The double edge sword that is social media- The Pros and Cons
It is difficult to remember a time before social media. When we didn’t know about every time someone from our High School class got engaged or announced a pregnancy, or even shared the sad news of someone’s passing within five minutes.
As a society in general, we have almost become entitled to the intimate details of everyone’s lives. Even if we haven’t spoken to the people we are “stalking” in years, and one cannot help but start to compare their lives with their peers or even an influencer.
Why is Social Media such a conundrum?
This is why social media is a double edge sword. On the one hand, how incredible is it that we are able to speak to family in different countries? Post photographs of memories with our friends that we can go back and reminisce about ten years later? Or even connect with strangers who share a common interest or struggle?
However, it comes as no surprise that social media can have some truly detrimental effects too. Some examples include: seeing all your friends in a picture at a dinner you weren’t invited to, sitting on your couch eating ice-cream in sweatpants whilst scrolling past posts of people constantly travelling to exotic places or going through a difficult breakup whilst it seems like every day someone is announcing an engagement. Without a doubt, the most damaging part of social media has to be the unattainable beauty standard that is reinforced through thousands of photos that are filtered, edited or taken at very flattering angles with good lighting. Even though as rational humans, we know that these pictures are altered or airbrushed, often we can forget that these models and influencers don’t even look like their own pictures.
Being bombarded with images of “perfection” constantly can truly damage someone’s self-esteem. Studies have found consistently that use of social media, especially when considered “heavy use,” may be detrimental to people’s mental health and well-being. Especially among young people whose sense of self and identity are still forming (Andreassen et al. 2016; Kross et al. 2013; Woods and Scott 2016). Individuals who spend a lot of time on social media may experience symptoms, including increased severity of existing anxiety as well as depressive symptoms. Rideout and Fox found further negative effects of social media use on the mental health of young people in 2018. These included comparing themselves socially with others as discussed above and as a result feeling more socially isolated, particularly after being rejected by others online.
Social media VS Reality
So where to from here?
We know it can cause isolation, anxiety, depression and constant comparison. But are we really going to go back to never using social media again?
The good news is that there has been a recent movement to show that bodies that may look a certain way in one photo, also look completely different in another and that this is okay. We have people brave enough to “expose” their appearance when it may not be considered flattering and still claim it as THEIR body. (See pictures below)
Of course not every influencer or model is going to be so honest, as their body is their “brand,” but these posts serve as a good reminder that the same body can look different on different days, from different angles and in different lighting so comparing yourself constantly to only the flattering pictures is a standard not even the model you are admiring can attain constantly.
Advice moving forward:
- Try limiting your social media use if you notice any of the symptoms mentioned before.
- Follow creators whose accounts make you feel inspired or content and not those who you feel guilt/shame or embarrassment about your own life after consuming their content.
- Remember that most of these models/ influencers or even your friends with the FaceTune app, do not look like their own images.
- Remember your own goals when seeing others “living it up” on social media, perhaps you are home studying for an exam, preparing to run a 10km or just need a mental health night on your own to reset. One image does not truly reflect how they experienced their entire night.
- Perhaps you are very ready to have a partner and family but are currently single and keep seeing others “living the life you want.” Remember that there may be aspects of your life that they may covet such as a career that fulfils them or the ability to travel whenever they chose to.
Essentially, we have to remind ourselves that people’s social media is simply the highlight reel of their life. We may in fact have people who envy us when they see our posts but we are aware of our own struggles and difficulties and so the illusion of social media is just that, an illusion and we need to be vigilant of that double edged sword of social media.
- Andreassen, C. S., Billieux, J., Griffiths, M. D., Kuss, D. J., Demetrovics, Z., Mazzoni, E., & Pallesen, S. (2016). The relationship between addictive use of social media and video games and symptoms of psychiatric disorders: a large-scale cross-sectional study. Psychology of Addictive Behaviours, 30(2), 252.
- Rideout, V., & Fox, S. (2018). Digital health practices, social media use, and mental well-being among teens and young adults in the U.S.Retrieved from San Francisco, CA: https://www.hopelab.org/reports/pdf/a-national-survey-by-hopelab-and-well-being-trust-2018.pdf. Accessed 28 Jan 2022.
Author: Lauren Otto, BA Psych (Hons). M ClinPsych
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