A 2019 study found that 65% of men and 87% of women compare themselves to the people they view on social media. Out of these numbers, 37% of men and 50% of women view their bodies critically. This is an unfortunate, yet unsurprising, statistic; social media is inherently harmful to our mental health and the way that we view ourselves. The original intent of social media was to foster relationships through communication. However, what was designed with the commendable intent to once connect people across the globe, has transformed into a toxic community of comparison.
As Emma Chamberlain so astutely puts it, “Comparison is the devil.” It can be difficult to think that you are good enough when your social media feed is filled with a never-ending supply of thin, tall, models with flawless complexions. I myself can attest to spending hours aimlessly poking and prodding at my body, wishing I looked like women that have reached unattainable standards of beauty. But, that’s exactly what they are, unattainable. The men and women we compare ourselves to often have an entire army of hair, makeup, and editing teams - not to mention the thousands spent on cosmetic surgery, only to claim an all-natural look.
As unhealthy as it is to look at these models and know that no matter what I do I’ll never obtain certain societal standards, it’s almost addictive to keep scrolling, by doing so only strengthening the algorithm to expose more of Instagram’s endless supply of beauty, and the vicious cycle continues. Interacting with one influencer’s photo and having ten more appear is comparable to Hercules cutting off Hydra’s head and having two more appear in its place, and it is just as dangerous.
I’ve been active on social media for about five years, and to this day, accepting my own beauty is something I continue to struggle with. It takes a considerable amount of willpower to steer oneself away from fad diets and detox teas when they’re marketed as the key to looking like the model advertising them. Something I have learned over the years, however, is that social media is arbitrary and only has as much meaning as you give it. We’ve given a hugely significant meaning to how others view us on social media, when it is an entirely arbitrary concept of worth. Likes, comments, and followers, are virtual ways of measuring our own value, but they don’t have to be. When it comes down to it, praise on social media is a socially constructed concept, and it absolutely does not indicate a person’s value.
At University, I live with a group of six other girls, so I’ve learned firsthand just how terrible social media can make its users feel. It is a common occurrence to hear someone in the house speak poorly about their own appearance or self-worth and being met with coos of reassurance. When one of us comforts another because they feel down about their appearance, we really do mean it, but we can’t seem to take our own advice. We simultaneously lift each other up while secretly putting ourselves down for the same reasons.
As all young women are conditioned to, I’ve been comparing my own appearance to others since I could differentiate lipstick shades: to other girls in my class, women in movies, models in catalogs, etc. Social media has the power of targeting its users’ most significant insecurities and turning the dial to the max. Instagram and TikTok are especially harmful when it comes to body image. It isn’t difficult to view your own life as bleak when you’re being funnel-fed beautiful celebrities jetting off to picture-perfect locations every week. And the same logic stands for comparing our appearances; when all we see from our role models are airbrushed photos, how can we view our own imperfections in a positive light? Instagram has become somewhat of a highlight reel, one where we only see what they want us to see, and more often than not, they don’t want us to see them struggling. Nobody’s life is perfect, even the celebrities and influencers who make it their life’s work to have it appear that way.
Tik Tok is relatively new to the social media universe, but nonetheless, has morphed into a platform with which we use to compare ourselves to others. People joke about the algorithm being so strong it can hear our thoughts, but I honestly don’t think the truth is very far from that. There are many young, impressionable users on the app, and yet its explicit content is hardly regulated. An especially prevalent phenomenon is the community of harmful body image rhetoric and the overall glorification of eating disorders. It is common to see comments left under a thin TikToker’s video along the lines of, “I wasn’t going to eat today anyways.” These videos could end up on anyone’s page; someone recovering from an eating disorder, a young and impressionable teen, or a person that was perfectly happy with their appearance until they came across that video.
The addictive nature of social media is not limited to Instagram and TikTok, but because these companies have made their platforms as addictive as humanly possible, the community can be impossible to escape from. Social media is also seen as integral to an individual’s social survival and reputation, which leads to people feeling obligated to maintain an account, which indirectly, causes users direct harm.
At the end of the day, your social media profiles are what you make of them. A piece of advice I’ve picked up along the way, from me to you, is if you’ve noticed that a user or a page doesn’t make you feel like the best version of yourself, unfollow them. Drop the societal expectation of following people that make you feel unworthy. Most importantly (and as difficult as it sounds), don’t put weight on meaningless actions. If someone you care about unfollows you, it doesn’t mean there is any ill will. If one of your friends didn’t comment on your photo, it doesn’t mean you need to do the same to them. If you don’t get as many likes as you originally intended (even if only you can view them) keep the photo up. Social media should be used as something we can look back at to reminisce on fond memories, as opposed to being a yardstick with which we use to measure our worth.