How social media is ruining our self esteem—and how to make it stop
At college, I did my homework in the library on weekends, invariably procrastinating by clicking through Facebook photos. I’d start by stalking a classmate from Intro to Italian, who seemed to jet-set to exotic destinations every week. Next, my friends; images of parties, group dinners, status updates about new relationships, and dream internships. An hour later, I’d find myself going through every photo of a friend of a friend’s horseback riding championship. Eventually pulling myself away from the screen, I would look at my weekend hideaway in the library with new, more disapproving eyes. Why wasn’t I at that party? Why didn’t she invite me to dinner? I’ll never get an internship like that! How could I have given up horseback riding??!!
Though the particulars may vary, my experience is not the exception. As social media becomes more entrenched in our lives, its negative effects on our mental health are becoming more and more apparent. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a study on a phenomenon they coined “Facebook Depression,” where people show clinical signs of depression — feelings of worthlessness, lack of motivation, irritability, anger, suicidal thoughts — after using social media. This extreme example points to the larger issue affecting us all, the much-talked-about (with little actually done about it) negative side affects of our online lives. We passively click through the photos of other people constantly — the parties we weren’t invited to, the jobs we didn’t get, the bodies we don’t have — in short, the lives we aren’t leading are right in front of our faces all day long. It’s no wonder we sign off feeling inadequate, no matter how accomplished and exciting our real lives may be.
But social media itself is not the problem — it’s how we use it to curate our lives, posting our best moments and deleting the worst. Imagine reading a book where beautiful people do wonderful things and nothing bad ever happens. That book would be short and boring. Much of social media has become just that: an empty vessel with a cool filter. We’re not sharing anything, we are showing others what we think will make us look best — and in the end, we are all losing out. What did I get out of looking at my classmate’s photos? What did she get out of posting them?
So what’s my thought? We need a social media revolution. It’s time to start sharing in the true sense of the word; inviting our friends and followers into our personal orbit. Inside each one of us there is a unique story to be told, and our social media profiles should reflect the crazy, silly, wonderful imperfections that make us who we are and the personal passions that get us revved up about life.
I took a two-year hiatus from any and all social media when I realized that the hours spent online left me feeling straight-up bad about myself. And it took a while for me to see that social media does not have to be like that. When I eventually restored my accounts, I sought out people whose posts left me feeling positive, whether it was Anna Kendrick’s hilariously unglamorous Instagram or a feed of basset hounds in raingear. Now when I go online, I look for feeds that make me feel included, not like I’m being held a filter’s length away. My most satisfying posts have been those that allowed me to interact with followers over a common love or frustration (I’m currently reading a book recommendation that came out of a comments section discussion!).
Imagine if social media became a place where we shared our dreams instead of hiding our faults, where we collaborated in conversation instead of trolling anonymously, where we felt included instead of excluded. We need to reinvent the online community to cultivate a safer, more diverse, more welcoming environment where we value people for generating thoughts, not likes. I believe wholeheartedly that this would have amazing repercussions through all areas of life, online and off. We have an incredible tool in our hands, we need to use it to change the world.
So consider this my call to arms. As the future leaders and innovators of our generation, we must shape the world in which we want to live. I want to live in a world where women are valued for more than their body type, where men can be emotional without fear of shame, where everyone is supported and celebrated for the unique perspective they bring to the discussion. Here’s where I think we all should start:
Post Passionately: Did you read a great article? Did that last ASPCA ad make you want to donate all your money to abandoned puppies? Are you furious over the latest political scandal? Post about it! You have the power to affect real change through social media. What could you post that would inspire others?
Post Thoughtfully: For every person you stalk, there is someone doing the same to you. Chances are it’s someone younger and impressionable who thinks that your life is way cooler than hers will ever be. Share your vacation pictures because you want others to see spectacular natural beauty, not to brag about your sweet hotel room. Post that picture of you and your girlfriends having a sleepover because you want to show what friendship looks like to you.
Share, Don’t Show: Use your captions and statuses to interact with your friends and followers. Did you just get into college? Ask for tips on how to make the most of it. Are you stressed about prom? Don’t be afraid to admit it! When you truly share your life, people will feel included by your experiences — the good and not-so-good — and you may be surprised by just how much you benefit.
Follow Smart: Think about the people you enjoy following. What is it about those photos/tweets/statuses that make you feel better for having seen them? Actively seek out people who leave you feeling positive and motivated.
Wondering where to start? Here are some of my favorite accounts (in no particular order):
What are your hopes and dreams for our online community? Do you know of inspiring accounts others may want to follow? Let me know by tagging your posts with #TakeBackTheShare. And then get out there and start sharing!