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Real but Unrealistic

The Impact of Social Media on Self Image

Image Courtesy of Unsplash

Each day, social media is shoved directly into our faces through Instagram, TikTok and other sites that allow people to connect with each other. From the palm of their hand, most people find themselves mindlessly scrolling on social media sites daily, with no idea of the significant subconscious influence of the things they are viewing. There is a mental disconnect amongst teens between the real and the fake within social media as the nature of the beast is to make it extremely difficult to decipher what’s real and what’s not. Almost everything on social media is fake, from editing sites that create unrealistic beauty standards to the “highlight reel” demonstrating the lives of others, social media creates the “picture perfect world” that is typically only the mere surface. Most people recognize the unrealistic expectations that social media has created, but without actively thinking about the unrealistic expectations being set, it is easy to let these expectations become the norm.

Even though most people realize that social media is fake and is not the whole picture, subconsciously comparisons still happen. Many of the things seen on social media are edited and don’t exactly portray what that person looks like in real life. But don’t they look like that to a certain extent? Those random girls on TikTok and Instagram are all real people who certainly look similar to their online personas minus a few small edits.  Even some of your closest friends or that one pretty girl you’ve met once at a party might edit their content here and there. The truth is, these people still exist in the world and many teens, particularly girls, find themselves questioning: Why don’t I look like that too? Subconsciously or not, many young people find themselves comparing their bodies, faces, and lives to those of seemingly perfect others. It can be extremely difficult to not compare yourself to others, even if you know it’s a bad idea. Social media is the surface and best aspects of someone’s life. It creates an unrealistic expectation of what you’re “supposed to look like” rather than encouraging people to be healthy and happy individuals. 

Because of all these subconscious comparisons, social media can cause people to feel inadequate or not good enough. There is an illusion of complete perfection on social media when in reality nobody is perfect and beauty is everywhere. Young people are likely to feel inadequate because of these distorted views of reality and unreachable expectations of their own appearance as well as life achievements. Many people find it difficult to feel good about themselves after the bombardment of their For You page. When feeling inadequate or insecure, it is important to recognize that social media is an unrealistic view on the world and health. Even though these people are real, they put out the best version of themselves and there are most likely other factors contributing to their lives and “perfection”  under the surface. Everyone knows that social media is supposed to be “the best version of yourself” but this is dangerous because it creates the pressure that you have to look a certain way in order to feel comfortable posting something. Instead, social media should be a fun way to connect with friends and share highlights of your life to people you love and care about and not a stressful draining site that pressures you into feeling insecure about yourself and your posts. 

With the rise of social media comes the sudden growing popularity of “influencers”. Most influencers become famous for being beautiful, doing something funny, or sharing good advice. Many of the “fitness influencers” are just model built girls that have the “ideal” body type giving you advice on how to look like them. Some fitness influencers are happy and healthy personal trainers who are just trying to spread their knowledge of workouts and healthy eating tips. However, the more influential are often those that look perfect and spread unhealthy habits. Social media influencers will say they’re “motivating” you to make changes but are these changes actually good? Their “what I eat in a day” posts promoting the use of protein powders as a meal and low calorie diets are not healthy changes to impress upon the growing bodies of teenagers. Tons of unqualified influencers give unhealthy fitness advice to young girls telling them that “it can be possible to look a certain way” when everyone has different body types and “healthy” looks different for everyone. 

When using social media, it is important to actively think about the unrealistic expectations set and remember your own value. When watching different things on social media it is also important to decide if the information you are consuming is accurate and helpful. Taking advice on topics related to health from unqualified influencers is not a good idea. Every body is different and something that may work for someone might not be the healthy option for others. Many of the influencers giving advice are not sharing healthy tips towards impressionable young people. Advice from doctors and nutritionists is more beneficial because they are real healthy people who are qualified to keep everyone healthy as well. When using social media prioritizing self care and self acceptance is extremely important. Even though it may sound silly, using positive affirmation notes and reminders may make a difference in self esteem. With the nature of social media, allowing you to passively scroll, it is important to recognize your own self worth and live amongst all the “real” people around you.


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Andy Poll

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