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Hey, I’m Andi and I will be the first to tell you… I love social media. Is it because I love keeping tabs on everyone’s life who I can’t physically be with? Yes. Am I nosey and curious about random celebrity happenings? Yep. Do I find inspiration, advice, and a sense of familiarity with the posts I see and people I follow? Definitely.

That being said, I would be lying if I said social media isn’t over-saturated and plagued by filters, unrealistic realities, and tiny squares of perfectly crafted pictures and captions, with all blemishes magically faded away. Because of this, it’s effortlessly easy to compare your life to others, and social media can quickly become toxic, proving to have a negative impact on body image – for girls, young women, and gender non-conforming folks, specifically. Sadly, social media and body image have almost become synonymous with one another. 

On top of this, social media only became more involved after the pandemic. A recent study found that 70 percent of participants reported their social media usage increased during the first wave of lockdown in 2020. As a result, the extra screen time provided a seamless trap for comparison. 

The Effects

Whether you realize it or not, scrolling through others’ curated profiles naturally evolves into a freight train of subconscious thoughts. “Why do I not look like them?” “Why do I eat more than what they eat in a day?” “How is their skin always so smooth and glassy?” “They say they never work out, but how do they have abs?” And the list goes on and on. See what I mean? The comparisons come flooding in and the unrealistic expectations are set.

Not to mention, misinformation is rampant - whether that be Instagram, TikTok, Twitter or the like. There’s an ever-present filter on people’s appearance, but there is no filter on what people say. Anyone can claim or state anything to be true. 

Let’s take “what I eat in a day” videos for example. If you’re unfamiliar, and as the trend’s name indicates, these videos consist of social media users showing their audience everything they eat in a given day, and most of the time, the videos are accompanied by full-length mirror pics, workout updates, and their day to day (somehow always aesthetic) activities. It’s also worth recognizing these videos typically come from white and able-bodies who claim to exude the pinnacle of “health.”

Naturally, this sets a standard of comparison and promotes misleading information. If you see a video of someone who is “thin,” “fit,” and/or “toned,” this promotes the notion that this is the truth and should be everyone’s norm.

social media, body image, and how they influence each other

But I encourage you to remember one thing. These content creators are not professionals and their standards for diet, health, weight loss, and wellness are often not rooted in fact or truth. Do not automatically assume their advice to be honest. If you are concerned about your health or have questions on meal planning, weight loss, nutrition, body image, and/or lifestyle habits, find a doctor, nutritionist, or therapist who you trust and get the facts. Create an open dialogue and let a professional guide you to build a plan based on your individual needs and goals.

So, it’s clear that social media and body image have become hand in hand, but there are certainly some best practices on how to best navigate the wild wild web.

1. Limit your time.

Recent data and research by the American Psychological Association found that those who reduced their social media usage by 50 percent, for just a few weeks, saw significant improvement in how they felt about their body image, weight, and overall appearance. Try setting a set screen time or daily limit on your apps to serve as a set reminder when you’ve ~satisfied~ your daily limit. Instead of viewing this as a restriction, look at it as more free time and a well-deserved opening in your schedule. Go outside, sign-up for a yoga class, re-watch your favorite show, browse a magazine, listen to a podcast, or call a friend. Find other ways to fill your time. Put your phone down and look up! 

2. Be exclusive with who you follow.

Social media should only be an enjoyable and healthy space, so virtually surround yourself with people you respect and appreciate. If someone you follow becomes unrealistic, unrelatable, or negatively impacts how you feel about yourself, it takes two seconds to unfollow. There are no hard feelings and it’s okay to be exclusive with who you choose to support.

Find those who are uplifting, funny, approachable, inspiring, talented, and refreshing and curate your feed with people that make you smile. If you still notice undesirable profiles popping-up on your TikTok FYP, give yourself permission to block someone (I do it all the time). Reclaim your space and empower yourself to craft a lovely and beautiful feed. 

3. Turn off notifications. 

If you feel overwhelmed with social media and the ever-present urge to open the app, turn off your notifications. Cleanse your pallet. Choose when you want to browse, instead of being reminded and prompted to log-on. Your followers can wait, so be intentional with your usage and modify how social media serves you.

Plus, unwelcome notifications can be a productivity nightmare and total time-suck. And let’s be honest… nothing on social media requires your immediate attention. 

4. Don’t place value on your likes and comments. 

It’s so much easier said than done (I know from first-hand experience), but stop obsessing over the engagement on your posts. The likes and comments of others should not define how you view yourself and self-worth. Whether you receive one like or 1,000 likes, the approval from others in the form of double tapping and heart eye emojis should never make you feel less-than. 

Try turning off your like count on Instagram and view comments merely as a pleasant surprise. Can comments be nice and flattering? Absolutely. Should they dictate how you view yourself and worthiness? No. 

5. View other people's posts as inspiration, not comparison.

Remember that social media is a broadcast of success and what you see online is only a fraction of the whole story. A lot goes on behind the scenes and these moments are not indicative of someone’s whole life. No one is “on” all the time, so try to avoid romanticizing the lives or appearances of others. Instead, find posts and pictures as inspiration. Everyone has their own circumstances, struggles, and privileges, so keep everything in perspective and do your best to avoid the evil trap of comparison. 

6. Remember that “healthy” is subjective. 

The word “healthy” carries a lot of responsibility these days, but the true definition is subjective and it looks different for everyone. “Healthy” doesn't look or feel a certain way, despite what is conveyed on social media, so do your best to block out the one-size-fits-all definition. If you are concerned or curious about the best ways to maximize your health, talk with a professional and avoid placing subjective labels as either “healthy” or “unhealthy.” Carrots are not inherently healthy and cake is not inherently unhealthy. Re-evaluate the biases of others and find what makes you *feel* your best.

7. Use your platform for good.

If there’s one thing social media has proven time and time again, it’s that the power of your platform carries weight. People flock to those who are inspiring, motivational, fun, courageous, and wise, so use your social media to be a part of empowering communities. Remember that you set your own standards and people follow precedent. Join a community, embrace a movement, and say yes to using your platform for good. 

Moral of the story…

All of this is to say that you are more than your social media accounts and your life goes beyond the screen. Instagram is not the reality and it’s worth viewing your self-importance beyond the lens of filters, push notifications, and heart emojis. Social media and body image are intrinsically related so make social media a healthy environment for you (emphasis on the *you*), surround yourself with only the best of the best, and appreciate that your body is not defined by pictures, videos, and the appearance of others.