where she’s incredibly open about her eating disorder and questions around self-worth. On a personal level, likely as a byproduct of having a significant following for ~10 years, I have become pretty desensitized to what it means to have an “audience.” I certainly recognize that having a following is incredibly useful for building Diem, but I rarely think about what I’m actually posting before I share it, meaning I know how to drive reach (pics of myself) and play into the ~ cool girl ~ trends when I edit photos. On the flip side, I’m genuinely disappointed when things I think are fascinating (and aren’t photos of myself) don’t get any engagement.
I could 100% be “more authentic” and share the harder parts of life and building a business, but I guess I just don’t want to? Posting about going out to dinner sometimes feels a lot easier than acknowledging the challenging, but real, aspects of being a founder. But at the same time, I deeply appreciate the vulnerability and candor that Jayme (and others) bring to my feed. In our conversation, Jayme and I discussed her inner monologue when she shares online, how she thinks about the “self-worth dilemma” on social media, how viewing imagery of others sparks negative thought patterns and the joy she’s found from being vulnerable online.
Let’s jump in.
Emma Bates: You have this understanding of who you are as a person in the real world and why you want to share, but how do you worry about how it comes across to others? Do you struggle with self-doubt while sharing honestly online?
Jayme Cyk: I guess it's been almost a year since I started writing these stream-of-consciousness posts where I just type thoughts into my notes app and then I post them and it's about my eating disorder. So my fear when people meet me is two-folded. On the one hand, I wonder—are they judging that I have an eating disorder? Because nobody would look at me and say that I'm overweight or anorexic or perceive me in that way. So there's that piece of it. And then the other one is—am I the same person who's super honest online when people meet me in person? I worry people are thinking—’if I have a discussion with you about what you're going through, how honest are you actually?’ And granted, I know my closest friends don't feel that way, but I always wonder about it when I meet someone for the first time in person. Is that going to flood their mind? And will I be good enough?
EB: It’s interesting how our online personas can increase our sense of self-worth as a way to share inner thoughts, but how that opens you to fear of others judging you. When you share online do you actively mask anything still or hold back in any way? How do you find yourself editing what you’re sharing?
JC: Well, I'm actively trying to hide my body. So you will, 98% of the time only see my face versus my full body [online]. And I have become very obsessed with wanting to control the camera, so it's usually going to be in selfie form because for some reason I just find that I don't look as good when somebody else is taking the photo, which is something I'm trying to get over. So I'm definitely masking my body. On the writing side, even though I'm putting out my truth, I do feel the need to gut-check things out loud [to my husband] because I don't want to put something out there that's going to influence someone else to feel as if they need to do something. I really never talk about what I'm eating, for example, because I don't want to feel as if people perceive me to say, ‘you should never eat bread.’ I don't want to put those rules out to other people and influence them.
EB: It can be addicting to find or spiral into rabbit holes on topics that don’t serve us, especially if you’re living with something like an eating disorder, but that one rabbit hole can impact your entire experience on the platform for many weeks/months after because the way algorithms work. When you think about this dilemma of self-worth online, where does your mind go?
JC: I’m constantly seeing people on my feed and thinking that if I don’t look a certain way, then I won’t measure up to all these people who have put a shiny filter on top of what they’re doing. It’s not to say that I want to put the filter on top or mask myself, but how do I get myself across as being honest while also looking “the part.” Since I have an eating disorder, I’m constantly thinking that if I just lose a certain amount of weight or if I just look a certain way, then my self-worth will improve and others will approve of me.
On the one hand, being vulnerable online can be an outlet—a way to reach out to others and validate our own stories (beyond our private group chats). But by sharing vulnerable thoughts in places (like Instagram) that over-index on Likes and sensationalist content, we are forced to post in certain ways to adhere to the platform's tools. In the end, that can cause us to feel self-conscious that our vulnerable musings and stories simply aren’t getting enough likes which lead us to tailor our IRL experiences to fit the algorithm, impacting our own authenticity along the way.
We have a perception of who we are IRL and an inner monologue that influences how we want to share our lives online, but if the tools we have available for sharing (imagery, videos, capitalist algorithms) aren’t actually helpful, we end up in a cycle of performative vulnerability. Perhaps this is the ultimate dilemma, it’s almost like we need another digital space to share our stories and discover others in a more human way… ;)
We’d love to hear from you on this – how has your self-worth been impacted by social media? What’s your inner monologue when you share to IG or TikTok? Does it make you more confident or less confident? Have you found communities to affirm your sense of self-worth by being ~ very online ~? Contribute your thoughts to Jayme’s Diem here.
Big news! Our app got a new look, meaning we’re one step closer to our mission of building a social search engine that closes the gender information gap. We wrote a guide about our new approach—learn how to Diem here.
What we’re reading…
Social media is for strangers now (The Atlantic)
The real murderer in White Lotus is masculinity (The Independent)
Contributed to last week’s Diem on how to ask for help, professionally…
Let go of your ego
“I recently pivoted careers, a complete 180, and had to lean on help from strangers in a way that triggered every hyper-independent bone in my body. I had to swallow heaping spoonfuls of ego. But once I did I realized if you’re genuine with your intentions, thorough with your research, and kind, most everyone is willing to help in one way or another. I cannot stress preparedness enough!! If you’re reaching out for an informational interview or mentorship or to a networking connection, do your research on the person, the company, the job. It shows initiative but most importantly, respect. It’s simple and cliche but true: don’t be afraid to ask, the worse they can say is “no”. Don’t deny yourself before giving them a chance to, you might be surprised!”
Read more and contribute your stories in the Diem app, here.
Till next time,