We’ve all seen it. That one friend on Instagram who posts pictures of a lean, toned, tanned body in an exotic location and constant status updates on Facebook about how wonderful their life is.
So how does this make us feel?
What is your answer to that question? Jealousy? Happiness at seeing other ‘friends’ material gains or achievements? Guilty?
Social media has become part of our lives whether we like it or not. It is an excellent tool to keep in touch, share joy or grief and network (and ranty blog posts), but it also has a dark side. Researchers have found negative links between social media, self-image and depression. Surprise surprise.
There have been several studies recently looking at the frequency and the impact thereof in using sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. A lot of this research has been centred around children, as they are the first developing generation in the social media epidemic. But what about us old ‘uns? (Oh, bring back the days of hunting the streets for your pal’s bike to figure out whose house they were at.)
Of course it affects adults too. We are often bombarded with images of fantastic holidays, expensive new purchases and “Oh, look at me!” posts when we log on. Let’s face it, it’s bound to affect us. Mainly we put pressure on ourselves, particularly in terms of self-image. Constant reminders of people you actually know looking fabulous and generally doing exceptionally well in life can become detrimental as we try and make ourselves better. Some often feel like their lives are sub-standard and boring compared to their social media counterparts, or that we are failures because we aren’t a size 8 and going to the gym twelve times a week. Other pressures include the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ syndrome in providing luxurious items and outlandish treats for our children.
If, like me, you get a twinge of any negative feeling when browsing your news feeds, stop. I beg you. It’s not real. A friend of mine recently said, “Being friends on Facebook is not the same as real life.” – He’s right. Social media platforms are just that – a stage for people to display their personal highlight reels. Many of the images we see are engineered or filtered (who wants to see a picture of themselves with a double chin and greasy hair?) or posed to look good. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to look your best for all the world to see, it creates a very false environment. People aren’t constantly going to talk about all the shit things going on, are they?
But how fake are we talking? At the more extreme end of the spectrum, I urge you to read up on Essena O’Neill – the Australian model who quit her Instagram career because she was miserable.
There will always be certain attention-seekers or materialistic people that you will have in your friends list, but ask yourself what void they are trying to fill if their first thought is “I can’t wait to post this on Facebook!” When I got my first short story published last year, the thought never entered my head to share the news with my ‘friends’ on social media until much later, and I still didn’t actually announce it on Facebook. I didn’t need the validation.
The most interesting thing about the research conducted is the frequency of use. the general but very elementary trend is that the more people use social media, the more likely they are to feel depressed. You can read a little about that from the guys at the University of Pittsburgh via Forbes.
This takes me back to things I know I always bang on about. Moderation. Without Facebook I’d be lost, but I don’t log in two or three times a day. I’ve found more productive uses for my time but still use it for support through an excellent secret WeightWatchers page and the occasional browse with a cuppa. Anything in large volumes isn’t good for you, especially if it is prone to invoke negative feelings within you. Then there’s negative influences – you wouldn’t stay friends with someone who uses you as a doormat – so why endure social media if it is having a negative effect? My favourite site is Pinterest. It’s the most positive form of social media I’ve got. It inspires me, motivates me, and gives me genuine joy without all the showboating.
In the writing group I’m in, I use a phrase when critiquing: “Take what resonates (from my comments) and dump the rest.” That’s what I now do with social media. So the next time you feel bad because you haven’t lost weight this week and everyone else on Twitter did, switch it off. It might just make you feel better.