Syrian girls suffer under pressure of “lavish lifestyle” in virtual world

A girl writing on the computer (Expressive photo)

A girl writing on the computer (Expressive photo)


Enab Baladi – Alia Kamal al-Din

“Has coronavirus ruined your travel plans?!… but do you know the coronavirus pandemic has finished our supply of rice and sugar… What a life we have!” with these words, a girl from inside Syria commented on a post shared on one of the women’s Facebook groups, by a girl who is complaining that she cannot travel because of the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Both girls, whom Enab Baladi refused to publish their names for group privacy consideration, live in one virtual room. Still, each has different lifestyles, economic and social circumstances, interests, and concerns in reality. 

The group in which the two girls are posting and interacting includes hundreds of other women inside and outside Syria.

Some group members view their clothes and lifestyles, seeking reassurance from other members in the form of comments, likes, and hearting reactions. However, in actuality, interactions may not reflect the true feelings of the group users.

Enab Baladi tried to track the phenomenon of Syrian girls posting their life on social media by monitoring five Facebook groups and following interactions for their posts. Besides, Enab Baladi conducted a poll in one of these groups to find out the impacts of this phenomenon on users in general.  

Girls portray their “best self” on social media 

Enab Baladi monitored five Facebook groups of different contents. The first group includes approximately half a million female users, where they view their clothes and accessories. The second group has users posting food pictures. 

The remaining groups include female users who share their photos taken during special events, parties, and private photo sessions.

Most posts provide content that reflects the girls’ standard of living, which is often high. Thus, cyberbullying can happen, users might fall victim to loathing mockery, and sometimes few users wish that the wealthy girls get poor.

Enab Baladi conducted an opinion poll on one of the groups, in which the girls shared their photographs and details of their beauty products and jewelry. The poll includes the following question, which was asked to the recipients: what is the psychological effect of social media groups on girls?

150 female users participated in the opinion poll; 90 percent of the respondents said that they are highly affected, while the others claimed that they are not negatively affected by these groups and their content. 

Some respondents commented that the influence of social media groups increases and decreases according to their psychological state at the time of seeing the posts. 

Setting standards

“From where do people get money to go out and go shopping?!” This is the most frequently asked question heard by Fatima, an engineering student at the University of Damascus, during her day, and it is the same question that comes into her mind all the time. 

Fatima, who declined to publish her full name for personal reasons, recounts her experience to Enab Baladi with social networking sites; she used to be profoundly affected by the photos and videos girls share on social media, showing dining tables during invitations to restaurants.

This was disturbing her and affecting the psyche of people around her, who are unable to achieve this high standard of living. 

On the impact described by Fatima, the social researcher at the American Atlantic Center, Muhammad Diraniah, explains that social media stretches the people’s imaginations towards other people’s social lifestyles.

“When people with low incomes follow the accounts of those wealthy people and see what they publish about their daily lives in which they seem very happy, they directly link their deteriorating economic situation with the status of those who are filthy rich. 

Diraniah pointed out that low-income people, subconsciously, will hold the others the responsibility for their degrading status. Then, this idea is reinforced and entrenched over time until “fixed standards of success and happiness are rooted in the perceptions and imaginations of low-income people. These standards, in essence, are a reflection of a deep sense of deprivation.”

Diraniah further explains, “In conjunction with a deep sense of deprivation, the poor start to averse everything related to joy and happiness, because they represent the lifestyle of those whom he held them part of the responsibility of his deteriorating economic, social and psychological situation.”

Inferiority complex creates another complex

In a study conducted by the Institute of Information Systems of the Humboldt-Universität Zu Berlin (Dr. Hanna Krasnova), around 600 Facebook users were surveyed regarding their feelings after using the platform. More than one-third of respondents said that social media platforms give them bad vibes, mainly frustration. 

The researchers indicated that envying their “Facebook friends” is the most crucial cause of these feelings. 

This negative impact of social media on people’s psychology, which may cause “complex of inferiority,” could be caused by those who have other psychological complexes, which they cover by publishing photos and videos about their luxurious appearance, according to the Syrian psychologist, Fatima al-Shammat. 

Their behavior on social media also represents an attempt to give a particular image of their lifestyle and social class to their followers, that “I am happy, go places, and wear luxury-brand clothes,” according to al-Shammat. All these give indications that this Facebook user belongs to a specific class, which is considered an upper-class on social networking sites.

In addition to the psychological reasons represented in escaping from their real-world by creating a virtual reality, many reasons can be pathological, such as Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD).

People with HPD have a desperate desire for attention, approval, and reassurance from others. Those who have this disorder often want to be the center of attention. In case some competitors show up, and take all the attention, HPD people feel very upset.

Viewing lavish lifestyle on social media platforms cause depressions among people in war zone

Fatima al-Shammat, a psychologist, says that viewing one’s glamorous lifestyle on social media might cause or be an important factor in anxiety disorders for recipients, especially among people living in a war zone, and suffering to secure the slightest necessities of life. So, when these people follow the rich people’s accounts, they are drawn to constant comparisons between their life and the idealized virtual life of those they follow. And this creates a feeling of dissatisfaction and emotional instability, leading to depression.

One of the things that leads to low self-esteem is to link human values with material ones. Al-Shammat said that most people believe that “People who wear expensive clothing brands and viewing them on social media are exceptional and of great value. This idea is reinforced when web-community supports fashionistas, models, and other users of generated content.”

Another study conducted by researchers at “Penn State University” in 2016 indicated that following personal photos of other people reduces the followers” self-esteem because users compare themselves with pictures of people who appear happier and more beautiful.

The frequent use of social networking sites leads to people becoming less satisfied with their life, according to a study published by the American “Disability Charity Scope/ DCS.” A survey of around 1,500 users was conducted. The survey finds that the interviewed users aged between 18 and 34 feel that they are not attracted to social media platforms.

Another study conducted by researchers at Penn State University in 2016 indicated that selfie viewing was negatively connected with self-esteem because users compare themselves with pictures of people who appear happier and more beautiful.

How to protect yourself while using social media

People find themselves comparing all aspects of their life on social media from nothing, including their culture, social status, food, and places they visit while users hide their flaws at the expense of showing only their achievements and abilities.

Sana al-Shammat, a student of architecture in the Turkish city of Trabzon, said that she is not affected by what is published on social media sites, because “I am content and satisfied with the reality in which I live, and wish happiness and good for all.”

Al-Shammat said that I am completely aware that no one has a perfect life; all people have their concerns and problems. This way of thinking helps her live with satisfaction. She also indicates that she undertakes a preventive measure which is quitting the social media sites every now and then, to take a break “away from the meaningless details of others’ lives.”

Social researcher Muhammad Diraniah explains the importance of quitting social media for a while, pointing out that the state of routine and spatial displacement of the individual leads to the recurrence of the same feelings and psychological disorders.

Diraniah, for this reason, said that people should break the monotonous routine and repeated dull behaviors, gradually reduce time spent on social media, carefully select the people he follows, not to mention the importance of focusing on personal life.

Diraniah concluded that it is essential to build a strong personality, develop skills, introduce oneself in new emotional experiences, expand the circle of social relations, interact with different classes and segments, and search for better opportunities. 


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