Written by Kim Hall RDN, a former intern at Alpine Nutrition
How many minutes a day do you spend social scrolling? How many social media accounts connect you to life outside of your own reality?
Social media is an intrinsic part of our culture. If you don't have at least one active social media account there must be something wrong with you according to many circles of modern life.
Even my 70-something grandparents have Facebook and my grandpa even has the ‘gram for goodness sake!
Social media makes staying connected to people who you care about (and that random person who graduated from high school with you) much easier compared to 20 years ago.
For me, that means I am able to stay in touch with my family who lives 2000+ miles away. In addition to phone calls and FaceTime, they get to know my kids through pictures, anecdotes, and videos they wouldn't be able to witness if our communication was less immediate.
Staying connect far and wide is the upside of social media. Unfortunately, there's an increasingly dark side emerging as well.
Many of the images portrayed in social media are manufactured through filters, lighting, staging, etc. to project only the perfect, unsustainable, and for many people unattainable pieces of the lives behind the images.
Not only are you exposed to the original posts but also the commentary, oftentimes from strangers, on every aspect of the author's willingness to post their thoughts, beliefs, and hopes for the world to see.
The combination of imagery and commentary can have a profound impact on how you as a social media consumer get caught up in a spiral of comparison thoughts:
I wish I looked like them
I wish I had that car
I wish my family was that perfect
I wish I could have X, Y, Z
It's incredibly easy to fall into the trap of internalizing those posts and comments by projecting them onto yourself - causing you to quickly become unhappy with your life, your body, your career, your relationships, etc. All the parts of your life that make you perfectly unique and valuable.
It's easy to take for granted what you already have when you're constantly seeing images and reading comments on how other people do life better - even if what you're seeing feels contradictory to your own thoughts and personal beliefs. This can make you overthink and question your values.
When it comes to body image, the effects of media aren't new, but they have definitely become more pervasive and invasive.
If you grew up in the 90s like I did, you remember how our exposure to the picture-perfect-ideal life was limited to the latest weekly TV shows, VHS movie tapes we had at home (or whatever Blockbuster had in stock), magazines, books, etc. All of these things were easy to put down and walk away from compared to today.
We didn't have a computer and internet in my house until I was in high school. There were no DVRs, cellphones, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, unlimited shows, or movies on tap.
In the last 25 years, technology has exploded with examples of perfectly manicured lives literally at our fingertips.
Back then, even though my access to ideal life and body examples were limited compared to today, I wasn't shielded from body image issues. No one was.
As a young teen, I vividly remember having a conversation with my mom about how I felt when I looked at my body. My hips stuck out more than the girls in the Delia's catalog I received in the mail. My mom tried in vain to convince me that everyone has hips and those girls in the catalog are airbrushed/cropped/whatever tech was available.
I still felt awkward and bigger than my peers. I looked so different from everyone else my age. I was tall, strong, and athletic. All I saw was my thighs were huge, I had large breasts for my age and full hips, my belly had rolls when I sat down (news flash: everyone has belly rolls when they sit!!).
Even though I didn't have easy access to the social media of today, I fell into the trap of feeling like I didn't measure up to all the thin, petite girls in my class or the ones I saw in catalogs or on TV. I never saw my differences as my unique beauty when I was a teen. It was just one more tally in the different column, one more thing that my peers could pick on me for.
In reality, when I look back now, I am pretty sure no one noticed that I was bigger or had thick thighs. They were too busy worrying about their own insecurities. Now, I have grown into myself and while I am still not perfect, I understand that those “imperfections” make me human and uniquely beautiful.
If you have a similar body story (who doesn't), in order to disrupt those voices of negativity in your head, it’s important to understand how the media messages you consume affect your self-worth. Everything you watch, read, or hear, about bodies and health affects how you think and talk about your body. Inevitably, there's a ripple effect on the influence you have on the younger women and girls around you and how they view their bodies.
With this in mind, the conversations and images around bodies that you let into your life should be thoughtful, uplifting, and positive. Every body is extraordinary and worthy of respect. Everyone’s life is a series of events that aren't perfect at every turn, so comparing them to the perfect snippets of others’ digital life is unfair to yourself and the people around you.
Today, as I watch my best friend’s daughter crash into her teen years, I want so badly for this world to be kind to her. More importantly, for her to be kind to herself and grow confidently in the direction that's right for her. I know she will struggle as we all did. I can't change the entire world for her, but it makes me want to be an example for her and my daughter by trying to limit my own self-doubt and negativity about my perfectly imperfect body and life.
To learn more about how to detox from life-beauty-health ideals created by social media, join the up-coming SAVOR online group coaching program starting in late April.
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