27 March 2024

Insta 'perfect' isn't real life: A 13-year-old tried to bully me on the internet - here's my response

| Zoya Patel
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royal family portrait with AI identified

Life is messier than Instagram, yet even royals are under pressure to present the ‘perfect’ image online (even if it means using AI). Photo: Kensington Palace/Region.

I post regularly on social media and enjoy being part of an online community, but I’m very aware of the pitfalls of platforms that are designed to keep us engaged, often to the detriment of our mental health.

While I enjoy my time on the internet, I’ve always been grateful that I didn’t grow up in a time when social media was the norm. In my adolescence, dial-up internet was still the go, and I was only allocated an hour on the family PC to use MSN Messenger and Neopets.

There wasn’t the opportunity or the medium for nastiness to follow me home from school via my mobile device, nor was there the chance for me to gain a warped sense of reality as a result of consuming doctored and edited images online.

These days, most of my online activity revolves around my primary hobby, in the equestrian world. Through the horse community in Canberra, I’ve met some wonderful young people and their families. Most of the time, the community we have, both in person and online, is positive.

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This week, though, one of my posts on social media attracted a narky comment from an anonymous user who commented to critique my riding position. It was a fairly low-level comment casting shade on my position – and several of my younger friends jumped in to defend me, pointing out that the footage of me riding was from only eight weeks after I had a caesarian.

“Why don’t you try and compete after having a baby eight weeks prior and let us know how that goes?” a friend commented. In response, the user replied that they were 13 years old and therefore couldn’t.

I messaged my friend and told her not to stress about it. I wasn’t fazed by the comment itself, but I would be lying if I said the commenter’s age didn’t give me pause.

Thirteen feels young to be using social media to leave mean(ish) comments on strangers’ posts. But what actually concerns me is what this young woman must be internalising as a result of the content she views, if this is how she responds to other people.

If I could reach out to her directly, I would want to point out to her that her idea of what is ‘good’ in our sport is defined by carefully edited content from people who curate their image and that the ideal of perfection she bases her assessment of others off is largely unattainable and also not realistic. It would be the same in any sport or niche. What we see online is not reflective of most people who enjoy those activities, whose bodies may look different while doing the same things, and who can’t necessarily edit and highlight their footage the way an influencer can.

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Aside from how that unrealistic perspective can impact how she sees others, I worry more about how it will affect her self-perception. As this young woman grows and her body changes, undoubtedly, she won’t see herself reflected in the content she consumes, and if she can’t recognise the false reality of social media now, she stands to take a hit to her self-esteem down the track.

I understand the need for young people to test boundaries and express themselves online, and I’m too much of a realist to think that there is any way, short of banning social media entirely, to avoid negativity and bullying on online platforms. But I do hope that there is sufficient education and support for young people to have a critical engagement with what they see on social media and to understand that real life doesn’t come with a filter and a soundtrack and that there is more joy in a messy, uncurated reality than an impossible-to-maintain fantasy.

In the meantime, I’ll keep sharing footage of myself in our sport to add some diversity to what is out there for younger equestrians to view and relate to. If anything, this week’s interactions have made me more aware than ever of how important it is that our screens reflect reality.

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In my experience 13 yo girl is peak narcissism. Unfortunately, many (boys and girls) don’t improve from there.

James Trethowan2:44 pm 28 Mar 24

I call it Instacrap

Sounds to me the bullies are the author’s friends who expected the commenter to know that the reason for the poor riding form was due to a caesarean in the previous 8 weeks. Perhaps the author should have highlighted it in the post or maybe it’s all about being precious over the negative response the author’s post generated.

That social media can provide a warped view of reality is true. The more discernment people have around this, the better.

Some ideas about perfection are of course silly. However, I feel this understanding has been co-opted and inverted and is being used to justify a complete drop in standards in many areas. Everything in its own place. If it can’t be high quality or doesn’t need to be or whatever, then ok. But if If it can be or should be, then this needs to be understood Again, right judgement or discernment.

Ironically, whether Zaya knows it or not, she belongs to the progressive part of society, or that part which basis itself fundamentally on the belief in the perfectability of humans, in search for the utopian society. This progressivism is a good example of the lack of discernment implied above, i.e., the drive to let things go that shouldn’t be let go, and to perfect those things that can’t be or shouldn’t be, etc. It’s ultimately a lack of insight into the reality of things, which is what the article is hoping to address.

While the article did well to draw attention to how social media can warp reality, I think it also needed to bring attention to the fact that so many other things do this as well. Some honourable mentions here must go to the entertainment industry, media, education and science.

A bit of poor form don’t you think to use the royals to discuss online “image” and bullying when Princess Catherine was just diagnosed with cancer? Imagine if someone used photos of a cancer patient to discuss rorting of the NDIS.

Sam Oak – there are two separate issues in the problem with media coverage of the Princess of Wales and it’s not correct to suggest she should be immune to all criticism. The frenzy around her withdrawing from public life while she deals with her illness was unacceptable and she is entitled to privacy. However, her manipulation of a image (without identifying that it was manipulated) is not beyond criticism. It wasn’t the first of her photographs that had been altered and it is part of the growing problem of creating a phony narrative. It should be called out.

That’s a ridiculous take. People photoshop wedding photos and remove things like red eye all the time. To think that you need to “call out” people for doing that just goes to show how sad and miserable those types of people’s lives are!

I never thought I’d ever type these words – but, I agree with you 100%, Sam.

megsy’s “… her manipulation of a image (without identifying that it was manipulated) …” is a very small minded reaction to a family post. Where’s the phony narrative?

But it wasn’t just a family post – it was sent out as part of a publicity machine trying to manufacture the concept of a perfect family.

Seriously? So a family photo on instagram is now ‘part of a publicity machine’? As Sam said, people edit photos all the time to remove ‘blemishes’ … how did the edits somehow make them into “a pefect family”?

IMHO that kind of cr*p reporting belongs in New Idea, as I personally find the whole saga to be very yawn worthy.

If it’s so “very yawn worthy” to you, why are you responding? It wasn’t just a “family photo on instagram”. The photo was released by Kensington Palace.

Oh I responded because I saw Sam Oak’s comment and your reply and I agreed with him (believe me that happens rarely if ever) – what a load of bollocks. You seem to be making this out to be an international incident. When it’s nothing but tabloid fodder and you’ve gobbled it up like a carp on a hook in Lake BG.

Perhaps we should immediately take action to remove any ties we have with the royal family over this heinous cover up.


Times have certainly changed from when you grew up to the world this thirteen year old has been born into. Technology has also changed so much that social media for kids these days is absolutely part of their reality. It’s a new norm for all users.

Older people may have a wiser perspective, but for kids, it’s all they have known. What they say online comes from a relatively immature mind. And yet, these young minds are super tech savvy!

If you want to use it, be ready for whatever response you get. Anonymity and online platforms gives people a method to get pretty nasty. It’s not always nice. And remember, those who bully aren’t just kids.

You honestly view any comment made on something you post that isn’t positive as “bullying”?

You post things on a public forum and people will disagree with you, they will make comments you don’t like and if you’re doing anything with bad form and post it, no matter what the sport may be, they WILL comment on it.

The internet has made people so very soft and sensitive to even the slightest of criticism, it really is ridiculous. You’re literally trying to play victim because a child commented on your bad riding form online… is this not cause any level of self reflection?

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