I got really angry at HuffPostWomen on Instagram the other day. They shared with their nearly 200,000 followers an image glorifying alcohol. It was a cartoon of a pink wine glass with the words, “Wine is always the answer”, written in jaunty lettering above it.
Usually, I let these seemingly harmless, yet stupid and totally inaccurate media messages pass me by, but on this particular day, I snapped. “That’s just bullshit,” I commented under the image. “Being a fully connected, fully emotional, fully empathetic female is actually the answer.”
Then I went to my blog and wrote a post with the headline, “‘HuffPostWomen’ SUCKS!!!!!!!!” (yes I used that many exclamation marks). In it, I questioned the rationale behind the statement that alcohol is the answer to everything (“Do they really believe every problem, worry, concern or fear will be resolved by a glass of wine?”), but more than that I questioned the motivation behind the curators of this social media account. Do they not know what a massive problem alcohol addiction is for women?
I know these joking images and slogans are everywhere, I see them shared around Facebook all the time, but they’re usually coming from individuals, not incredibly influential and powerful media outlets. And while I’d rather not see them at all (because they perpetuate deeply ingrained, but utterly fantastical myths about alcohol), I absolutely do not want to see them from a media company who is highly skilled and successful at influencing women with regarding to the topics or ideas they cover.
I spend my days communicating online with hundreds of women (and men) around the world who are working hard to dig deep and remove alcohol from their lives. Tender and brave people doing incredible work in order to turn themselves around and reclaim their authentic selves. I see and hear the real stuff that people have going on, and it’s raw, gritty, powerful, and inspiring. It’s not cheap, pithy camaraderie.
I’m not overreacting. These social media accounts are powerful and have immense reach. By sharing these images and slogans, the account managers at HuffPostWomen are helping to reinforce harmful myths, but they shouldn’t. If you’re in a position of power on a popular social media account, you should be mindful of the wider implications of your actions. Especially if you are claiming to represent what it means to be a woman.
One of my blog readers commented after my angry rant: “I’m only 20 days sober and have been trying for 3 years to get to this point, so I know how hard it is to see stuff like this online that just puts you back in temptation.”
Another said: “Those ‘silly jokes’ could be SO detrimental to someone in early sobriety. We can be so fragile during that time, and that could be what sets someone off who is struggling and doesn’t have the proper tools to use to help them.”
And another added: “I’m still new to sobriety so on the one hand, I still find these jokes funny, but then I think about it and they’re not so funny after all. My default is still ‘drinking solves everything’ so it sometimes takes me a minute to regroup and remember that drinking really destroys everything.”
If you’re in a position of power on a popular social media account, you should be mindful of the wider implications of your actions.
What makes this all the more astounding is that Arianna Huffington herself, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, has first-hand experience with addiction because her daughter is in recovery from cocaine addiction. So she knows the impact that drugs and alcohol can have on individuals and families and has even been quoted as saying: “There are millions of young people in their teens and 20s struggling with alcohol and drug addiction.”
I can only assume that the boss isn’t aware of the myths about alcohol that her employees are reinforcing to their community. If she did, surely she would stop them. I wish she would. I wish she would send an edict down from on high that there is to be no glorifying of alcohol done on any HuffPost social media accounts. Imagine how powerful that simple action would be?
But until that day comes, we will settle for using the power that we do have. Control your own social media feeds – they are YOURS to control. You might not have the power to influence those at the HuffingtonPost, but you do have the power to control what messages you see. It’s easily done. Unfollow.
Unfollow any accounts that give you an uncomfortable emotional feeling. Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry that you might miss out. Don’t fear being out of the loop. What is of utmost importance is that when you put your phone down or stand up from the computer chair, you don’t have a sad or anxious feeling in your belly.
Unfollow any accounts that give you an uncomfortable emotional feeling. Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry that you might miss out. Don’t fear being out of the loop.
I know that feeling well. I have lived with it for years. I’m a sober woman who spends a lot of time online. I am regularly on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, my blog and numerous other sites. I have often experienced that unmistakable little knot of hurt in my belly when I have been hit with an image about alcohol. Especially in the early days when I was raw and sensitive, feeling like a boring sober loser in a world awash with merry drinkers.
Now that I’ve done the hard work and feel calm and comfortable in my sobriety, I can see these messages for what they are. And I have learned that my social media feed can have a real impact on my emotional health. So now I look out for myself and I don’t hesitate to unfollow.
Felicity Huffman – I love your acting work, but when you chose to share a cartoon image of a woman drinking wine on Instagram with the slogan, “I’m going to start cleaning my house. And by cleaning, I mean drinking wine and spraying everything with Febreze,” I decided to limit my interactions with you to dramatic productions. Unfollow.
Neighborhood mom Raquel – I like chatting with you in the school yard, but I find your regular Facebook photos of booze with captions such as, “I deserve this”, confronting. Unfollow. (Did you know you can ‘unfollow’ someone on Facebook but remain friends? They’ll never know you have chosen not to see their posts in your feed).
Local journalist – I find your feature articles really enlightening, but when you started filling up my Twitter feed with discussions about your hangovers, I decided I wasn’t as interested in your day-to-day life as I was with your journalistic investigations. Unfollow.
Healthy food blogger – I eat well most of the time, but I find your raw, Paleo, unpasteurized, vegan, organic, sent-from-the-angels food posts make me feel like a failure. I’m sober, I don’t need food guilt as well. Unfollow.
Remember, it’s YOUR social media feed and it can have a real impact on your emotional health. Be strong and confident and unfollow at will! Do not be afraid to unfollow any account that leaves you feeling sad or uncomfortable. Be discriminate, be bold, make your social media feeds safe, positive, and healthy for you.
After ranting about their content, I unfollowed HuffPostWomen on Instagram. I then shared an image on my own account. It was a photo of my favorite mug with a teabag hanging out of it.
My caption? ‘Tea is always the answer.’ Now there’s the real truth!
Lotta Dann is the author of the popular Mrs D Is Going Without blog and memoir. She has been in recovery from alcohol addiction since September, 2011. She lives in Wellington, New Zealand with her husband and three sons, spending her days parenting and running a busy household, promoting recovery through her blogs and social media accounts, and managing the Living Sober website.