How many of us have subconsciously scrolled through Instagram, maybe during our commute to work or whilst waiting in the queue at Starbucks and come across several photos of a friend (or influencer) standing side view, in front of a full-length mirror looking flawless and confident as they proudly show off their bikini selfies? I can imagine a few of us can raise our hand to that. For some of us, processing such images automatically has us feeling a little envious whilst for others, it might be that dreaded reminder that we have a fair bit of work to do before we can even think about booking that much-needed summer getaway. Life can feel pretty unfair in that single moment!
Social media, as we know it, was born in 2004 when a group of American students formed a networking website for members at Harvard University. Over the course of a few years, the networking site extended its members to include other educational institutions in the Boston area and by 2006, Facebook, now the global leader of social networking was open to anyone over the age of 13. Soon after, Instagram, Twitter and most recently, Snap Chat were born, making social networking one of the fastest and most influential ways to communicate in the 21st century.
Since its launch in 2010, Instagram, the photo and video sharing social networking site, has created and boosted online businesses, launched startups, has allowed brands to reach audiences that may not have been possible and introduced the term ‘influencer’ which quickly became a powerful buzzword across the technological world. Business and money-making capabilities aside, people have fallen in love over social media, but equally, relationships have broken down. It has brought together groups that share a common interest (like #Flawsarebeautiful and #Scarsstories) and has allowed female strong platforms the opportunity to celebrate modernism, feminism and all that it is to be a fierce female in the 21st century, proving that, as women we can collectively empower and inspire others from across the globe.
Statistically, social media has always generated much interest, mainly because of how it affects our day-to-day lives and alters our behaviour. Studies have shown that when women and young girls in their teens view social media platforms for just a short period of time, body image concerns are higher than those not as active. In addition, one study has also demonstrated that girls express a strong desire to change their appearance such as face, hair or skin after spending time on social media. These are pretty disturbing facts and sadly not surprising. Every day we are exposed to airbrushed models within advertising that promote a certain type of beauty, body shape and what it means to be feminine. As a result, women often feel pressured into looking a certain way and striving to fit in with the ‘ideal beauty’ standard. The added pressure of social media has further heightened our desire to achieve a particular look and has led us to sometimes negatively comparing ourselves to others we see online.
The relationship I have with social media, I would say is pretty healthy. I drew the line at Facebook and Instagram as I couldn’t bare the thought of updating another platform with the same content I’ve shared on others. I am conscious of spending too much time online and so try to limit myself, which can be difficult when I’m connected to all my friends and all it takes is the touch of an app. I’m a firm believer in self-control and know how easy it is to feel swallowed up by social media, so with that in mind, here are my tips on how to maintain a healthy relationship with social media…
Vary who you follow
Following a thousand fitness addicts urging you to #trainhard when you, yourself cant even look at a photo of a cross trainer, isn’t uplifting and will probably make you feel a little shit! Of course, follow fitness addicts for inspiration, but make sure you follow a variety of influencers – lifestyle platforms, body positive campaigns, foodies and travel influencers and those women leading a normal everyday life. This widens the images
you are exposed to visually and acts as a reminder that it’s okay not to be perfect because in this world, beautiful women are of all shapes and sizes.
We post our best pictures
Generally, we tend to upload the best photos of ourselves. That could mean selecting the most flattering camera mode before shooting, taking twenty photos and uploading your favourite (I’m guilty!) or retouching with a good filter to make sure the image is Insta ready. If you think about your average ‘scroll’, how many times do you come across photos of girls who have just woken up and haven’t even managed to splash cold water on their face to make them a little more alert! Hardly ever. Typically, when on social media we are paying close attention to those girls with bright ‘Vitamin C’ skin, great fashion sense and those who are body proud, completely forgetting about the girls who share everyday natural images. Keep an open mind and remember the stories and images we share are completely unique to us.
We all do it! We see daily pictures from the same people showing their ‘best self’, which can play havoc with our self-esteem and confidence. There are very few Instagram stars posting authentic photos of themselves, mainly because their focus is to increase likes and ensure they are noticed. This is all well and good, however, remember this is a snapshot of their life in that moment of time and doesn’t really tell you what’s going on behind closed doors. Not so long ago, I would hate how my body looked because I’d see girls with enviable body shapes that I wished I could achieve with a few more sessions at the gym. Their skin looked amazing and their hair and makeup was flawless. Now, I realise the importance of appreciating myself and the steps I have taken towards learning to love my body. Comparing yourself to others not only creates negative energy, but it also potentially creates a barrier to the things you might want to experience in life, meaning the only person you are potentially harming is yourself. We were never designed to be the same people. Embrace you and share your ‘story’ on social media that best reflects who you are. That’s who your friends, family and others who choose to follow you, want to know.
Have a Social Media Detox
Don’t you just love one of the hottest buzzwords of the moment - detox. Feels and sounds like cleansing of the soul. I can already sense the shaking of heads and feelings of anxiety as you imagine life without access to social media, but honestly, having a break from photos, status updates and watching random wedding video clips of those you don’t know, is refreshing once you’ve broken away. In 2015, Essena O’Neill famously quit Instagram despite having over 500’000 followers which no doubtedly would have earned her a healthy profit. Her reason; her photos not being a true reflection of her real life. In some of her photos she was wearing borrowed clothes, was posing strategically and some images were later manipulated to make them more pleasing on the eye. She described her time on Instagram as a ‘contrived perfection made to get attention’. A strong statement that unfortunately rings true for many Instagram stars. To help with successfully detoxing, there are apps that will help break your Internet patterns. “Freedom” allows you to block distracting websites such as Instagram and Facebook, apps that you often spend too much time on and the entire internet as a whole. You can plan reoccurring schedules that will block distractions and give you the freedom to concentrate on other activities without the interference of social media and “Cold Turkey” does exactly the same by blocking distractions using daily time limits.
Support other women
I know this might sound bizarre, but if you see a photo of a girl wearing something you’d love to see yourself in or lazing on the beach engrossed in a good book and it catches your eye, leave a positive comment. It’s a good way for you to pick up followers and helps you to look past comparing yourself because you feel a sense of appreciating others. I do it all the time now and it instantly removes any feelings of envy because I am appreciating what I can see without wishing the girl in the picture was me.
Social media and how you use it, is your choice. Whether you are a casual user completely unfazed by status updates and perfectly curated visuals, or a frequent user that craves daily exposure to social media, it’s important to remember that you are in control of the relationship you have with social media. Whilst it took some time, I’ve finally learnt to use social media to my advantage – positively engaging with those I share a common interest with, allowing myself to feel inspired by body positive platforms that advocate self love and staying informed with major news platforms that provide me with instant updates without trawling through multiple websites. The days when I would frequently make on screen comparisons, feel envious of a status update and feel inferior when I’d spot something that I secretly desired, are long behind me. Social media is about maintaining a balance, adopting healthy usage habits and not getting wrapped up in an artificial world that has any affect on how you view your life, or most importantly, yourself…