It’s no secret now that the more time we spend on social media, the more we feel dissatisfied with ourselves.
It’s easy to play the game of compare and despair when you spending countless hours online. We tend to compare ourselves to influencers and celebrities – so it’s easy to understand how that can affect our self-esteem.
But, how often have you found yourself comparing your life to your friends? Engaging with social media shared by our friends can be more than twice as damaging than looking at content shared by celebrities, new research has found.
Academics from Karl Landsteiner University of Health Sciences in Austria and Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in the UK conducted a studying looking at how people compare themselves to others online. The researchers were particularly keen to look at how social media affects body image.
The study found that any social media engagement was significantly associated with lower ‘appearance satisfaction’. Additionally, it found that engaging with content posted by people the participants knew was more than twice as damaging as looking at content posted by strangers, including celebrities.
Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, and the senior author of the study, said: “Our study found that engaging with social media reduces appearance satisfaction regardless of who is posting the content and, most interestingly, looking at content posted by friends and family had a significantly stronger negative impact on appearance satisfaction compared to content posted by the likes of celebrities and influencers.”
Prof Swami believes this is partly because we know it’s hard to attain the lives of celebrities or influencers, but when we’re comparing ourselves to our friends, it feels like we should – or could – live the way they do.
“One possible explanation is that people may perceive a post depicting appearance as being much more attainable if it comes from someone they know, adding a layer of expectation or pressure on the person engaging in the post,” he said.
“At the same time, people may be more critically engaged with posts by the likes of models and celebrities, and therefore perceive the images they share to be more unrealistic.”
This isn’t just extended to body image though. We all have one area in our lives that triggers us. For those who want to be parents, going on to Facebook and finding out one of your friends from university has managed to conceive, can be disheartening, especially if you’re having fertility issues.
If you’re single and not having much in the dating world, seeing your friends getting engaged or married can make you question yourself. Why aren’t I able to find that one special person and settle down? Is there something wrong with me?
Maybe you’ve been searching for a new job for months and you find yourself on Instagram, envying your school friend who just landed their dream role. In a cost of living crisis, it’s hard to survive, let alone save so when you see your social media mutuals buying houses, and you ask yourself ‘how?’
All this is to say the obvious: we only see snapshots of people’s lives – and if it’s getting you down, you’re probably comparing your insides to other people’s outsides. Everyone has their struggles and life is indeed not perfect for anyone.
So, stop doom-scrolling, get offline, practice some gratitude and try to live your own life (even if that means posting the odd enviable picture of your own). We’re only human after all.
Help and support:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
- CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.