No matter how good you are at something, social media will be the first one to tell you that there’s always someone better than you.
Take, for instance, the first time I launched my freelance hair and makeup services. I’ve been doing it for free for friends and family for such a long time and was always getting such positive results that I decided to start making money out of it. I had a few referrals and got some pretty good feedback. A few months later, while I wasn’t making a lot of money doing freelance, a friend of mine who was also a makeup artist but launched her page much later posted a photo of herself collaborating with a popular influencer in our area.
While I was proud of her for getting that project, I was also proud of the work I was doing. But, suddenly, I was looking at my talent differently. In terms of time, I was doing makeup for much longer. She had a larger circle of friends, so naturally, she had more likes on her page than I did. What was I doing wrong? Were my friends and new clients just saying I did a good job because they were being nice? Why wasn’t I as successful as my friend or, for that matter, the beauty vloggers in the leagues of James Charles, Manny Gutierrez, or Jeffree Star?
I realize it’s ridiculous to be a freelance makeup artist and expect to get onto that level of success immediately, but when I realized how many others out there were probably better than me, I was desperately waiting for my big break. I kept telling myself: all I need is that one viral video or post that will get everyone looking for my services. Until I reached a point where I closed my page down for a while because I was in a very toxic place where I felt that other people’s accomplishments were my failures.
And then I did some digging, and found that this feeling of inadequacy and depression is common for social media users, especially women.
Social Media for Women
I think the effects of social media have been overstated. Ask any Baby Boomer and they’ll tell you that technology is making us dumb, or short-sighted, or less likely to communicate with the people around you over people on the internet. And while I disagree that social media is the end of socialization, I’ve found research that says it is possibly the beginning of plenty of mental health conditions.
According to social displacement theory, the more time we socialize with others online, the less time we socialize with people outside our online circle of friends. That might be good if we live in an area filled with bad people and want to communicate with our friends and family that live far away. But if you’re an average person who lives at home and within speaking distance to your friends and family every day, that could cause problems.
If you’re the type of person who curates their online personality, for example, you’re spending more time creating your online persona – someone who isn’t totally you, but the best parts of you that’s most likely going to get the most likes on social media – than being your real self among your friends. So, if you’re on Instagram and you want your profile to be this laid-back person who’s always going out to eat in the most aesthetically pleasing restaurant, you have to keep curating that persona, providing less of an outlet to be your true self, and thus avoiding your overall mental well-being.
Some researchers have called this theory a myth, claiming it’s not social media’s fault. However, plenty of studies have found a link between frequent social media use, loneliness, body image, and depression.
Body Image: Attractive People Are Making You Sadder
A study from York University wanted to see how social media could affect women’s perception of body image. Taking a sample of almost 120 female students aged 18-27 and dividing them into two groups, the researchers asked one group to stay on Facebook and Instagram for at least five minutes and find someone who was around their age and more attractive than themselves. The second group was asked to stay on the same sites for at least five minutes and comment on a post of a family member who they considered was less attractive than they were.
Before and after their task, each participant was asked to rate how unhappy they felt with their bodies. The first group tasked to find women more attractive than they were had a lower body image perception by the end of their task, showing how their interaction with attractive peers lowers their body image. The second group showed no change.
The results reveal that while social media isn’t telling us to feel worse about ourselves, the way we interact with people we see as more attractive than us causes us to compare ourselves with them, resulting in a negative perception of how we look like. And when you’re constantly on social media, you’re constantly comparing yourself to other women the same way other women are looking at your photos thinking the same thing and continuing the cycle of women feeling insecure about themselves, which could lead to low self-esteem.
Can’t We Just Leave Social Media?
When someone gets too dependent on social media, it’s hard to determine when an addiction starts. At one point in my day job, there was a time when I was always unconsciously checking social media. I couldn’t get anything done at work because for every one percent of the task I complete, I tell myself to take a break and immediately switch tabs to Facebook or Twitter. For every five minutes of work done, I took 20 minutes of social media, even if I was scrolling through the same things I saw in my last Facebook break.
It’s easy to tell people to just stay away from social media – something like a social media detox, as many would call it – but it’s easier said than done. For the most part, many people are willing to continue behavior that studies have found to be linked with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, shorter attention spans, and hyperactivity simply because they fear missing out. The feeling itself is actually a thing people acknowledge: FOMO.
With the popularity of social media, it’s easy to notice how trends quickly come and go. People who exhibit signs of FOMO always want to be present on social media as it happens, so they’re the type of people who are constantly checking social media for updates even when it means looking at the same posts or Tweets repeatedly.
Social media may just be a tool for communication, but it’s one that creates a certain behavior that affects mental health. While it’s easy to tell people to just leave social media, the fear of missing out prevents people from going totally offline and missing out on the trends. However, it helps to start small. By simply reducing the amount of time you allow yourself to stay on social media, you could greatly help your mental health and reduce the need to feel bad through comparisons and insecurities.