Look outside. It's probably grey.
If you're inside your bunched-up terrace on a busy road; or huddled with strangers with their steaming coffee in a station waiting room; or sat on a worn-in chair well past its sell-by-date in your office block, there's a high probability it's going to be grey outside.
Unless you're reading this from California. In which case; why?
Grey probably isn't your aesthetic, unless you're a Gen-Y twenty-something who hangs out in coffee shops gilded with marble and avocado. And even then, an overcast and begrudgingly British backdrop is not synonymous with your Instagram theme.
Hike up the contrast; toothbrush the dark areas; make it bright, brighter, brighter still until you have to turn down the brightness on your phone display because it hurts your eyes to look at. You've got to blind your followers with your ultra-luxe life. Make them swoon. Make them envy you. A whole 623 people are counting on you to do this. Don't stop now.
Put on some pseudo-fancy-street-style clothes for a half hour shoot and pretend you'll stay like that the whole day. Stop outside someone's house on a high-end street. The kind that would tower over your infant terrace. Swish your hair and pose; hold everything in; everything up; turn your thighs in, or out, depending; take the most un-candid-candid.
Snap, snap, snap.
Someone probably worked hard to get this house, to call this their home, but hey, we're entitled to keep our followers happy. And the owners are probably not in. Let's whore out their doorstep for our own gain. We're entitled to keep up the pretence, and we're two-weeks deep into this new theme. Can't stop now.
You probably haven't done this. I've not. Yet.
I'm knee-deep in the vapid generation but my head is still above water. It's pushing at my waist, licking up my sides, bobbing beneath my chest. I'm still swimming against it.
But I'm getting tired.
I had a panic attack last Friday. And you know what upset me the most? That my makeup was ruined; my perfectly-separated mascara was now tousled down my cheeks, my lipstick muddy and thick with saliva. But I didn't want to miss out on a day's worth of likes because of this, because my body went wrong. I scrolled through my media, found an unused photo, probably a 6/10 on a good day, but today was not a good day. Today it was pedalling near an 8/10. Anything with blurry eyes looks better. It's like the Fade filter on Instagram. It's the stuff of dreams.
I uploaded the photo. Wrote a witty caption. I'm good at that; I'm good at pretending. I'm an actor and a writer, it's what my whole life is good for. That and a handful of accents.
And instead of stepping back and looking at myself, consoling, caring for something deeper than the surface and understanding why my body snapped and climaxed into panic, I mollified it. Artificially. With my followers. Comments flooded in, probably the same rate as my actual tear fall ten minutes ago. They said I was beautiful. Gorgeous. Stunning. Every word dried the tears up a little more. I kept reading, watching the like count grow. 20, 50, 75 - a symphony of double-taps on a filtered face and a constructed reality.
Who is really winning here?
The followers? The people who are seeing a pretty picture of a 6/10 girl, commenting, and pressing like. Do they get a rush from complementing? Or is it just a dull thud in their head as someone appears more put together than they are?
I scrolled down my feed.
Pictures of girls, gorgeous girls, perfect girls - with brand new clothes, makeup, handbags - everything. Outside the pretty houses, against bright-white walls, teeth straight, eyeliner straight, eyes straight down the lens and looking at me. Looking at me and my messy face; my swollen eyes; my jawbone where I collected heavy, gloopy puddles of mascara.
I know they can't see me. They don't know when I'm looking at them, or what I am feeling. They don't comfort me. They push me to be prettier, to manufacture myself until I'm that 8/10, filtered more than my coffee, empty of me and any quirks that my parents find endearing. Quirks don't fit in. Perfection fits in. It's the only way.
It's absolutely mad.
Gen-Y started to get vapid a while ago; now it's absolutely nauseating. My timeline is full of girls turning on each other and making swipes - childhood friends stabbing each other in the back - and for what? To get the upper-hand, or to appear more established?
I don't get it.
I disturbed myself when I broke down and didn't take care of myself. If my car broke down, I'd call for help. I wouldn't stand by and call my insurer to tell them how wonderful and shiny and perfect my car is, just to keep up appearances.
I needed help; but instead I just hid myself away behind a lie. And it's wrong. It's so, so wrong.
I don't know what we need to do to stop it. To stop filtering our faces, our lives, our minds; because who are we doing it for? When you're in bed at night, crying into an already-stained pillow, who is there to comfort you? It's not your faceless Instagram followers. They don't want to see that - that's not what they followed you for.
Social media is an escape. And that's fine. But we need to understand where the line is, and where reality becomes fiction. I scared myself the other day. I felt like a fraud - I'm a mental health ambassador and I'm always telling others to support each other and to be open about how they feel - and there I was, doing the exact opposite.
There is a time and a place for an amped-up life, where everything is a little prettier than it perhaps is face-to-face. And that's fine. But when you're broken, and you need help and support, lying to strangers on social media isn't doing anyone any good.
I'm vowing to stay real; and I hope you will too.