Have you ever found yourself spending hours just scrolling through Instagram, only to find that you feel worse about yourself after? This is because the way we use social media can have a huge impact on the way we feel about ourselves.
As human beings, we have a natural tendency to evaluate ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. From an evolutionary perspective, an essential part of survival for early humans was to belong to a group. If you were rejected from a group, you had very little chance of surviving on your own in the wild! As a result, we developed a tendency to constantly compare ourselves with members of the clan to check how we measure up and ensure we fit in.
Unfortunately, our targets of comparison are no longer just a few members of our small tribe. With the advent of social media, we have infinite opportunities to compare ourselves with others at the touch of a button. And not just regular others, but perfectly curated versions of people as presented on their “highlight reels”.
When we look at unrealistic and idealised images of celebrities, influencers, and even our friends “living their best lives”, we inevitably fall short and feel dissatisfied with our own bodies, relationships, careers, and many other aspects of our lives. My research has found that viewing these types of appearance-focused posts on social media is associated with negative mood, body dissatisfaction and even disordered eating in women.
So what can we do about this?
Social media has become an integral part of our day to day life and so it’s unrealistic to just stay ‘stop using social media’. The beauty of social media is that we are active content creators. This means that, unlike traditional media formats (i.e., television and magazines) where we have no say in the types of images we are bombarded with, with social media we have agency in what we post and what we expose ourselves to.
Just as we want to surround ourselves with people who inspire us and empower us in the real world, it’s so important to curate our feeds to do the same.
- Pay attention to how you feel after scrolling through your feeds (Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat).
- Unfollow accounts that make you feel like you’re not ‘smart/thin/fit/successful/popular/happy/rich etc.’ enough
- Follow accounts that make you feel good.
It’s that simple!
Much like the food you eat, it’s important to select healthy content that will have a positive impact on your health and wellbeing.
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Rachel Cohen is a clinical psychologist based at the Black Dog Institute, and a PhD candidate in social media and body image. A published author of peer-reviewed journal articles, she has presented her research on social media and body image internationally, and appeared in media outlets worldwide.
Dedicated to helping young girls and women develop resilience and positive body image, Rachel is the founder and director of Empower Me Project, a suite of programs designed to provide parents and children with the necessary tools to prevent body dissatisfaction and promote positive body image.