Why I Refuse To Participate In Instagram's 10-Year Challenge

We spend so much time comparing ourselves to others, why make our social anxiety worse by comparing our past and current selves too?
Chokniti Khongchum / EyeEm via Getty Images

I scroll through Instagram and I see a photo of a family friend, beaming outside a wedding shop having just chosen her dress. I switch to Facebook, where a school friend is announcing that his partner is expecting their first baby. On Twitter, a former colleague is telling the world about her promotion.

I’m happy for them, of course. But I’m also struck by that all too familiar thought: ‘My life should be moving faster’.

Having grown up with the boom of social media, documenting every one of life’s milestones online is second nature to millennials, which means unfortunately, comparing ourselves to one another is also our default setting.

And now, a new social media challenge is upping the ante, encouraging us to compare ourselves to a new adversary: ourselves, 10 years younger.

The concept of the 10-year challenge is simple: post a photo of yourself 10 years ago beside a photo of yourself today, write about everything you’ve achieved in the past decade, make a self-deprecating comment about your old hair (or lust over your former, skinny arms), then wait for the likes to roll in.

But what if your life hasn’t had the upwards trajectory in the past 10 years you thought it would? What if you’ve stood still? What if, by societal standards, you’ve actually gone backwards?

Talking to friends and colleagues about the challenge, it seems scrutinising our so-called progress has left a lot of us feeling deflated. While one colleague lamented that she was actually having way more fun at 21, another pointed out that she’s essentially doing the same job she was 10 years ago. But does that mean we’ve wasted the last decade? Of course not! So why are we so bothered?

For me, the 10-year challenge is just another medium telling us we need to constantly be moving forwards in order to be deemed successful. No wonder millennial burnout is such a hot topic right now; constantly trying to keep up with your peers, aiming not only to “have it all”, but to “have it all within a decade”, is exhausting.

On top of this unhealthy arms race of achievement, a lot of the #10YearChallenge posts reaffirm limiting one-size-fits-all beauty standards. One of the most liked posts is by Reese Witherspoon, which has received hundreds of comments from people congratulating her on looking exactly the same in both shots. The clear message? Ageing is ugly, win at life by defying time.

Even self-deprecating #humblebrags about “glow-ups” are problematic. I spotted one post where a woman was mocking her “chubby” 16-year-old self next to the slimmer 26-year-old version. It’s great that she’s gained self-confidence with age, but imagine seeing that as an overweight teenager scrolling through Instagram, or any teenager, for that matter. It boggles my mind that we’re so quick to forget how hard it was.

That’s not to say every #10YearChallenge post has been bad. Some people are using the challenge to talk about adversity they’ve faced in the past decade, sharing how they’ve grown as a person, giving hope to those currently going through tough times.

Their posts prove that for most of us, life is not linear – it is full of highs and lows that we’ll ride at different speeds. So if you’re looking at the #10YearChallenge and feeling left behind, don’t worry, your time will come. But until then, I’m right there with you.