When COVID-19 first started, everyone was looking for something to do in quarantine. People gained new at-home hobbies: baking, painting, exercising. In addition to these new hobbies, downtime was turned into screen time. I found myself constantly on my phone and on social media. I became obsessed. I would spend most of my screen time on my many different social media apps. I started using social media as a guide on how to live: what food to eat, how to dress, how to workout. I would get recipes and workouts from influencers in hopes to look like them. Even though I wasn’t with my friends, I knew they were doing the same things. We would send each other “healthy” recipes or workouts or posts of pretty girls in our grade. We might not have realized it, but we were comparing ourselves to the people we saw on social media for the better or for the worst. I was constantly looking at myself in the mirror and most of the time believed I was not good enough because I had the image of social media influencers on my mind. I started weighing myself and tracking my calories. I was proud when I ate under 1,200 calories in a day. Although I have made changes, this body and food outlook still affects me today.
90% of teens have used social media (Social Media and Teens). Over half of US teens are on social media for at least four hours everyday (Rothwell). This data can seem scary as we become aware of the negative effects of social media. Yes, social media is a great place for connecting with others, but it has also contributed to negative comparison, body image, and dietary restraint.
Have you ever seen a post on instagram of a person with the “perfect body, perfect skin, and perfect clothes”? Did you click on their profile and look at their other posts wishing you looked like them? Scholars call this upward comparison. Upward comparison is where one compares themselves with someone “superior” to them resulting in negative feelings (Joiner et al. 5). It is inevitable on social media. After you looked at these “perfect” profiles, did you look at your own body and think it wasn’t good enough and never will be? This is an example of negative body image and a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is believing that change is not possible. Starting at 17 years old, 78% of girls struggle with body image (“Body Image & Nutrition”). Social media is contributing to this already common issue in the world. Now, after you are feeling bad about your own body, comparing it to someone’s idealistic body, what do you do? Start eating healthy? Cut your calorie intake? Exercise two times a day? These thoughts can lead to an eating disorder or dietary restraint. This can affect you for years mentally and physically. Look at what just happened. From looking at someone’s instagram page, you have experienced upward comparison, body image struggles, and the start of dietary restraint. However, you are still an active social media user and don’t change a thing.
Now, you find out that the profile was fake a few years later. You have changed your whole lifestyle and are currently dealing with the negative effects of dietary restraint. You wished you knew that that one post from years ago was fake.
You may be wondering if there is a positive way to engage with social media. People claim social media is all bad and should be banned. However, research shows that there are healthy ways to use social media. In order to address this problem, we need to change how we
use social media. We need to change our mindset. We need to transition from a fixed mindset to an open one. We can adjust our mindset by confronting social media use, self-reflecting instead of self-criticizing, and gaining confidence.
Let’s revisit the previous experience. Before you even see the “perfect post”, you get a screen time notification telling you your screen time is up. It has a password that your friend set that you don’t know. You turn your phone off and move on to something new. Madelaine K. de Valle and Tracey D. Wade suggests, “confronting social media use is not necessarily associated with negative impacts – this awareness-raising may be the first step to making adaptive changes” (1075). Recognizing how much time we spend on social media and limiting it with screen time is the first step. This small adjustment is taking away social media’s control.
Now, let’s pretend your screen time limit hasn’t been hit yet and you see the post and scroll through the person’s profile. Instead of self-criticizing your body, you self-reflect. This is changing the way you think. Look at how you can grow and improve from this post instead of being upset with yourself. This may be changing your diet or exercise routine. However, in reflection, consider your health and be realistic. Goals should not be set by the unrealistic standards of social media. After reflecting, you have set a goal that will increase your health and confidence in a healthy and realistic way.
Now, let’s start from the beginning one more time. You see the post. You click on it. You see the person is “perfect” but remember your own worth. You swipe out of it and return to other things. Confidence. If we are confident in ourselves, fake “perfect” posts shouldn’t hugely affect us. We need to learn to love ourselves. This may seem easy but if everyone loved and were confident in themselves, comparison and social media wouldn’t be such a big issue. Since everyone being 100% confident all the time is unrealistic, we should be aware of our confidence levels. On days I know I am not my most confident, I choose not to go on social media because I know how it will make me feel. This connects back to confronting social media use and self-reflecting. Confronting social media use, self-reflecting, and confidence are all connected and together can make a positive impact.
We can change now. We can change our mindsets and take control back over social media. We can use it as a social, connecting platform that it can be. Confront your social media use. Self-reflect instead of self-criticize. Be confident. Share awareness. Start the conversation. Talk about the negatives of social media. Think of ways to include more positives. Fast from social media and see the effects. Adjust your screen time. Post real stuff. Social media is fake, not you. Sharing your true self will encourage others to share their true self. Doing these small things can diminish a fixed mindset and grow an open mindset.
I wish I knew these small solutions in quarantine. If I would have practiced these things, my social media and health experience would have been completely different. We can be the example of what social media users should be like. If people see and follow our example, we can help prevent others from experiencing the negative effects of social media. Let’s spread having an open mindset and make social media a positive resource in our world!
Los Angeles, California