A friend of mine told me she gave up Instagram in order to improve her self-esteem and confidence in her body. Intrigued, I asked her what inspired her to give up the app that she seemed to enjoy the most, and she described how pictures of models and celebrity figures made her compare herself to them. She also touched on how happy everyone seemed online, and how depressed it made her feel because her life was not comparable. I was surprised–but commended her for her decision, any act to improve one’s mental health is admirable. Then I began to wonder how many other teenage girls felt the same way as my friend, and began to research. What I found surprised me–depression rates, jealousy, and general unhappiness and loss of well-being are prevalent among those who use their electronic devices constantly; whether or not they realize, teens are comparing themselves to others.
Stuck on Selfies
The entire world is at our beck and call. Every Instagram post or YouTube video we see, we compare ourselves whether we try to or not. While social media itself does not cause low self-esteem, it has every characteristic necessary in order to do so. In an article by the Dove Self-Esteem Project and Parent Zone corporation, the words of Claire Mysko are quoted: “Social media creates an environment where disordered thoughts and behaviors really thrive […] and [social media, while giving young girls the validation they want] also serves as a catalyst for more insecurity.”
The Dove Self-Esteem Project’s aim is to build up girls’ self-esteem through their advertisements and interviews, using a cast of people of every shape, size, color and build. Dove believes that “low body confidence and anxieties over appearance keep young people from being their best selves,” and they go on to explain that this affects overall health, friendships, and school. Dove has been working to deliver self-esteem-based education for more than ten years, and over 20 million people have benefited from this.
Your mind is a garden–grow thoughts that you’d like to put in vases and give to others like flowers.
However, the topic of self-love is still not talked about as much as it should. There are companies like Dove and the Parent Project Corporation working hard to deliver education and helpful resources, but other companies such as beauty-based or makeup companies have different focuses–like pushing a product to make your skin look better or clothes that will make you look beautiful. There aren’t many companies pushing people to accept themselves.
While it is a more open topic than it has ever been before, social media really is not helping improve the way we view ourselves, because there is always a more muscular, thin, tan, beautiful person on the internet. As social media and technology become a larger and larger part of everyday life, so does the way we think about ourselves. Jennifer Lawrence once said, “Girls see enough of this body we can’t imitate, that we’ll never be able to obtain, these unrealistic expectations…it’s better to look strong and healthy.” Lawrence stresses the importance of a strong and healthy body, especially referring to her role in The Hunger Games. In fact, the way we look has become so important in the society that “cosmetic surgery is one of the fastest growing medical procedures being performed,” according to the authors of TOPS, a club dedicated to helping people take off pounds sensibly. An article written by Caroline Knorr, a writer for CNN, states that “35 percent [of teenage girls] are worried about people tagging them in unattractive photos, 27 percent feel stressed about how they look in posted photos, and 22 percent feel bad about themselves if their photos were ignored.” When did our appearance become so important to us?
In addition to a loss of self-confidence, teenagers still feel the pull of perfect images on social media. In Social Media and Self-Doubt, Rae Jacobson from CNN reveals, “Even the knowledge that these images mask serious problems does not seem to alleviate the pressure they cause.” Everyone wants to appear as their best selves, but if all we post is images of our best selves during the best times, we aren’t truly showing everything — we create a mask to hide behind, but so does everyone else, which then results in perfect images with perfect scenery. Even though we know everyone has good days and bad days, the images we see on those sites fool us just a little too well, inspiring anger and jealousy where we know it shouldn’t appear.
Depression and Social Media
Social media nowadays also romanticizes the idea of depression and self-hate, whether we realize it or not. Tumblr posts about suicide and graphic descriptions of self-hate or self-harm are just as present as the positive “I am beautiful” posts–but the effects are lasting, not to mention startling. Self-destructing language is also a part of everyday speech, as heard in schools and in slang: “I just want to kill myself right now,” for example.
While some might argue that social media is a way for people to put themselves out there and talk freely and easily to others about their situation and mental health, the truth is that electronic activity is one of the main factors in what causes those blue feelings to occur. When one is sitting on a chair, staring at a blue screen for hours on end when they could be outside, participating in physical activity and interacting with other people, it is much easier for one to feel low. They haven’t accomplished anything. Physical activity and interacting with people face to face is what causes those joy-inducing chemicals to multiply and grow, not a cold, lifeless screen.
People promote self-hatred or self-harm online and in real life without even trying, and whether we know it or not, the way we talk also affects the way we think. When surrounded by negativity, our mind gets stuck in a constant downward spiral, taking everything in a more pessimistic point of view. The bright flower on the sidewalk is simply a forgotten weed. Our smiles are too wide or crooked. Too many freckles, too short or too tall–the list could go on and on when we compare ourselves to everyone else!
Loving Your Body
Body image, however, is affected by social media but even more so by the clothing industry. Models wearing different types of clothes and looking ethereal and beautiful in enhanced and retouched images affect every girl in some way. Girls are pressured to be thin and lithe, with symmetrical faces and perfect hair. By seeing thin, tall, well-dressed models in the windows of shops and thin, made up celebrities, girls are pressured to look like the models they are shown. Each body is so different–none of us are the same. Everyone is made in their own unique way, and no one should feel like they need other people to approve them to be themselves.
None of us are perfect. It is the time we acknowledge this and give up trying to be our best at all times. First of all, it’s exhausting, second of all, we aren’t being true or fair to ourselves. Some celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence are promoting self-love and self-confidence by speaking out to the media and stressing on it in interviews, but the issue still is not as widely spread as it should be. In an interview in Harper’s Bazaar, Jennifer exclaims how we need to “‘make a new normal body type. […] I think we’ve gotten so used to underweight that when you are a normal weight [people think] you’re curvy.” Jennifer mentions how the Hollywood standard is unrealistic–it clearly is not applicable to a normal, growing person.
Self-awareness and self-promotion need to be focused on in schools and talked about at home, not just online. Parents can be involved in order to help their children. This way, people who are struggling with eating disorders can get the help they need, and others can accept the fact that they do not need validation to be comfortable and happy with the way they look.
“Girls see enough of this body we can’t imitate, that we’ll never be able to obtain, these unrealistic expectations… it’s better to look strong and healthy.” -Jennifer Lawrence
No one should ever feel the need to conform to a standard society sets before them. We are born with the bodies we are given, and while you may not look exactly like that seemingly perfect girl in class or be as strong as the kid bench pressing in the gym, you are perfect exactly the way you are. Accept your faults and embrace your quirks–and, even more importantly, be proud of them. Share your smile more often, as it brightens up not only you but everyone around you.
Finally, remember to embrace everyone else’s quirks and shortcomings too. We are all perfectly imperfect, and everyone needs to remember that. You ought to treat your body well; it is the one body you have and the one body you will get. Your mind is a garden–grow thoughts that you’d like to put in vases and give to others like flowers. Be beautiful as yourself, because you are everything you imagine to be.
Featured image by Pixabay