On the latest episode of Euphoria, Kat, the daydreaming introvert played by Barbie Ferreira, is feeling depressed. Lying on her bed, she eats from a mega-carton of Goldfish and watches a makeup tutorial. Suddenly, from her bathroom, someone calls out, “Kat, you’re one of the bravest, most beautiful human beings I have ever seen.” A sculpted blond woman in a thong bathing suit is leaning against the door, posed in what Tyra Banks would refer to as a “booty tooch,” with her back arched and her butt sticking out.
As Kat looks up in disbelief, another leggy woman in a bathing suit shows up at Kat’s desk, telling her, “Every day you get out of bed is an act of courage.” A third in a big floppy hat appears and demands that Kat “smash all beauty standards.” Soon, her room is filled with trendy influencers closing in on her, shouting, “Love yourself! Love yourself!” while Kat panics and hyperventilates.
This simple setup, feeling sad and turning to social media for comfort, was immediately familiar to me as a viewer. Who hasn’t turned to YouTube or Instagram in a slump, only to find yourself lost in the algorithm for hours, feeling only a slight headache? The people that appear to Kat represent a familiar combination: an unattainably perfect body—probably made up of leafy greens and egg whites—matched with generically inspiring sentiments. Even body-positive and plus-size influencers seem more symmetrical, more athletic, more photogenic than the rest of us, strategically posed and curated as their accounts are. The impossibility of simultaneously “pursuing happiness” while eating less than 1,000 calories per day, enduring endless workouts, and/or marketing that happiness is something we forget to think about when scrolling through our timelines.
The show cast real models and influencers for this scene, including Jewell Farshad, Bree Kish, and Amanda LaCount. They run the gamut from fitness enthusiasts to beauty vloggers to plus-size dancers. Like the characters they’re portraying, their real accounts are filled with perfectly lit, made up, and posed pictures with captions like, “What would happen if you stopped fearing the failure of the opportunities in front of you?” or “No matter what, keep going.” While the words on these people’s posts tell us we can, their pictures tell us we can’t, with contorted yoga poses, or impeccable makeup, or clothes that cost thousands of dollars. Ironically, the influencers that appeared on Euphoria seem to mostly have used it as an experience to further build their brands, posting cute mirror selfies on set, snapping pictures of their call sheets, and exclaiming how this experience was a dream come true.
The scene of Kat’s daydream is so effective because it highlights something that—despite our behavior—we all know to be true: Social media makes us feel worse about ourselves, even when it pretends otherwise. Content that is supposed to be affirming and encouraging still reenforces unrealistic ideals. Constantly comparing yourself to people on social media, or just other people you know, is destructive, especially for teenage girls, as Facebook found in an internal investigation. Even for the rare person that really does feel good about themselves, the need to be positive and confident at all times, for the sake of an audience, is itself a burden.
It’s hard to know exactly how seriously to take this critique coming from a show that, in its first season, was mostly known for its sparkly aesthetic. The show has been criticized for its sexualization of young girls, many of whom are costumed like life-size Bratz dolls. But whatever its faults, it’s a show that’s really good at getting into the minds of teenagers. It knows when they would be taking endless selfies and what kind of Harry Styles fanfiction they’re writing. For many Euphoria viewers, this scene may crystallize something they were already feeling but hadn’t expressed. Seeing Kat’s tormented reaction to all this inspirational blather is not only funny, it’s cathartic. It demonstrates how hearing encouraging things over and over again from a sea of beautiful, unrelatable people on the internet can make things worse. Next time I see a leggy blond on Instagram telling me to be my “authentic self,” I’m going to remember Kat screaming into her mirror, and maybe do a little screaming myself.