It’s impossible to imagine a world without social media. In 2020, even if you’re not on social media yourself, your life and the world around you are affected by it.
Only a couple of weeks ago, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle used Instagram to announce their retirement from the royal family; the spread of fake news through Facebook and WhatsApp has influenced election results, and journalists now have to monitor Twitter to check the US President hasn’t started a war somewhere. Social media has changed the way we see the world, but has it also changed the way we see ourselves?
Social medium or mental health risk?
If you’re a millennial, it’s likely that a good portion of your day will be spent scrolling through your Instagram feed, taking snaps and texting your friends. It is a great way to stay in touch with old friends, and to share pictures that you like. But over the last few years, social media has come increasingly under fire for its impact on our state of mind. Studies have found links between social media use and various mental health problems. The most problematic apps are apparently Instagram and Snapchat. Why is that?
Behind the scenes vs. highlight reel
While Instagram started out in 2010 as an app where you would post unedited snapshot of your daily life, your dog’s cute antics, or your dinner, the platform looks vastly different ten years on. Users still share their lives, but now it’s an idealised version of it – every photo is carefully selected and touched-up with one of dozens of specialised photo editing apps.
Being exposed to so many seemingly perfect lives can make your own life seem plain and boring – you are essentially comparing your “behind the scenes” with everyone else’s highlight reel. The constant comparisons we draw between our lives and those of others are bad for our satisfaction and self-esteem. Research has shown that the time spent on social media daily has a significant impact on the satisfaction and general well-being of teenagers.
On the other hand, many people also report that they feel good when looking back at their old posts, as it reminds them of interesting and fun things that they have experienced. In that way, Instagram can act as a sort of digital photo album, which might help cheer you up.
However, many people who post highly-edited content experience the opposite effect. Over the past couple of years, it has become more and more common to edit not only pictures of sunsets, but even one’s own appearance. Apps such as FaceTune have made it possible to “improve” your looks and erase flaws in your appearance, even for those of us that don’t have any photoshop skills to boast of. Face tuning can be anything from erasing “imperfections” such as pimples and blemishes, to literally changing the shape of facial features. A similarly “perfect” look can be achieved with even less effort by using one of Snapchat’s many filters, which – apart from adding dog ears – can produce slimmer faces, plumper lips and wider eyes.
While Snapchat and Instagram insist that their filters are simply about having fun, doctors have observed a worrying trend: more and more people are visiting plastic surgeons, asking to look like their own facetuned or filtered selfies. In fact, a 2018 report suggested that filtered images blur “the line of reality and fantasy” and might trigger body dysmorphic disorder, a mental health condition where people become “fixated on imagined defects in their appearance”.
On the other hand, people sought out the services of plastic surgeons long before the existence of Instagram, Snapchat and the like, so it’s difficult to trace the exact reason for people’s unhappiness with their appearances (or with their lives in general) back to social media.
Has social media changed the way we see ourselves? Or is it simply a fun pastime whose impact should not be overstated? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the section below!