If you’re a regular social media user – and a great many of us are – then you probably already know that social media can have its upsides and its downsides. For every positive connection or interaction we have on platforms such as Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, there’s always the risk of having a negative one. And yet, social media remains a dominant force in our lives, with millions and millions of users scrolling through post after post day after day. But how is what we’re seeing affecting us?
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says social media can certainly have a negative impact on self-esteem. “Studies have found that frequent exposure to social networking results in high levels of weight dissatisfaction, drive for thinness and increased ‘body surveillance,’ particularly in young women,” Tillman said. “The reason this is so concerning is that high body satisfaction among women is known to be a primary risk factor for the development of eating disorders, and is correlated with low self-esteem and depression. A survey of more than 1,000 people revealed that, for women, social media is the No. 1 influence on how they feel about their bodies. Nearly 90 percent of women surveyed said they compare themselves to images they see on social media, with 50 percent of women saying their bodies compare unfavorably to the images they see online,” she explained. “Plastic surgeons also report an increase in procedures, thanks to social media. A survey from the American Academy of Facial and Reconstructive Surgery found that surgeons have seen a 31 percent increase in patients requesting surgery to look better online. Some doctors report patients show up with their filtered photos requesting procedures to look more like their heavily filtered selfies,” she added.
So, what can we do to combat the potential negative effects social media can have on us? “You want to make sure you’re always dealing in reality,” Tillman said. “Always be aware that many of the images you see online are filtered, heavily posed and don’t necessarily represent real life. Filters and editing can allow people to edit their photos to appear thinner and/or taller, whiten their teeth, and perfect and smooth their skin tones. If you’re consistently finding yourself discouraged after scrolling through your social media feeds, consider giving the apps on your phone – and the accounts you’re following – a ‘spring cleaning.’ Unfollow the accounts that make you feel negatively about your body or appearance,” she said.
Tillman says you also can avoid bringing those negative feelings into your daily life by choosing to be positive. “Language is so important to self-esteem,” Tillman said. “Be aware of the ways you’re speaking about your body and others’ bodies. Consistently saying things that involve appearance, such as ‘I feel fat today’ or ‘You look great, did you lose weight?’ may feel harmless in the moment, but actually can make you feel worse about your body overall,” she explained. “Also, if you’re a parent, be sure you’re being a good role model for your child by modeling positive behaviors when it comes to physical activity, healthy eating and body image. Remember, they’re looking to you to set the standards they’ll set for themselves,” she added.
Finally, Tillman says, if your social feeds are damaging your self-esteem, consider putting the phone down for a while. “Do something positive for yourself by being more physically active, or choosing to eat healthier meals,” Tillman said. “Focus on the positive benefits these decisions can have on both your body and your mind,” she added.