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The Confidence Code

The Power of “Muting” Toxic Beauty Content On Social Media — 5 Women Share Their Stories

Warning: This article contains mentions of eating disorders that some readers might find triggering.
We’re all guilty of it: following people on social media who don’t really add any real value to our everyday lives. Maybe it’s the ex, or the problematic relative, or the influencer we’ve never met. By giving these people space in our feeds, we’re somehow giving them space in our lives, too — but that’s where the “mute” and “unfollow” features come in. When it feels like some of the accounts we follow are draining our time, energy, and feeds in a negative way, then it’s time to set some new boundaries.
As part of the Dove Self-Esteem Project, an ongoing effort to build self-esteem and body confidence in young people, Dove is inspiring us to clean up our feeds via its #DetoxYourFeed initiative. The goal is to encourage people to remove toxic beauty advice from their social media platforms by muting or unfollowing — as well as engaging with more positive, uplifting content — in order to improve body image, eliminate harmful beauty advice, and boost self-confidence. According to recent research from Dove’s Self-Esteem and Social Media Report, one in two girls in America think that content promoting idealized beauty standards and advice causes low self-esteem.
With this in mind, there’s no better time to try and have a healthier relationship with social media — no matter what age. Here, we asked five women to share their stories about a time they cleansed their social media feeds, and how doing so helped them set important boundaries and improve their self-esteem.

Megan, 25

“I’ve been working toward eating disorder recovery. As part of that, I’ve really had to work on having a positive body image. Social media has had a major negative impact on my body image, so I’ve had to mute and unfollow a few social media influencers that don’t serve the mindset I’m working toward. A lot of their content featured before-and-after pictures of their bodies, which I felt perpetuated an idea of what a beautiful body ‘should’ look like. I kept thinking, I don’t look like that, so I must not fit the mold of what beauty is. Muting them has helped propel a mindset shift in terms of how I view a body that is worthy of love. Now, when I scroll through my feed, it’s a lot more positive and meaningful. I think less, I wish I looked like so and so, and more, What are all my friends talking about?!

Rachael, 30

"When I was in my 20s, I worked at a small synagogue and had to mute a coworker of mine. She was posting 'before' and 'after' photos of herself on Facebook constantly, showing off her weight loss and advertising the 'nutritional program' she was on. Working through my own disordered relationship with food at the time, I knew that content like hers was triggering my own desire to restrict my food intake. I muted her so that I wouldn't be inundated with her posts, and specifically, the many positive comments she was receiving about her weight loss. Even worse, she worked with — and friended — a lot of young teens going through the b’nai mitzvah process. These were 12- and 13-year-old children who were seeing her posts and learning that food restriction and weight loss was garnering public attention. I decided to mute her rather than unfollow or unfriend her because we were colleagues and she would occasionally tag me in posts, and I worried that unfriending her would cause tension on our staff team. Muting her felt freeing."

Celine, 33

“One of my really close friends loves posting selfies on her Instagram story. And normally, I wouldn’t mind them except that she uses filters that make her look less Asian. They alter the color of her eyes, enlarge her eye shape, change the shape of her nose, lighten her skin — to the point that she looks like a white person. At a time when Asian people across the country are being targeted, I felt her behavior was extremely toxic, and I had to mute her. As an Asian woman myself, that’s the kind of content I don’t want to consume — I don’t ever want to feel ashamed for being Asian.”

Beth, 41

"Social media's constant access to visuals and terminology about how and who we 'should be' as women is something I wanted to make sure my daughter — now six — was aware of and primed to treat with the right amount of skepticism and care. We talk often about what she is exposed to online directly and through friends when I’m not there to talk things through so that she understand that people can say or seem to be completely different than what they are. She knows that what she sees doesn’t make something (or someone) real, better, beautiful, or ugly, and I've made sure to normalize talking about how she feels about the images she’s exposed to. I’m thankful that she’s exposed to such a wide array of humans, but I want her to understand that ability that we all have to publish ourselves online doesn’t make us experts at really anything at all [and that muting and unfollowing are powerful tools]."

Kristen, 32

"I used to follow a cohort of #fitspo and #thinspo models in my 20s in hopes that I’d eventually become 'inspired,' but quite the opposite happened. The only thing those accounts inspired in me was poor body image and the diagnosis of an eating disorder. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten into the habit of doing a social media sweep to weed out accounts that aren’t serving me or feel toxic. I recently unfollowed a close friend who's working in nutrition. I didn’t like how I was feeling and the thoughts I was having about them and their content. I felt guilty about it, but I reminded myself that they wouldn’t necessarily know, and I wasn’t banishing or losing anyone — their content was still there if I wanted to check in or engage with it for whatever reason. Sometimes, I still struggle to unfollow friends, so I’ve become pretty liberal with the mute button. I’ve worked too hard mentally to get to a point where I no longer compromise my own ethics and values to appease another person. My mental health matters more than increasing a friend’s followers by one. Setting boundaries isn’t exactly fun, but once we give ourselves the opportunity to see how effective they can be in supporting our mental health and interpersonal relationships, the less awkward and guilty we feel about it. Now, I choose to follow accounts that inspire curiosity, creativity, and connection, like uplifting storytelling accounts, funny, lighthearted meme accounts; oddball stuff like “Sandwiches of history;” and tons of interior design accounts so that my feed quite literally becomes filled with beautiful spaces."
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NEDA” to 741741.


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