With the rise of the media, we constantly feel an intense societal pressure to be a certain way. Society tells us to “be ourselves”, but in the same breath it tells us that we aren’t good enough. It says we need to have a thin waist, a toned body, a well-paying job, perfect shiny hair, glowing skin, and a picture perfect family. Magazines show us cover-to-cover images of photoshopped women with unrealistic body proportions. The fitness industry bombards us with fad diets, skinny teas, and celebrity trainers who promise “10 minutes to a six pack”. The cosmetic industry is booming because we are told to cover up and correct every blemish on our natural skin. The list goes on and on. The media promotes a certain image and makes us feel inadequate if we don’t fit the mold. It also promotes a culture of comparison that can easily damage our self-esteem. Comparison is an innate human trait, but the rise of the media has significantly exacerbated the problem.
Not only are we influenced by the media, but now we are consumed with social media, allowing us to constantly compare ourselves to others. We practically know what everyone is doing at every moment, opening the doors for jealousy. Teddy Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy”; this statement rings truer with each scroll on social media. Think about it, how many times have you looked at someone else’s profile and instantly felt inadequate? Studies have shown that social media influences the way we perceive ourselves by amplifying obsessions, comparisons, and negativity.
- In 2011, a study conducted by the University of Haifa showed a positive correlation with the time teenage girls spent on Facebook and their risk of developing negative body images
- Researchers at Florida State University asked one group of women to browse Facebook and another group to research rainforest cats online, for 20 minutes. They found that those who browsed Facebook experienced greater body dissatisfaction.
- A study from the University of Michigan suggests that using Facebook makes us feel more sad and lonely.
Social media tends to affect us differently than television and magazines. For the most part, we have an awareness that television isn’t authentic and that magazines are photoshopped. We know that models and movie stars work endlessly with top-knotch personal trainers to keep them in red-carpet shape, and we acknowledge that it isn’t realistic for the general population to have the same standards. However, social media has more of a grey area.
It is hard to differentiate what is real and what is staged on social media. We scroll through Instagram and see a highlight reel of pictures with perfect lighting and flattering angles, assuming that they walk around looking flawless 24/7. What we don’t see are the 30 other pictures they took that didn’t make the cut. We don't see the apps that were used to edit the picture. We can't always tell that there is a filter clarifying any imperfections. We follow people on the internet who seem to always have it together, and think “Why am I not this happy? Why is my life harder?”. The truth of the matter, is that behind a screen it is easy to put on a façade where people only see what you want them to see. We can choose how we want the world to perceive us, whether it is realistic or not. Keeping this in mind, we can’t let social comparison steal our joy by relating only a glimpse of someone’s life to years of your own life.
Social media can be a great way to connect with friends and family, but it can quickly become toxic and we must proceed with caution. Here are some tips to combat the negativity:
1. Take a break and make a list of all of your good qualities. It could be that you have great hair, great work ethic, are patient, have beautiful eyes, or a beautiful smile; anything that you like about yourself, write it down
2. Remind yourself that what you’re seeing isn’t necessarily reality. A picture that someone posts on Instagram may only represent a second of their life. For example, you see someone post pictures from a beautiful vacation they just went on and become envious of their "glamorous" life. When in reality, that vacation represents 1 out of 52 weeks in the year. The majority of their life likely isn’t as glamorous as the pictures portray
3. Set goals for yourself. Instead of being envious of what someone else has, use it as inspiration to better yourself, then set attainable goals. In doing so, you are taking steps to better yourself, and redirecting your energy on something positive instead of letting it weigh you down
4. Remind yourself that beauty isn't one dimensional and is more than skin deep. Are you strong? Kind? Funny? Are you a good mom or a loving spouse? All of these things make you beautiful and you must recognize them as such
5. Finally, be nice to yourself. You are your toughest critic, and others may look at you and be envious of your life. So enjoy your life, be inspired, and remember that the grass isn't always greener on the other side
With all of this in mind, we can start to love ourselves a little more, criticize ourselves a little less, and stop letting the media define our happiness.