4 Things to Do When Your Friends Compare Themselves to Others on Social Media
1) Don't deny their thoughts.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” And yet we still do it: We compare our looks, careers, relationships, and personalities to those of other people. While it’s impossible to never fall into the comparison trap, it’s especially easy to compare when you’re scrolling through social media. Viewing pictures of people living their best lives on Instagram or Facebook fast-tracks an unhealthy comparison mindset, and it can quickly lead to negative self-talk. In fact, a study conducted in Canada in March of 2019 found that as little as five minutes spent on Facebook or Instagram has the capacity to trigger negative body image concerns.
As a 23-year-old self-proclaimed girl’s girl, I often hear my friends spiral into this sticky situation, too. Sitting in a room filled with smart, fun, and beautiful women who are weighing themselves against other women whom they may not even know can be hard to stomach sometimes. When I hear my friends say things like, “I wish I looked like her” or “so-and-so has the coolest life,” I understand how damaging these vocalized comparisons can be internally (because I deal with them myself), and I want to help them realize their own self-worth. Hearing these negative thoughts from my friends’ mouths gives me a reality check that I should monitor how I treat myself, too.
It’s no surprise that in our early twenties we still feel inadequate sometimes; as young girls, we’re presented with ideas of how we should look and act by society, even starting with the dolls we play with as kids.
“From airbrushed photographs in magazines to edited digital images, we’re increasingly using technology to portray ourselves in an altered physical state,” clinical psychologist Joshua Klapow tells HelloGiggles. “It creates a situation where everyone thinks this is how women should look, act, and be. It creates a norm that’s not attainable but absolutely present in every aspect of our lives.”
Body-positive photos and messages have increased across social media platforms in recent years, from celebs like Ashley Graham showing off her stretch marks to Bebe Rexha proudly owning her cellulite. But although normal bodies are finally being showcased and embraced on the internet, we’re still living in an era of filters and editing apps, and the historical expectations and pressure on how women should look are still rooted in our culture, specifically with young millennials and Gen Z-ers who grew up with social media.
Plus, aside from physical appearance, there’s an added pressure for women today to come off as cool, funny, and successful—all through square photos and captions on their phone screens—and I see this pressure weigh on my own friends often. But other than assuring your friends of how great they are (which typically receives an eye roll or shrug). it’s tough to know how to help them in this situation. So we tapped mental health experts for their advice on the best ways to talk to your friends about the harmful cycle of comparison.
How to handle friends comparing themselves to others on social media:
1. Don’t deny their thoughts.
When your friends are scrolling social media and saying things like, “She’s so pretty, it’s not fair,” or “I wish I had as cool of a job as so-and-so,” your natural reaction is probably to deny their opinion of how they stack up to others, but experts say you shouldn’t dispute their thoughts and feelings.
“Seek to understand where they are coming from versus denying their perceptions,” Klapow advises. “Ask questions like, ‘What is it about that person that makes you think you aren’t as successful?’ This approach of curiosity and letting the friend describe their experience versus you denying it will help bring them to a more personal reality check.”
2. Point out the toxic comparison.
If posing questions to get your friends thinking about why they truly look up to these people doesn’t seem to help them, point out how harmful this cycle can be to their mental health.
“It’s important to address the negative self-worth—the voice of toxic comparison—rather than placating the friend or trying to boost their ego,” clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly tells HelloGiggles. “A few helpful phrases to use when a friend is falling into a trap of comparison include ‘Your inner critic is acting up,’ or ‘I wish you’d be kinder to yourself.'”
3. Give them unique compliments.
If a friend is vocalizing negative self-worth by comparing themselves to people they see on social media, chances are it’s a cry for a compliment or approval. But rather than buying into the whole “you’re better/worse” trope by saying things like, “You’re just as pretty!” or “But you’re probably getting promoted soon,” tell them unique things that you appreciate about them without relating it to anyone else.
“Validate them not by denying their perceptions but by describing to them what you think about them, how you see them, and what your experience is of them,” Klapow explains. “So you aren’t saying that they’re prettier or funnier or more successful than the person they are comparing themselves to, but you are saying that you personally find them funny, beautiful, successful.”
Ditching the comparison mindset and telling your friend how you—someone who knows them well and loves them—view them IRL is a much more powerful validator than weighing them against someone else.
4. Suggest positive social media accounts to follow.
Finally, taking a hard look at the media we consume is extremely helpful for learning what’s actually benefiting us. Sure, your friends might like seeing how the Hadid sisters are spending their time at their farm over quarantine, but does following these models do more harm than good? “Unfollow individuals or pages which trigger sadness and self-doubt,” suggests adult, adolescent, and child psychiatrist Dr. Leela Magavi. Ridding your feed of images that make you feel insecure or less than can do wonders for your self-esteem.
On the flip side, find pages that encourage self-love and positivity and encourage friends to push that follow button. “I advise individuals to follow positive pages related to health, self-compassion, and wellness,” Dr. Magavi says.
And remember: All of these tactics are useful for yourself when you fall into comparing yourself to others, too.