How Social Media Warps Our Body Image (and What We Can Do About It)

Let’s face it: social media is largely a showcase of our best selves. Fitness influencers are flaunting six-packs, celebrities are posting airbrushed selfies, and travel influencers are displaying their washboard abs by the sea. Even though we’re largely aware that what we see isn’t real, day in, day out, appearance becomes a competition that’s hard to win – not everyone can afford a personal trainer and botox, after all. This is what it’s like to have a body in the midst of a crippling social media revolution.

Social media promotes edited perfection: wrinkles are softened, lighting is static, postures are artfully arranged to create an impression of perfection that is neither colorful nor often obtainable. A narrow and unattainable definition of beauty emerges, contributing to body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and the development of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

It’s not our fault – we’re hard-wired to compare – but social media has turned the pastime into a competitive sport. Scrolling through endless feeds and stacking our ‘average’ selves against abundant unattainable ideals fosters crippling doubt. Remember, comparison steals joy and mocks the unique beauty you carry.

Fortunately for you (while unfortunate for your narcissism), this is something you can overcome. By taking care of your mind, you can protect yourself from the deleterious effects of social media on self-esteem. Here are some tips for consuming your media in a healthier, more critical way:

  • Pick and choose what you allow into your consciousness by following inspirational accounts, and unfriend those who leave you feeling down.
  • Resist the narrative by challenging images. They’re not real. They’re photoshopped.
  • Look past the picture. Is the caption inspiring? Does the post add something meaningful and positive to your life? If not, unfollow.
  • Log off. Set social media ‘cleanse’ times to re-engage in the real world and allow yourself to enjoy what you can do with your body.
It’s not all just about who you follow. You also need to build a healthy relationship with your online self. Here are a couple tips:
  • You were born this way. Celebrate your unique features and talents but do not change them because they are yours and they are beautiful.
  • Practice some self-compassion. If your friend experienced the same thing you’re going through right now, would you tell her: ‘You should have seen this coming! You never eat veggies. Why didn’t you? You’re so stupid.’ Of course not. Instead you’d say: ‘It’s fine, honey; your body is just getting used to these hormones. You’re going to feel much better soon, I promise.’
  • Get help if you feel you need it. If your body image concerns are interfering with your life, ask for help from a therapist or counselor.
  • After all, social media makes up just one part of your life. Spend more time nurturing your real-world relationships and pursuing your passions. Remind yourself of the incredible things your body is capable of. And when you free up that mental energy, you’ll find yourself better equipped to have a healthy relationship with your online self – and to exist comfortably within your own, beautiful definition of you.