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Social Media and Self-Esteem: How Our Online Behavior Affects Our Self-Image

In today’s modern age, the average person spends around 2 hours a day on social media.

Social Media and Self-Esteem: How Our Online Behavior Affects Our Self-Image

They are constantly in contact with their online persona, trying to manufacture the best image of themselves possible. As a result, our behavior on social media almost inevitably affects our self-esteem. From tracking their retweets on Twitter, to shares on Facebook, social media has fast become a numbers game. Much like gambling, in fact. However, the stakes are higher in this case due to social media’s ease of accessibility and use. Most of us have a social media profile, but how does it affect our self-esteem? If it does, who is more likely to be affected? What is the constant, drawing need some people feel to be on social media? Hui Hui Chua and Chang, 2016 conducted in-depth interviews with teenage girls.

The results implied that the teenagers based their beauty and validation amongst their peers on two factors: Their entire perception of themselves and their friends was not based on individual merits or qualities. Actually, teenagers based their perception of themselves on how they presented on social media. Not only that, but what they believed a ‘successful’ social media profile entailed.

They described how more likes and followers led to increased popularity and confidence. This highlights the extent to which social media impacts self-esteem, particularly in the case of young girls. Social media addiction has a similar effect on the brain as a gambling addiction would. This concerns the reward centre of the brain. For example, the individual will feel a rush of excitement in certain scenarios. For instance, when seeing that their latest selfie received 300 more likes than their previous selfie. Everyone loves to feel accepted and popular.

Therefore, there is a natural motivation to continue engaging in social media in order to experience these emotions again. This creates an almost vicious cycle where users are constantly seeking approval and ways to improve their self-esteem. However, you could argue that there also are positive effects of social media on one’s self-esteem. For example, people who are loners, who aren’t accepted in the ‘real-world’, feel love and approval on social media. Take The Body Positive Movement. This organisation started in 2012 and has achieved worldwide recognition. It is a community where any individual with any body type or someone that challenges the dominating beliefs of ‘female beauty’ is whole-heartedly included and accepted. Members of the movement have sought to create a safe environment online. Here, females aren’t constantly picking at their flaws. Neither are they trying to attain an impossible outward appearance which is sometimes only possible with plastic surgery. One study measured women’s self-esteem after being exposed to pictures of slender models. It produced interesting results. Women who were physically unlike the models in the pictures were reported in having lower self-esteem. Also, they reported feelings of inadequacy after viewing these images. However, those women who were a similar weight category to the models in the pictures rated themselves as more confident and happy in their image. This is possibly due to the relatedness of the pictures (Wilcox Laird, 1999). This is significant. It highlights a certain premise. Women experience lower levels of self-esteem when exposed to images of models on social media who do not look like them. Consider that image-based social media such as Instagram and Snapchat are full of such images and videos. Consequently, this has to be a cause for concern. What happens when social media involvement is taken too far? Social media also affects one’s self-esteem through the comparison of their posts to that of other people’s.

There is the envy of wealth, attractiveness and of relationships. Individuals feel as if they have to compete with these almost impossibly high standards to feel a sense of fulfilment. Appel et al, 2015, correlated that higher levels of envy led to a higher likelihood of being depressed. In fact, the more these individuals used social media as a means of comparison, the lower their self-esteem would be. This suggests high use of social media for extended periods of time can be extremely damaging to mental health and to the user’s self-esteem. A recent study by Pittman and Reiche, 2016, found that image-based social networks (such as Instagram and Snapchat) potentially increased the loneliness felt by the user. This is due to the social network’s ability to increase the perceived intimacy of interactions. People may feel as if they are being proactive in maintaining relationships with their friends and family. However, the façade of being online constantly may lead to further detachment with their real-life relationships. As a result, less time is invested in communicating face-to-face. Studies show that young girls’ self-esteem is more susceptible when it comes to social media use.

They are easy targets. This is because they are more looks-orientated and easily influenced by fashion trends, makeup, and blogging websites. Certain individuals on social networks such as Instagram are earning millions.

They do this by advertising girls’ clothing, makeup and trends. As such, their young followers are financially ready and willing to copy these styles and fashions. As a result, this has created a dangerous culture of girls wanting to aspire to be like these individuals.

These young girls view their millions of followers and access to brands as being the ultimate profession. As a result, they follow impossible ideals from social media, and along the way severely damage their self-esteem. However, in recent years, due to the growing anger surrounding social media and the danger it poses to mental health and self-esteem, social networks have been making changes. In mid-2019, Instagram began trialling the removal of likes from their pictures in certain countries in order to test user feedback.

The results have yet to be published on the efficacy of this procedure. However, it was a clear sign that Instagram believes their likes system could be damaging. Or, in fact, unfavourable to their user personal experience in some manner. Overall, it is clear that the overuse of social media is unhealthy and damaging to any person’s self-esteem. Younger girls are particularly more vulnerable when using image-based social media. This is due to their impressionability and eagerness to emulate the standards advertised on social media. On the whole, social media has been a magnificent medium in which people use to communicate. However, just as it has been revolutionary, it has also been extremely damaging. Issues such as cyber-bullying, Photoshop and false profiles have been impossible to avoid. Moreover, as the user count goes up and networks become more innovative and interactive, it seems this may be just the beginning. R.

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