The Impact of Social Media On Self-esteem And Body Image
Published on 15th November, 2023
Social media has become an integral part of our daily lives. While it enables us to connect, share, and learn, there’s a darker side to this virtual realm. The pervasive influence of social media has a profound effect on our psychological well-being and the way we perceive ourselves, particularly in terms of self-esteem and body image.
Below, we will explore the illusions that social media perpetuates, its positive and negative impacts, and ways to cultivate a healthy relationship with the digital world.
Illusion of perfection
Social media platforms are curated galleries of seemingly perfect lives. Filters, editing tools, and carefully chosen posts create an illusion of flawless beauty and unattainable lifestyles. This curated perfection often leads to unrealistic comparisons with our own lives, and detrimental self-evaluation.
How social media can affect body image
1. Body positive content and communities
Fortunately, there is a growing movement of body positivity on social media. Various communities and influencers such as Megan Jayne Crabbe and Sarah Nicole Landry are well-known on Instagram for promoting self-love and acceptance, encouraging their followers to embrace their unique bodies and appearances (Heger et al., 2022).
2. Health and fitness inspiration
Social media platforms serve as hubs for health and fitness inspiration. Users share their fitness journeys, workout routines, and healthy recipes, motivating others to adopt positive lifestyle changes while offering encouragement and support. These platforms can provide valuable advice for those who are seeking ways to work on their bodies in a healthy way.
3. Support group
Social media provides a platform for people facing body image issues to connect and support each other. Online support groups create a sense of community, reminding individuals that they are not alone in their struggles. These digital spaces serve as sanctuaries where people can openly discuss their concerns, fears, and triumphs related to body image.
1. Constant comparison
One of the most significant drawbacks of social media is the tendency to constantly compare ourselves with others, particularly among young women. Scrolling through feeds filled with seemingly perfect individuals can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Research indicates that women frequently assess their own appearance through comparisons with others, and the more they engage in such comparisons, the more likely they are dissatisfied with their bodies. Apart from its influence on body dissatisfaction, exposure to Facebook may also have the potential to affect people’s moods. For instance, a study has found that exposure to Facebook led to a decline in mood in young women, likely attributable to their tendencies to compare themselves to others on the platform, who seemed to have happier or more fulfilled lives (Fardouly et al., 2015).
2. Unrealistic beauty standards standards
Social media often promotes unrealistic beauty standards, emphasising certain body types, skin tones, and features. Constant exposure to these ideals can distort one’s perception of their own body, leading to body dissatisfaction and even body dysmorphia (Pedersen, 2023). Studies have consistently linked the use of social networking sites to issues related to body image and disordered eating for both men and women (Fioravanti et al., 2022).
Cyberbullying refers to the act of using digital technologies to engage in bullying behaviour. This can occur on various online platforms such as social media, messaging apps, gaming sites, and mobile devices. It involves repetitive actions intended to intimidate, provoke anger, or embarrass the individuals being targeted (UNICEF, n.d).
The increasing popularity of, and anonymity provided by social media platforms appear to be increasingly prominent in perpetrating sometimes leads to cyberbullying, and spaces where people become victims of cyberbullying (Whittaker & Kowalski, 2015). This is in part because of the substantial amount of personal data shared online, and interactions between users (Alim, 2016). According to a study by Ditch the Label (2013), it was reported that 21% of teenagers in the US encountered frequent incidents of cyberbullying. Negative comments, body-shaming, and online harassment can severely impact an individual’s self-esteem and body image. Cyberbullying can lead to serious emotional distress, anxiety, and even depression in the victims (Kolonko, 2022). Interpersonal relationships can also be adversely impacted, including those with family, friends, and romantic partners (Hamm et al., 2015).
How to foster a healthy relationship with social media
1. Spending quality time with loved ones
Spending quality time with loved ones is essential to fostering a healthy relationship with social media. By dedicating time to connect with the people who matter most, we can not only strengthen our personal relationships but also create a natural balance in our lives.
2. Curate your social media feed for greater positivity
Unfollow accounts that trigger negative emotions or promote unrealistic beauty standards. Instead, follow accounts that promote body positivity, mental health, and self-care.
3. Practice self-compassion
Be kind and gentle with yourself. Remember that nobody is perfect, and imperfections are what make us unique and beautiful. Practising self-compassion exercises helps to enhance your self-esteem.
For example, try writing letters to yourself as you would to your closest friend. Acknowledge your struggles, mistakes and imperfections. Then, write a compassionate response to yourself, emphasising understanding, forgiveness, and self-love. You can also create positive affirmations that emphasise self-compassion and repeat them to yourself regularly. For example, “I am worthy of love and kindness. I accept myself as I am. I am enough.”
4. Seek professional help
If your self-esteem and body image issues become overwhelming, consider seeking counselling for adults in Singapore. Trained professionals can provide personalised guidance and support to help you navigate these challenges, develop healthier self-perception, and build a stronger sense of well-being.
While social media undeniably affects our self-esteem and body image, it is crucial to recognise its impact and actively work towards a healthier relationship with these platforms. By fostering self-compassion, curating our digital environment, and seeking support when needed, such as through individual or couple therapy, we can navigate the digital landscape with confidence and resilience. Remember, your worth is not determined by the likes or comments on your social media posts - true self-love comes from within.
Alim, S. (2016). Cyberbullying in the world of teenagers and social media: A literature review. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 6(2), 68–95. https://doi.org/10.4018/IJCBPL.2016040105
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Fioravanti, G., Bocci Benucci, S., Ceragioli, G., & Casale, S. (2022). How the exposure to beauty ideals on social networking sites influences body image: A systematic review of experimental studies. Adolescent Research Review, 7(3), 419–458. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40894-022-00179-4
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Heger, E., Mendez, M., Heger, E., & Mendez, M. (2022). The sneaky ways social media can sabotage your body image — and 3 easy tips to help you break the cycle. Insider. https://www.insider.com/guides/health/mental-health/how-social-media-affects-body-image
Kolonko, C. (2022, July 8). The Mental Health Impacts of Cyberbullying and How to Cope. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/blog/cyberbullying-the-psychological-effects-on-teens#effects-on-mental-health
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