Social media is a great way to keep in touch with friends and family, network with other like-minded people, or draw inspiration from those you admire. I love that I can look back at old pictures and see all of the fun times I have had or see how much my nephews and nieces have grown! Like all 20 and 30 something-year-olds, we were exposed to social media at a very young age. I personally started using AOL, then AIM, followed by MySpace when I was in middle school. It was a way to constantly connect with your peers and for the most part, everyone loved it! If you’re old enough to remember MySpace, you knew the “top 8 friends” was a BIG deal. If you got in a fight with a friend and were removed from the “top 8” list–you knew you were in the dog house. You were only allowed to have a certain number of pictures posted and it was “cool” if you were able to make YoUr FoNt aNd TeXt (capitalizing and not capitalizing your words made you “like even cooler”) – different from anyone else! These social media apps are nothing compared to what we have now! I always say I am so grateful that Instagram and SnapChat were not a thing when I was in high school. I didn’t even have one until my senior year in college and I was late to the game. I can’t imagine being a teenager or college student and feeling the pressure to get a certain number of likes on my picture or it needs to be deleted. Adolescents, and honestly many adults, easily associate the number of likes on a picture or number of followers as a measurement of popularity and/or beauty. That is scary and honestly, so unrealistic.
It’s important to use your own “filter” when looking at other people’s posts online. For the most part, people don’t post about their money, relationship, friendship, family, or mental health issues. People post what they want you to see! So often I hear friends of mine comparing his or her life to someone’s post on Facebook or Instagram. I will be the first to admit that I have done it! This was especially true for me right after college when I saw people pursuing their careers and/or getting married and I just wasn’t there yet. You build expectations in your mind, often from a young age, that “this is what I want to do and the age that I will have it all done by.” This adds so much stress and anxiety to your life and only keeps you further from being happy and finding your true self. Of course, set goals for yourself, but know that we are all on our own paths in life and comparing where you are at to someone else is unhelpful.
That being said, social media can bring out all of your insecurities if you let it. I can’t imagine being in middle school, high school, or college, and looking at all of the beautiful “Instagram models”. It is so easy to look at those pictures and think “why don’t I look like that”. Middle school and high school is hard enough. Everyone is trying to find their own identity and fit in. Now imagine wanting to fit in and seeing pictures blasted on the internet of people you wish you were like or that party you weren’t invited to. It will probably make you feel bad about yourself and think “what’s wrong with me?”. Now, let’s say you are at that party. You may feel the pressure to get the “perfect picture” because as we all know, “if you don’t post about it, it didn’t happen”. Being consumed by getting that perfect Instagram picture really takes away from the enjoyment of whatever it is you are doing. I am not saying “don’t take pictures” because we like to reminisce on old times and document the places we have gone. I believe it becomes unhelpful when the sole purpose or enjoyment comes from getting a perfect picture and likes on a post.
Now that I am off my soapbox, I would like to give some advice on how to enjoy social media and be kind to yourself! I love following people who I admire and share similar values and beliefs. I get so many creative ideas and joy from people who post about body positivity. I love it! On the other hand, I stopped following people who do not promote a healthy body image. If you are struggling with body image, try not to over-analyze and compare yourself to pictures other people post, especially celebrities and models. Celebrities, models, or Instagram socialites often have people working for them, using apps to make them appear slimmer, unaged, and “enhanced in all the right places”. I use the term “filter” differently than what it typically means. Filters are used to enhance what is thought to be a desirable appearance. I encourage you to “filter” your social media by following people who boost your confidence and encourage you to be your best self. If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, disordered eating, and/or body image please reach out to us or even follow us on social media and know you are not alone!
Authored by Emily Baum, M.S., RDN, LD