In today’s society, carving out a space for your own genuine self can feel like navigating a minefield of expectations and comparisons. We are a generation defined by hashtags, curated feeds, and the relentless pressure to conform. Trends ebb and flow, dictating our clothes, music, and even vocabulary. In a world obsessed with identicality, individuality feels like a rebellion.  

For most people, especially teens and young adults who grew up in this era, it’s common to struggle with being ourselves. The immense pressure to be like the things we hear and see constantly is on the sidelines ready to take centerfield. In these times, loneliness and the feeling of isolation tend to settle in making the struggle even more cumbersome. 

But what happens when you question “Where am I in all this?” What happens when your carefully constructed online persona clashes with your true self underneath? And where do you go from there?

Being comfortably yourself involves understanding what it means to be an individual and exploring the struggle to maintain individuality in a world where the line between self and trend blurs with every swipe and click.

What is individualism and how does it apply to your mental health?

According to Steven M. Lukes, a professor of sociology at the University of New York, individualism  is a “political and social philosophy that emphasizes the moral worth of the individual.” Individualism, at its core, is the belief that each person holds inherent value and deserves the freedom to pursue their own goals.

The way I think of it is like a garden. Each section has a variety of flowers and other plants, all of different shapes, sizes, colors, and smells. Although there are so many different types of flowers, they all still coincide and complement each other. Individualism recognizes and cherishes this inherent diversity, valuing the individuality of each flower instead of striving for a monoculture of identical blooms.

You also should take into consideration that individualism is not the same as selfishness or isolation. While it does shed light on the importance of personal liberty, it also recognizes the importance of community and coexistence. When you embrace individuality, you bring something special to the world. Sharing your unique talents, perspectives, and experiences makes society more diverse and meaningful.

How social media & influencer culture drive conformity

When you think about the evolution of social media, a lot of different things come to mind. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and X have made it easy to create accounts, share content, and connect with others. Aspects like live streaming, sharing content, photo editing, and connecting globally have changed how the world works, especially after 2020.

What is influencer culture?

Have you ever gotten sucked into the vortex of perfectly curated influencer lives and feel like your life suddenly needs an upgrade? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. That’s the pressure of influencer culture at play. 

These online personalities, with their perfectly curated feeds, can subtly influence our thoughts, choices, and even self-esteem. It’s a powerful force, but it’s important to remember that their lives are carefully crafted and not always reality. 

How does social media play a role in conformity? 

For some more insight on this topic, I spoke with Ibkai, a Nigerian immigrant and sophomore in college living in New Jersey. He balances his studies with a job in disability care, all while pursuing his passion for basketball.

He also describes himself as a natural people person, always eager to connect with others. Ibkai prides himself on his kindness towards others stating, “No matter who it is, I’m kind regardless to everybody.”

Ibkai gave more about his background, expressing that his culture is what shaped his perspective on life today, relying on lessons from his past to help him make good decisions. He gave a statement saying that his “cultural upbringing helped open his eyes to see more.”

When asked about what individualism means to him, he responded by saying” Individualism means doing what represents you or doing what you identify with without thinking of others opinions.”

When thinking about some notable things Ibkai said in our interview that differed from the others, he was the only one to speak on the addictive aspect of social media. He expressed the idea of being less productive due to the addictivity of social media. 

He also spoke a bit about the opportunities social media provides in terms of fame and monetization stating that “people will do anything to get famous.” He segwayed into the impact that influencers have on their audience to add to his previous thoughts.

As an example, he used the relationship drama between Kim Kardashian and Kanye West stating “ I bet you if Kim went to the media and posted something crazy the whole world would drag him” referring to if Kim K hypothetically decided to post misinformation about Kanye. 

Some important takeaways from my interview with Ibkai would be how he described the media as well as the advice he gave. Ibkai said that for social media, “people will be fake. They put on a fake smile and do whatever it takes. It is destroying the world as much as it’s promoting things in the world.” 

Ibkai’s advice to cope goes as follows: “Be honest regardless no matter who it is. Whether it’s family or friends or strangers, be yourself.  Try to be the best version of yourself.”

FOMO (fear of missing out) & the pressure to conform

If you ever feel like you have to act a certain way because everyone else is, that’s conformity. Society throws out these “cool” trends and sets certain standards, and then suddenly everyone’s doing and saying the same things. It’s essential to be mindful of trends’ potential to reinforce negative aspects of conformity. 

The pressure can make us silence our own ideas and just go along with the group, even if it feels wrong. This fear of being left out can lead us to make choices that don’t truly reflect who we are or what we believe. 

Social media doesn’t make it easier, constantly bombarding us with what’s “popular.” It’s easy to feel like we’ll miss out if we don’t jump on the latest bandwagon, even if it feels fake.  But here’s the thing: trends come and go, but your unique personality never goes out of style. Don’t be afraid to march to your own drum, question things, and rock your authentic self. The world needs your individuality.

