By Julie-Ann Sherlock

We all love a bit of attention and to feel like we are special, appreciated and loved. I mean, the big ol’ drama queen writing this is one of the first to bask in any plaudits she can. It’s part of why I am a writer. “Look at me, look at me”, my Facebook, Insta and articles scream. It’s also why I will occasionally screech a terribly out of tune rendition of Spice Girls “Wannabe” or The Fontaines DC’s “Boys in the Better Land” at karaoke. 

I blame it on being a middle child who had been the youngest for 10 years. I went from being the adored baby to having to sing, dance and fake-play guitar to compete with the cute little bundle that arrived. He was later knocked off his perch by another baby, compounding my middle child syndrome and driving him to become a talented music producer. (Check out Gramophone Soul for some great funky mixes!)

But talented or talentless doesn’t really matter when it comes to social media. These days, it’s all about putting your best side out there, faking it if necessary, and thirst trapping.

What Is Thirst Trapping?

Way back in the mists of time (the early 2000s), social media became a “thing” with MySpace, Bebo and Facebook enticing us to connect, share and communicate online. This opportunity to showcase our best lives and snoop on others led to the social media boom we see today. 

Even in those early days, carefully curated images and snapshots of our lives became the norm for those wanting to show off the good aspects while downplaying the bad. Selfies became ubiquitous, as did filters and editing of images to portray perfection. And now, this trend of posting our “sexier” photos has been given a name: thirst trapping. 

Let’s face it, sex has always sold. Visit the ancient ruins of Ephesus in Turkey, and you will see one of the world’s first advertisements. It’s for a brothel. 

We may have swapped carving in stone for uploading images, but the idea is still the same. We advertise that we are sexy humans and bask in the resulting validation. Many are thirsty for approval from their peers and admirers, becoming attention whores. 

By posing seductively, ensuring the lighting is right and angling our camera’s to get the perfect shot, we portray ourselves as flawless and beautiful for all the world to appreciate. But is this posturing and projection of perfection dangerous, or can it actually positively affect our mental health?

It can be a bit of both, actually. 

Social Media Psych 101

We all know the dangers of taking everything we see online at face value. Deep down, most of us realise that even the Kardashians are not impeccably primped and preened every second of the day. I am sure they also wake up with morning breath, no makeup and hair looking like they have fought their way through a gale-force wind. 

But social media, particularly Instagram, shows us pictures of them looking angelic against satin pillows with their hair fanned out around them like a halo. This “effortless perfection” makes us doubt our own ability to function as mere humans and perhaps feel inferior because we don’t share their (almost) universally perceived lofty beauty standards. 

The pressure for many, especially teenagers, to live up to these virtually impossible ideals is causing anxiety and depression in today’s society. Sure, triggers for these feelings of inferiority are not new. When I was young, posters of Eva Herzigová sporting a Wonderbra caused me to freak out about my lack of ability to command the same “Hello Boys” attention. But now, it is unrelenting. 

The constant social media reinforcement of the notion that unless you have a Victoria Secret’s model body, a flawless face and live a glamorous lifestyle, you may as well not exist is a horrendous amount of pressure to put on anyone, never mind an impressionable, still-developing teenager. 

But thirst trapping doesn’t have to be all bad. Studies have found that when we feel good about a photo of ourselves, it can profoundly impact our psyche. Sharing it online and basking in the positive comments and love from those we invite into our social media circles can trigger the happy hormone dopamine and put a pep in our step. 

So while I disagree with the constant bombardment of “faked perfection”, posting a pic where you feel cute or sexy is not the worst thing you can do. It can raise your self-esteem, help you feel accepted and maybe make you recognise that you are beautiful even if you are not a Kardashian. 

Post your best self on social media if you wish, thirst trap as much as you like, but also try to embrace your imperfections and remember we are all flawed humans who deserve love and attention.