Is Social Media Hurting Your Body Image?

August 09, 2016

This week’s Body Love tip is a great way to cleanse out self-doubt and negative self-talk, and to reconnect with YOU:

Try a social media “cleanse”!social-media-hurting-body-image

Several recent studies have been done on the connection between social media use and lowered self-esteem – a big part of which is reflected in a negative body image.

Our self-confidence and self-esteem can indeed suffer from too much social media if we’re not mindful of how we use it.

I’ve heard it a lot with clients, and have even experienced it for myself: whenever we’re feeling insecure about a particular area of our lives (relationships, work, finances, and especially our BODIES), we tend to see and compare ourselves, and that area of our lives, to what we see in our newsfeeds.

And unfortunately, it’s not always inspiration we feel, but rather further devastation and even isolation.

Comparisons to pictures and status updates of our ‘friends’ who seem to have it all together, doesn’t always serve to uplift our spirits and motivation to improve our own lives. If anything, they can drive us further into our dark holes of despair. And when we’re in these desperate states, that’s when we’re most likely to numb out and surf our newsfeeds more (rather than take action in our lives). It’s like a vicious cycle.

“Compare and Despair” Syndrome

Fortunately, during the years when I felt the worst about my body (my teens and twenties), there was no social media – I can only imagine how it would have magnified my body image struggles if there had been. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve never experienced “compare and despair” syndrome.

What I’ve learned is that, when we’re missing a strong foundation of self-love, and we measure ourselves by external standards, this can transfer to ALL areas of our lives, not just our body image.

The most vivid and painful example I can remember with social media comparisons is when I was a single mom to my baby girl (I single parented Eve for her first 4 years), and I’d been seriously struggling both physically (from exhaustion) and emotionally (from feeling like I was on ‘lock-down’ with baby’s schedule).

Though I have many happy memories from those times, I also had some very dark times, particularly in the first year. When I was in that dark state, sometimes connecting with friends online was a great feeling, and helped me to feel less isolated. Yet there were also moments, when I’d see photos of my friends welcoming new life into their families – along with pics of happy couples and their newborns – that I would experience some of my darkest thoughts: I felt like I’d never again be able to have balance or romance in my life, and my baby would never know the joy of having a “real” family.

It got so bad at one point that I couldn’t even bring myself to congratulate friends on their good news until I had pulled myself out of my funk. My toxic envy had clouded any positive/supportive emotion that I otherwise would have felt for them.

I’m not proud of those moments, but they definitely served as some of my best growth opportunities – combating that negativity was probably the #1 thing that helped me through my challenges: it allowed me to change the way I looked at my situation, and my situation did indeed change for the better.

I started to identify my own standards, and live by them, instead of by how I thought my life “should” look like. But I had to minimize my time on social media in order to do this.

Social media doesn’t show us the full picture

Today, my life is pretty darn good (and if we can put things in perspective and realize that ALL moments eventually pass – both the good and the not-so-good – this certainly helps to get through the tough times), and though I still don’t find time to post a lot of updates to social media, I do now enjoy my time glimpsing through friends’ shares and gleaning wisdom from inspirational and motivational pages that I follow.

And when I do choose to post, it’s usually something I find positive, uplifting, funny or interesting. What I don’t post about, and never have, is the ‘shit’ that’s happening in my life – unless I can share it with a positive spin/shareable lesson (but that’s typically after the shit has passed) – for a couple of reasons:

1) people have enough of their own shit going on, they don’t need to hear about mine; and 2) airing my shit online doesn’t help me deal with it (I work through it by journaling, meditating, walking and talking to close friends).

So, my point is that social media doesn’t always paint the full picture of reality. We see the best of everyone: their lives, their relationships, their bodies (and unfortunately these are often filtered and enhanced). We don’t usually see the shit: the struggles, the pain, the heartbreaks, and the ‘flaws’.

As long as we can remember and acknowledge this, we can browse through our newsfeeds with a much lighter heart – and ‘like’ what we see from a standpoint of encouragement, support and love, rather than with envy, judgment or self-deprecation.

We need to also remember that we’re all here to follow our OWN path – we’re not meant to be, look or act like anyone else – and there’s always something positive WITHIN OURSELVES to focus on. Unique strengths are a good place to start.

But sometimes, we need to take it a step further and just take a break from distractions, to reconnect with WHO we really are.

Why I urge everyone to try a social media “cleanse”

Just like we need to cleanse our bodies occasionally when they’ve been overloaded with too many toxins from our food and environment, it’s also important to cleanse our minds when we’ve been overloaded with toxic thoughts and distractions.

That’s why I urge everyone try an occasional social media cleanse.

Take an extended break from social media – and not just a few hours. A few days! For some, the very prospect of this may seem preposterous – it’s bad enough to have to put your phone on airplane mode during flight take-off!

But I would say, after personally doing it this past weekend and reaping MAJOR benefits from it, that it’s totally worth a try. (I’ll admit, just like I’m not immune to the occasional indulgence in ‘unhealthy’ foods, I’m still not immune to ‘compare and despair’ syndrome – especially as I begin to take on new challenges and goals in my life).

Here’s what I did: I put my phone on airplane mode for 3 whole days – no social media, or texts, or “pings” when I got an email – and I arranged to spend the entire weekend alone for added cleansing benefit. I don’t think I’ve ever done that in the whole time I’ve had a cell phone (let alone since becoming a mom) but I knew that I’d be capable of doing it – after all, 10 short years ago, all I had was a landline and I survived! I also didn’t have Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts. And I survived that too.

But I didn’t just survive this past weekend – I thrived! Here’s why I encourage you to try it too:

1) It gives you an opportunity to reconnect with YOU and determine YOUR own standards.

When you’re not looking outside yourself, you’re better able to see and be present with your own gifts, strengths, blessings, passions, purpose, and all the things for which you have to be grateful in your life.

3) It frees up time to focus on the above!

Time:  the most precious of all resources because once it’s gone, we can never get it back.

When you free up time you would have otherwise spent on social media (scary how much time that actually is when you add it all up), you can use this time to focus on the things mentioned above without distraction, PLUS indulge in a whole lot more self-care, which magnifies the benefits! Who knows, you might even create something really wonderful in the process (I personally used this time to work on my upcoming eBook – a project requiring a ton of focus to get in touch my own self-expression to relay my unique message)!

Both of these things are critical to building self-confidence and self-esteem – which form the foundation of true body love. And once you have this foundation, you can simply enjoy social media for the wonderful benefits it does have to offer: connection and community.

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