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The Negative Influence of Social Media on Self Image

On a good day, the process of capturing, editing, captioning, and posting a photo on Instagram takes me 30 minutes.

The process: Remove any blemishes, throw on the perfect VSCO filter (HB2 or A6 are my go-to’s), and then adjust contrast, brightness, warmth, saturation, and color overlay to make yourself look as flawless as possible. Then you have to come up with the ~perfect~ caption that makes you seem equal parts funny, relatable, and cool. If you (or your group chat, because I know you’ve asked) can’t come up with one, you settle for song lyrics, maybe a series of three emojis, or your clever take on a current meme.

Can you relate to that?

Approximately 7 million women in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. Millions more are insecure about the way they look. And social media isn’t helping. I ran a poll on an all-women’s Facebook group asking, “If social media didn’t exist, would you be less insecure?” 93% of the women said “yes”.

As of now, there is no causal, statistically significant link between social media and eating disorders, but I suspect that it has a lasting effect on our self esteem and ideas of what is beautiful.

Day after day, we scroll through feeds of filtered, edited and digitally perfected lives. We see the accomplishments of our fellow students, “candid” party photos, airbrushed selfies, and body photos of super toned women. What we don’t see are the dozens of failures those students have overcome, how sh*tty that party actually was, the 38 other selfies that didn’t make the cut, and the crazy amount of posing that goes into taking the “perfect” body picture.

Fitness influencers like Kayla Itsines, Hannah Bronfman, Jen Selter, Emily Skye, and Anna Victoria have made learning about the benefits of exercise and proper nutrition readily available to everyone. But on the flip side, such easy access can become a serious drawback. People who struggle with their self image are especially vulnerable when it comes to fitness accounts. I can say with certainty that looking through photos of six-pack abs, super healthy meals, at-home workouts, gym selfies, and skinny “motivation” isn’t helping us look at ourselves with more appreciation and love when we fail to lead perfectly healthy lives. If anything, it provides an avenue to nitpick ourselves more than we already do.

Social media makes it incredibly easy for us to compare our lives to others. We tend to compare our worst to someone else’s best.

When was the last time you scrolled intently through Instagram when you were having the time of your life with your friends? Or when you were dancing your heart out at the Ariana Grande concert? Exactly. We don’t often look at our social media when we’re having a great time with our friends, family, or at an exciting event. We look when we’re bored, when we need to kill time, and when we need to get out of a potentially awkward encounter.

Just based on that, we can naturally assume that when our attitude is at its most positive, we probably aren’t scrolling through social media. Instead, we’re living lives that give us a rush of positive energy; we’re probably doing something that’s consuming all of our attention. When we’re bored or killing time looking through our feeds, negativity can creep in almost effortlessly.

“Well, it doesn’t seem like they’re ever bored.”

“Her life is so much cooler than mine. I wish I was her.” Often, the first thing I do when I wake up is check all of my social media platforms. The first images I see when I wake up in the morning are flawless accounts of last night’s activities. All the while, I’m laying in my bed, pantsless, still donning my retainer and looking like a pimply Debbie Gallagher circa 2012. I immediately feel insecure, because I don’t look the way that girl did in her photo from her #amazing night.

But can I tell you a secret?

She doesn’t look like that anymore either. She’s waking up too, and she probably has morning breath and greasy, tangled hair just like you.

That’s the problem with social media. Everyone knows it; we all acknowledge that we portray the best versions of ourselves and our lives on Instagram and Twitter, but nobody’s changing anything.

We’ve made progress with the increasing popularity of finsta’s (or ‘fake Instagram’s’ if you haven’t made it to 2017 yet). The finsta exists to provide a select number of people, usually close friends to the account holder, with photos of *actual* real life experiences. Often you’ll see posts when the person:

  1. Is having a meltdown
  2. Is incredibly drunk
  3. Needs to rant
  4. Is making an “ugly” face
  5. Likes a picture but not enough to post it on their real Instagram account
  6. Wants to use profanity but doesn’t want their family/acquaintances to know

To a degree, a finsta is what the real Instagram account should be. Your real Instagram account should be reflective of your real life. However, photos of you chugging a Four Loko or mid-existential crisis probably aren’t in your best interest to post. But, as a society, we need to be more accepting of our humanness. Sharing with our friends that we’re broken, hurting or bored shouldn’t be condemned on social media. Constantly putting filters on our lives to make it more appealing can hide who we are. And maybe it’s just me, but I feel like we’re all in agreement. So let’s actually do something about it.

Shut up the voice in your head that says you look fat in your bikini picture from your family trip to Punta Cana and post it. You look gorgeous, and the only thing telling you otherwise is the societal norm that tries to dictate how we think about ourselves. Post that poignant quote from your favorite poetry book, even though it might not match your aesthetic. If you’re proud of your fitness accomplishments, post that mirror picture, whether or not you have Kayla Itsines-looking abs. Instead of complaining about societal norms, let’s change them. Because we ARE society.

Temple University, 2019. Magazine journalist and editor, fitness instructor, health and wellness enthusiast. Proponent of lists, Jesus, and the Oxford comma. Will do anything for an iced oatmilk latte. Follow my journey: Twitter + Instagram: @sarah_madaus
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