Do you ever look at your Facebook feed and feel inadequate? Do you spend time scrolling through someone’s Instagram account, wondering how they got such a perfect body or wishing you had washboard abs? Do you ever wonder why everyone seems to be living this perfect life while you’re sat at home in your PJs mainlining House of Cards on Netflix?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you’re not alone. Recent research looked at a large number of peer reviewed papers on the topic of social media use and body confidence and concluded that increased use of social networking sites is associated with poor body image and disordered eating.
And is it any wonder when there is a seemingly never ending stream of increasingly bizarre body shaming crazes taking off online, each one glorifying an often unobtainable idea of perfection. First it was the thigh gap, then the bikini bridge. Most recently we had the, frankly peculiar, A4 paper skinny waist challenge.
Never mind the proliferation of scary ‘thinspiration’. It seems like barely a day goes by when the internet isn’t making up a new way to tell you that your body is unacceptable.
Is it any surprise then that another study showed that heavy users of social media are 2.7 times more likely to suffer from depression. Its not clear whether social media causes depression, or people who are depressed spend more time on social media.
Personally I think it’s probably a bit of both.
A few years ago, when I was stressed out, feeling down and just generally not in a very good place I would spend hours and hours looking at ‘before and after’ pictures on social media and silently berating myself for not doing the work needed to look like the ‘after’ and not the ‘before’. I would spend hours on the Daily Mail website and Instagram, looking at pictures of people with ‘perfect’ figures, wishing that my body was different. That I was different.
It doesn’t surprise me then that the author of the second study noted that,
Exposure to highly idealized representations of peers on social media elicits feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier, more successful lives.
Have you ever heard the saying, don’t compare your behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel? That’s basically what we are all doing on social media every day.
We look at the pictures of perfect bodies/babies/partners/meals etc and assume that the people posting them have the perfect life to match.
All this is not to say that social media can’t be a tool for good; it can. It’s just important to ensure that you’re exposing yourself to positive influences online and resist the urge to compare yourself to what you see. When I finally realised how damaging all the ‘fitspiration’ I was looking at online was for me, I set up a new Pinterest board celebrating bodies of all sizes (which I have recreated for you, dear reader, here). In a world where the mainstream media constantly promote the idea that there is only one type of beauty, I found this incredibly therapeutic.
And just to be clear, this is not a ‘real women have curves’ situation. Telling women that you are only a ‘real woman’ if you have curves is just as damaging as telling them that only ‘skinny’ women are attractive. There is no wrong way to be a woman (or man). I repeat, THERE IS NO WRONG WAY TO HAVE A BODY.
If the images on your Instagram feed are not making you feel good about yourself, change them. There are plenty of people posting positive and uplifting things online. Seek them out. Follow my pinterest board. Make your own. The wonderful thing about social media is you’re free to curate your own content. Pick people and images that lift you up, not knock you down.
So what if your body is different to the fitness models you are following online? Different is not bad. Difference should be celebrated. After all, difference is what makes life interesting.