For this topic, I interviewed Hayden Murphy, a high-school junior located in Georgia. Hayden grew up going from place to place as a military brat until his father finally settled in Georgia. 

Growing up, Hayden described that he had to mature early in order to help raise and protect his younger sister being that his father was out doing military work and his mother had fallen victim to substance abuse. Murphy coined himself as someone who values honor, honesty, and vigor above all things. 

Something notable about Hayden’s childhood is that he didn’t grow up with a phone unlike most kids his age. He described himself to be a more independent thinker because of this and said “Social media doesn’t define me, I define myself.”Rather than social media, Murphy pays respect to his surroundings, experiences, and notable people in his life when expressing who/what shaped him into the person he is today. 

When asked about what individualism means to him, he responded by saying “It’s your ability to not be affected by peer pressure and trends”, using the example of young girls believing they need to wear makeup to be beautiful to support his claim. 

During the interview, I asked for Hayden’s perspective on the usage of technology and apps pertaining to young adults and youth, primarily Gen Z and Gen Alpha. Murphy went on to say that he has a certain apprehension towards users rather than the technology or apps themselves. 

Murphy said “The average Gen Z kid needs to have more mental strength to not have their feelings hurt by something said online. ”When asked about how to go about this issue, he said as so: “We get off social media and go touch some grass! Think of it like an immune system. You have to expose yourself to germs to build up your tolerance.”

The last thing I asked during the interview was “What advice would you give someone struggling with individuality?”

He left me with a notable quote that I believe will resonate with everyone. The quote goes as so: “It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to visit crazy town but it’s not okay to pack your stuff and move in. You have to recover eventually. The best advice I could give to recover is to not listen to anyone. Make your own opinions and be yourself.”

How can we use technology to promote individuality instead of suppressing it?

My last interview was with Salvadoran-American father of 5, Jose Ayala-Tespan. Jose is a U.S. Army veteran and general assistant manager at Gold’s Gym located in Virginia. He also is a bodybuilder and has competed in various bodybuilding shows.

Some of his values include loyalty, integrity, unity in family, and having a stable mind. Ayala-Tespan’s definition of individualism involves being a freethinking individual who stands on their beliefs regardless of what others think and forming your own opinions. 

Ayala-Tespan expressed that growing up, he had a fearful outlook on life. He often wanted to do the right thing to appease others, being that his father was physically abusive and his mother was mentally and emotionally abusive making him, in his terms, “a very people-pleasing person”. 

When it comes to culture, he states that he “ feels driven for certain aspects because you’ll get looked down upon if you aren’t providing 100% for your parents.” He went on to state that this outlook followed him into his adult life. 

Jose articulated that for a long time social media used to affect him negatively, expressing: “I felt like I wasn’t where I needed to be in life for the age that I was. I was failing some way or another”. He explained that the facade of social media affected his romantic relationships as well saying “If it wasn’t lovey-dovey 24/7 I was somehow someway messing it up.”

On a positive note, Ayala-Tespan told me about how he changed the way he consumed media to improve the effect it had on him. He stated, “On the flip side, with social media now, changing the content that I consume and people that I follow has helped me have a better outlook on life where I don’t necessarily have to be at a certain point for where I’m at in life.” 

He also stated: “It gave me a different outlook on relationships. I know it’s not always gonna be all sunshine and rainbows whether it’s a romantic relationship or if it’s a relationship between family and friends. I think it’s all about the content you consume. That’s how I look at it now”

Ending things off, I asked Jose about what advice he would give someone who is struggling to maintain their individualism. He responded by saying this: “Half the stuff you see on social media is people living a fake life. A lot of those people aren’t really as happy as they claim to be or living the life that they claim that they’re living.”

He continued saying, “Don’t compare yourself to someone you see online. Especially for younger folks, your early and mid-twenties is the time you should be developing yourself. Focus on what you’re doing to better yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. Be very discerning in who you listen to and the content you consume. Take everything with a grain of salt.” All words of wisdom that should stick with us all.

Embracing personal style and quirks with confidence

Social media can be a cool place to connect, but don’t let it define you. It’s important to find a healthy balance between your own needs and being part of something bigger. 

Owning your unique personality, the things that make you YOU, is where true confidence shines. It’s a journey, not a destination, so take some time to figure out what matters to you. What makes you tick? What are you good at? What are your dreams?

Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and try new things. Explore, experiment, and express yourself authentically. Trends come and go, but your individuality is forever. Be proud of who you are, even if it feels different. Never forget that when you understand and embrace who you are, you can contribute to the world in a meaningful way, making it a better place for everyone. The world needs your uniqueness.