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The Battle of Narcissus and Nemesis in a Millennial World

Wednesday 13, Jun 2018


Ever wondered how social media is shaping the first generation of digital natives, and why authenticity is this gens battle-cry? It turns out there is only so much curation that one generation can handle; it’s now time to keep it real. In this Vivid Ideas Exchange, the Public Relations Institute of Australia brought together a panel of experts from ReachOut, Viacom, lululemon, #TeamGirls and N2N to tackle ‘Keeping it Real in an age of curated perfection’.

The event – moderated by Samara Kitchener, NSW President PRIA and Director House of Kitch - explored the concept of curated perfection, the effect of influencers and role models that shape us in different ways, and how we as communicators can strive for authenticity.

“We are experiencing an unusual dichotomy of authenticity vs curated perfection.  On one hand you have leaders, brands and people striving for authenticity; and on the other hand, you have a generation of kids growing up in a new paradigm where being themselves is a challenge,” said Kitchener.

​The event was based on ReachOut research into curated perfection and associated challenges for young people. Each panel member brought a unique view into the curated perfection landscape:

Panel (L to R)
Samara Kitchener (MC), NSW President PRIA and Director House of Kitch 
Jono Nicholas, CEO of ReachOut Australia
Lisa Portolan, a senior consultant at N2N communications and author of ‘Happy As’
Clare McMeniman, former Australian Diamonds Captain and Suncorp #TeamGirls Ambassador
Jessica Madruga, Research Manager of MTV, Comedy Central and Spike in ANZ
Kate Russell, Community Maven Sydney for lululemon


Lisa Portolan, senior consultant at N2N communications and author of ‘Happy As: Why the Quest for Happiness is Making Us Miserable’, kicked off the conversation by outlining the origin of the notion of happiness. “Aristotle, Socrates and the like all sought to quantify, evaluate and determine the exact size and shape of happiness. Back when the Greeks considered the terminology, happiness – or eudaimonia – was a broader notion, linked to participating in political life, taking part in civic duties and overall spending a life well lived for the common good.”

​“Physical, moral and social perfection have come to define our notion of modern-day happiness. Despite the breakdown of so many of the societal rules and regulations that once defined our existence, we have developed new ones; dictated and projected from a digital sphere.”

“We find ourselves at this place where identity and happiness have become intrinsically linked. That can become dangerous, especially when we try to define ourselves through milestones and consumer products”, said Portolan. 

“This story goes right back to the beginning”, said Jono Nicholas, CEO of ReachOut. “With the myth of Narcissus, the young man who died as he became obsessed with his own reflection; and Nemesis who tricked Narcissus to see his own face reflected in a well, and to fall in love with his own image. Nemesis played on Narcissus’s weakness and sent him into a spiral of unobtainable longing.


“And so, thousands of years on, we need to ask ourselves - Is social media like an endless hall of mirrors, intermingled with aspirational filters, influencers and brands – filling us with unreachable and unrealistic expectations? Or is social media a wonderful way of connecting with others and finding like-minded souls? Or is it both?” said Kitchener. 

“Traditional peer pressure to conform and keep up a façade of being ‘normal’ has been turbo charged by social media. This puts pressure on what young people are being seen to do, wear, achieve and who they are with”, said Nicholas.

“Curated perfection is the combination of positive emotion – I want to display or share positive things, but an anxiety that it may not be liked or appreciated. Young people admit that being their ‘true self’ can be challenging, as the pressure to fit in and meet expectations from different aspects is overwhelming”.

For its recent ‘Social for Everyone’ study, Viacom spoke to over 40,000 people aged 6-54 in 35 countries to understand the role of social media in people’s lives today. Jess Madruga, Research Manager of MTV, Comedy Central and Spike in ANZ provided local insights from the study. “More than half social media users worry about the impact of social media on their lives. They worry about images of themselves that could cause them issues later in life; they also worry about cyber bullying. But despite all of this, the positives of social media greatly outweigh these risks.”

Madruga added, “82% saying that social media positively affects at least one area of their life – such as relationships, work, social life, or political involvement. Just 30% feel that social media has a negative impact upon any of these areas.”

“The reason that social media is so ubiquitous is that it fulfills our core need to connect. It enhances our existing relationships and connects us with strangers who then become our friends and share our passions. It is also a source of creativity and inspiration. It gives people a voice that they didn’t have before. Finally, social media is fun. Globally, entrainment is the #2 reason why people want to use social media. Reason #1 is keeping in touch with family and friends”.

“18-24 year olds have 56.4 interactions (commenting, sharing, posting, checking in) with social media a day. On average, Australian’s have 35.7 interactions each day,” said Madruga.

While connection and entertainment are major drivers, an unintended consequence is comparison.

“Comparison is often referred to as the thief of happiness – we naturally compare ourselves to others and create tribes around ourselves. This helps benchmark where we are at and what we want to become,” said Portolan.

“Social media brings a broader comparison base – we compare ourselves to Beyoncé or Kim Kardashian – driving Lamborghinis and holidaying on the French Riviera. In comparison, your own life can appear quite mundane. In our own social media, we typically go to lengths to portray the best form of self; curating an image of who we are and how successful we are”, said Portolan.

Suncorp, together with Netball Australia, ReachOut and a range of industry experts and ambassadors, created #TeamGirls to promote and foster girls’ confidence through sports participation.

Clare McMeniman, former Australian Diamonds Captain and #TeamGirls Ambassador, said “Teenage girls are seeking autonomy or independence; turning to their peers for advice, guidance and validation while they are seeking their identity – who they really are. That can be quite tricky in a social media space, because they don’t only seek validation from their friends, they are also reaching out to people they have never met before and seeking their validation. It does become about likes – teenagers have an obsession with likes and followers – if you have more likes and more followers it is in an indication that you are happier, more successful, that you are the best version of you. This comparison can lead to despair - the bad side.”

“The good side, and what #TeamGirls is about is recognising that the world of selfies and perfection is not real. We use social media to share sources of inspiration - real life people to give you a reason to try  something new or that you have failed at before”, said McMeniman.

​“Young guys have the same level of anxiety as girls of how they will be perceived; and a huge level anxiety about their future self and how they will be judged. Boys are not very verbal and expressive of their emotions – this can sometimes be mistaken as boys not having an issue. But young guys are just as affected – they just have a harder time talking about it,” said Nicholas. 

Read the full article at HOUSE OF KITCH

Written by Samara Kitchener MPRIA - NSW State President