By: Athena Wu
Our world is constantly expanding into the digital realm, opening up an endless space for interaction between millions of people. One big question emerges: What kind of culture is social media fostering, and is it one that we want to live with?
Being able to scroll through the lives of so many other individuals seems, at first glance, enlightening. The amount of exposure we have to the rest of the world while remaining in our beds is infinite. And yet, it is also tremendously one-sided.
Any social media user knows that social media is to show off the filtered parts of our lives. After all, this is our chance to carefully craft an image of ourselves, one for the public to see. We eliminate our “flaws” before anyone can even have the chance to point them out. The idea of a public image itself is not essentially a bad thing, but it’s when we take these online personas and make them the standard that we set ourselves up for disappointment. When we then take a look at our own situations—our messy relationships, our mistakes and failures, our unfiltered appearances—we compare them to the seemingly picture-perfect lives of everyone else.
Known as social comparison, this tendency to base our own self-image off of others begins as a harmless habit, perhaps an even beneficial one. It serves as inspiration and motivation. We find social media users to look up to, and we learn from them. However, if we’re not mindful about how our social comparison is affecting us, it can become addictive and mentally burdening.
There is a fine line between wanting to improve ourselves and turning into our very own extremely critical judge. We cross that line when motivational mantras transform into negative self-talk. Social comparison is taken to a whole new level when it begins to affect how we view ourselves as humans and how we judge our own worth. Negative self-talk, in fact, does the opposite of encouraging us—it limits us. It degrades us. It tells us we will never live up to that standard, the one that is, truth be told, exceptionally rare in the real world. From here, it is far too easy to fall down a never-ending path of low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.
How does social media play a role in this? Social media platforms, specifically Instagram and TikTok, thrive as more and more people get sucked into this rabbit hole and spend more and more time engrossed in this fantasy land of picture-perfect lifestyles. They promote certain standards through their algorithms. The implications can be as serious as depression, eating disorders, and negative self-image, in general.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we completely immersed ourselves in this digital, social-media side of the world. Every day, we were fed each person’s best photo, their smiles, and successes, and over the year and a half spent in quarantine, it’s easy to forget that people don’t have those filters in real life. The first day I walked back on campus, it was amazing how I suddenly realized that most people don’t have perfectly smooth and toned skin, a photoshopped waist, or full faces of makeup all the time. Social media has thousands of benefits, but only when used carefully. The danger only comes in when we begin to make social media our reality.