Like Your Own Selfie: The Importance of Self-Love in the Age of Instagram

“You don’t have to be pretty like her, you can be pretty like you.”

I stumbled across this quote the other day while I was scrolling through Instagram, thought to myself, “That’s so true,” and proceeded to scroll three weeks deep in a New York model’s profile, gawking over her seemingly immaculate life and wondering how the hell she could be nineteen years old and look like that. I mean, I’m almost twenty and I still have freckles and sometimes wear my pajamas to class. 

It’s ironic how we can all collectively acknowledge that “beauty comes in all shapes and sizes” and that “everyone is beautiful in their own way,” but still end up pining over the appearances of others and comparing ourselves to images of other women. Whenever I have this conversation or have witnessed this conversation about images of beauty ideals in the media and their impact on female self-esteem, there always seems to be a claim that the images that we see are “digitally altered” or “fake,” – but I’m not making that point at all. I understand that the majority of the faces we see in magazines would be unrecognizable in reality, and I am fully aware of the dangers of digitally enhancing women to fit the standard that society has set for beauty. However, that argument discredits the beauty of the woman in the image, strips her of her legitimacy, and comforts the viewer by means of denouncing the model. That’s not how I think we should approach this issue.

Not every image in the media of a stunning girl is digitally altered, especially on the social media platforms that we use on a daily basis (and, to the dismay of many advertisers, we are all uniquely lovely on our own, in our natural, Photoshop-less, I-Woke-Up-Like-This states). However, so much of our time is spent on juxtaposing ourselves with others and painting pictures in our heads of what it means to be truly beautiful or hot or whatever – and I probably don’t even have to tell you that that image rarely includes ourselves. I just wish that more young girls were able to acknowledge the beauty of others without rejecting their own, I wish that more girls could understand that there isn’t just one kind of “pretty,” and that, yes, you can admit that the girl you just aggressively stalked on Instagram can be absolutely gorgeous without telling yourself that you’re not. “Flowers are pretty, but so are Christmas lights and they look nothing alike.”

Too often I see comments on pictures like, “Omg, goals,” or “Ugh, I wish I was you,” and while I realize that these comments are laced with good intentions, I often catch myself before I post them because I refuse to give into the notion that we must degrade ourselves in order to compliment others. But then again, I’d be lying if I said that I’m good at accepting compliments because I’m absolutely not – my first instinct is to deflect praise, especially from those who I respect.

I think it’s simply engrained in our way of thinking that we must maintain a constant guise of the utmost humility and modesty, for fear of being compared to someone “better.” I think that social media sites and apps feed into this fear, presenting to us a never-ending outlet on which to prove our own worth, popularity, and identities, only to be let down again and again by comparing ourselves to someone seemingly cooler, prettier, skinnier, more successful, happier.

Social media sites are fun to scroll through and post on because we are collectively putting forth images that we are proud of; images that build more than a profile, but rather a virtual identity that displays how we’d like the world to see us. Social media only becomes destructive when we view it as a competition, or as a way of ranking ourselves against everybody else. Seeing beauty and worth and talent in others is an exceptional trait, and one that fosters genuine humility, inspiration, and raw appreciation for the people around you – but, don’t forget to also acknowledge the pulchritude that is yourself. Please, do not shrink yourself to make someone else bigger, even if it may feel like you don’t compare. True self-acceptance is that wonderful moment when you realize that there’s no one else in the world who is exactly you – freckles and all.

Images courtesy of Stephanie Harris