Compare & Despair: Is Facebook Hurting Your Self-Esteem?

We all know social media can make us feel bad about ourselves. There have been countless articles and even scientific studies proving that sites like Facebook contribute to feelings of envy, jealousy, and sadness due to the fact that people tend to post their life’s highlight reel, instead of the mundane reality.
Indeed, there are few things that can make you feel more inadequate than Facebook. You can really feel like a winner until you sign on and are reminded of that one thing that you haven’t yet gotten around to (i.e. your mother forwarding you that article about your increasing age and waning fertility, or the way your favorite pair of jeans pinch you a little too tightly when you sit down lately). These tiny little reminders are like pinpricks that add up to one giant ache of “not good enough.”
As if those daily real-life hints weren’t enough, signing into Facebook or checking your Instagram can really drive the point home that other people are better than you at, well, anything you can think of. That girl you went to middle school with is a vegan chef and none of her meals resemble your last meal, a bag of frozen GMO corn. Your college roommate is on her third baby somehow, making you very “behind” in that aspect, too. You didn’t run a Tough Mudder or 26.2 miles last weekend, so you aren’t about to post that the only marathon you've recently completed is two days of Friday Night Lights. Oh, and your ex just bought a house, which reminds you that your rent check is late — thanks for the reminder, JERK. For those people who haven’t yet settled down into domestic bliss, well, it seems they’re having a lot more fun than you are. And, their vacations are fancier, too. That’s because they all just got job promotions. Are you ready to quit life yet? Hang on there’s a new post! Someone just mapped their eight-mile run. They neglected, however, to post the Shake Shack visit after their eight-mile run. Oops.
Photo: via Instagram / @healthylifemealtime.
Aside from these really bad feelings, an equally damaging side effect is the loss of perspective, or what I call "reverse perspective," where all we're focused on the cumulative ways our lives don't measure up to the individual success of our friends on social media. Social media is a perspective vacuum — not a reflection of real life. Reverse perspective can lead to a loss of gratitude, something that can be very damaging to our mental and physical well-being. This is especially the case on sites like Instagram, where we often follow people we don’t know who have ever increasingly dreamy lives. After 20 minutes or so on Instagram, I’m bumming out over some fashion blogger’s travel posts, and how Man Repeller’s outfit is so much cooler than mine today! I’m caught wondering, "What is so wrong with me that I didn’t think to wear a big flouncy skirt over men’s jeans" when the bubble bursts and I’m brought back to Earth. Reverse perspective, people. There’s an app for that.
The feeling of not being good enough, or not having enough, is a really dangerous emotion to have. Chances are if you’re reading this, then you, at a very basic level, have a much better life than most of the world. But, it’s so easy to forget when constantly bombarded with images of those who have so much more. Even President Obama sounded off on the phenomenon as it relates to celebrity-watching, something often done through social media. He spoke about his childhood, and that “kids weren’t monitoring every day what Kim Kardashian was wearing, or where Kanye West was going on vacation, and thinking that somehow that was the mark of success.”
Photo: via Instagram / @ilaaydn.
Surely, not all of us are prone to these feelings of inadequacy when it comes to social media, and if we are, we're not doomed to feel this way forever. So, what can we do to not get sucked into the reverse-perspective vacuum, to feel some gratitude, and still sign onto Instagram? The key is balance, I’ve found. I definitely won’t stop indulging in my fashion bloggers, but I also follow Instagrams by @humansofNY and photographer Brandon Stanton, who takes portraits of New Yorkers on the streets and shares a quote from them about their lives. Sometimes it’s happy and sometimes it’s sad, but it’s always beautiful. Follow your favorite charity, so you can be reminded here and there of those less fortunate in the face of all that shines.
Social media is not evil — it can be extremely rewarding and fun. You certainly don’t need to feel guilty for posting about the nice things in your life, but it’s important to see it for what it is: a place to share and be entertained — not measure yourself against others. Balance, perspective, and gratitude while viewing will make you stop and think before you beat yourself up over your job, your body, or your outfit (of all things).
Photo: via Instagram / @itz_juju93.

More from Mind

R29 Original Series