When Taylor Swift strutted onto the MTV VMA red carpet in August 2015 with nine female dates, she seemed to be making a statement to womankind that friendship should be valued above all else. But was her display of hyper-feminine unity sincere or merely another form of celebrity exhibitionism?
This latest parade of Swift’s curated ‘squad’ encouraged a stream of imitators online. Instagram became clogged with the hashtag #squadgoals as young women grouped together to show off their inner circle and collective friendship aspirations. With over 1m #squadgoals tagged, the term has become the the go-to vernacular to describe a group’s solidarity, common identity and exclusivity.
Some social media platforms share similarities with the talent contests seen in US high school films. Complexity and individuality are often pushed to the side in favour of the kind of exhibitionism and adherence to convention that keep Swift firmly in the media spotlight – a shame considering social media’s influence on young girls. Instead of falling into the trap of only promoting squad goals, influencers and young consumers should spread the value of solo goals to encourage fresh thinking.
Research shows that time spent alone is as important as human interaction, yet we don’t seem to elevate solitary activities online. Speaking out against #squadgoals, 14-year-old actress Rowan Blanchard published an essay on Instagram revealing her experiences with depression. As someone who is keen to raise awareness about how social media can create feelings of isolation among some users, perhaps she should be considered as an aspirational voice for her generation.
A movement is forming around the idea of learning to appreciate one’s own company and solo goals rather than succumbing to the pressure to project a false image online. To meet the growing demand for privacy, a range of apps and services are enabling consumers to avoid stressful situations and, if desired, other people. Avoid Humans uses geo-location tags from Instagram and Foursquare to find quiet spots in a user’s nearby area. Sacred Introvert’s Retreat Tours aim to remove the stigma around travelling alone with holiday experiences limited to small groups of like-minded individuals.
Author of Generation Me Jean Twenge suggests that anxiety levels have risen among Millennials due to what she terms a narcissism epidemic. ‘The relationship between narcissism and anxiety may seem paradoxical, but the extrinsic values that Millennials value that correlate with narcissism such as money, fame and image also correlate with anxiety,’ she explains. Living in a share-all society, young people are particularly aware of the parties, events and get-togethers occurring in their absence.
Social media can amplify the fear of missing out (FOMO) and discourage individuals from sharing their solitary pursuits for fear of tarnishing their established online identity. However, with the rise of mindfulness and holistic wellbeing culture, people may begin to realise that happiness doesn’t come from looking like you have and do it all with everyone who’s anyone all the time, but from balancing social interaction with solo passions that connect individuals to themselves. Perhaps the next social media craze will focus on the Joy of Missing Out (JOMO), but it would need a new kind of pin-up girl, one who isn’t afraid to take herself out on a date.