Short Film Reveals How We Try to Be Perfect on Social Media

Emily Downe's "Better" reveals the insidious nature of perfectionist culture.

"Better" film still
An image from Emily Downe's film, "Better".

Emily Downe (used with permission) 

British animator Emily Downe has created a beautiful short film that delves into the issue of social media and the psychological toll it takes on users. Titled "Better," the film depicts a young woman wandering through a jungle when she discovers she has the ability to create a bubble where everything inside is carefully controlled, perfectly edited, and protected from the wild, unpredictable exterior.

As Downe's voice narrates, "Everything was the same, but it looked better. All the imperfect from before was deleted. In time I began to forget the original."

This bubble is a metaphor for social media, and the tendency we all have to use social media platforms to project a perfect, idealized version of ourselves for the general public's eye. It appeals to us and draws us in so addictively precisely because we think it's something we can control – but in reality it does not last.

Downe goes on: "I built and built, but what for? The power of the jungle could not be snuffed out." Eventually the bubble disintegrates and the chaotic outside world comes crashing in. The protagonist is left once again in the wild, windy, and wet jungle, struggling to find her way through the tangle of trees. 

It's a short yet profound film that will likely resonate with most viewers, or at least anyone who's ever questioned the insidious draw of social media. In an interview with CMRubinWorld, Downe described the film as biographical, as well as a response to our society's culture of perfectionism, which she researched extensively at the beginning of the project. She said she was struck by the number of articles telling people that "life is about creating yourself," that you should try to "be more interesting, be funnier, achieve more, be better." It sounds great, but where does it end?

"The problem is that the goal is infinite, and the result is that people can feel like they are constantly failing. With increasing technology and social media platforms, it also means that people begin to curate themselves, not create themselves, setting up a false expectation of reality that can cause an increased amount of anxiety and depression, and sadly sometimes even suicide."

Indeed, scientific studies are showing this to be true. I reported last year on how social media use is linked to depression in teens and has a far worse effect than other forms of media consumption such as video gaming, watching TV, and using a computer. The reason? "It exposes young people to images that promote upward social comparison and makes them feel bad about themselves."

"Better" does not take an overtly anti-social media stance, but rather encourages viewers to remember that neither the technology nor its users are perfect. Both have a "brokenness" that can cause harm. As Downe explained in her interview, "I think the danger is when we are lured into a false expectation of reality, or a false sense of control, and it leaves us feeling deeply disappointed."

You can watch the film here: