Artwork: Jane Tan

Turning 30 is certainly a cause for celebration… but what are we celebrating exactly? In ‘My Dirty 30s’, columnist Samantha Y. reflects on the good, the bad, and the downright ugly truth about what this decade spells for “ageing” millennials like herself. 

It first started with a seemingly innocuous selfie from a popular beauty influencer. I won’t name names, but… you know which one. She was dressed in a skin-tight, midriff-baring activewear set, which only further accentuated her slender figure and well-defined abs. This is nothing out of the norm for the social media personality, whom I had been following for years.

Except this time, she’s only a week postpartum. Coincidentally, I was also recovering from childbirth so I couldn’t help but compare. At one week postpartum, I looked (and felt!) like I had been hit by a bus. My muscles were still sore from a 13-hour labour, my feet had ballooned due to water retention and this may be TMI, but the humongous haemorrhoids I sustained from pushing made sitting or lying down extremely uncomfortable.

I had put on close to 20kg during my pregnancy, and after evicting my almost 4kg baby from my womb, I still carried some extra weight. Naturally, my tummy looks nothing like it did pre-pregnancy. I thought I had left my body image issues far behind me, but seeing her postpartum abs on full display, my inner critic couldn’t help but rear its ugly head again. “You don’t look like her because you didn’t try hard enough,” it said repeatedly. I caved and broke down.

Before anyone comes at me, I am fully aware that no one else is responsible for the way I feel. The onus isn’t on this influencer to be mindful of other postpartum moms. After all, people are free to post what they want on their own social media accounts. You can just unfollow them if you don’t like their content, right?

Except I actually did like this influencer’s content. I had been watching her beauty tutorials and GRRWMs for years, plus I enjoyed her pregnancy content. Being pregnant can be such an isolating experience, so seeing her updates made me feel less alone in my own journey. At the behest of my friends, who very gently reminded me that this influencer is perpetuating rather unattainable standards for the rest of us, I hit the unfollow button.

Oddly enough, it felt like a breakup. After all, this was someone whose life I had been invested in for years. The post-breakup clarity hit me a few weeks later. Without her on my social media feed, I felt
a lot better about myself. I stopped second-guessing my choices as a new mum, but most importantly, I was much kinder to my body. My inner critic still lives in my head rent-free, but it sounds much more rational now.

Rather than calling me an abject failure, it acknowledges that while I didn’t put in the same amount of work that the influencer did, I also didn’t have the luxury of working out with personal trainers all throughout my pregnancy. And as much as I tried to stick to a fitness routine, work and pregnancy-related ailments got in the way. Maybe my body just needed more time to recover. Or maybe it will never go back to the way it was. Either way, it doesn’t matter — because, unlike this influencer, my livelihood doesn’t depend on how I look.

Upon closer scrutiny, I also realised what the real problem is: my unhealthy social media diet. What people choose to post on social media is highly curated to paint themselves in the most flattering light — this much is obvious. However, when your feed is constantly bombarded with updates from people whose job is to make things look picture-perfect for the ‘gram, it can create very unrealistic expectations for yourself.

Following this episode, I went on an unfollowing spree and by the end of the month, I had eliminated a whole bunch of influencers from my feed. Turns out, I had followed a lot of them over the years without even realising that a lot of their content no longer serves me.

Instead of sponsored shots cleverly disguised as real life, my social media feed now strictly consists of news updates, funny memes, cute animals, and of course, updates from my IRL friends. And my mental health is so much better for it! Some might argue that the issue here is my self-esteem but hey, protecting it from unhelpful content —  especially those that make me feel bad about myself, whether intentionally or not —  is a crucial first step.

The other thing that made my relationship with social media much healthier was watching what I post. For millennials, social media started out as an easy way for us to update our friends on our lives. Over the years, I’ve learnt that posting your life online has become a free pass for people to pass judgement or criticism. And the older I get, the less patience I have for unsolicited advice.

As such, I no longer voraciously post Instagram-stories about every interesting or funny moment in my life for posterity. I’ve cut down on posting on my main feed from once a week to once every quarter, and that’s only if I have a life milestone to update my social circle on — like my wedding and pregnancy announcements.

In doing so, I’ve realised that there’s something freeing about staying private in the age of social media. The less people know about my private life, the less ammunition they have to make me feel inadequate.
And let’s be honest — if I lived my life without posting it on social media, nothing would change. So why open myself up to all of that potential negativity, especially when I am just a regular Joe?