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  • Writer's pictureHadley Tarantino, M.A.

How does social media affect our self-esteem?

Have you ever deleted a status or picture on a social media site because it didn’t get enough likes or comments? Have you ever downloaded an app that allows you to crop and filter photos to make them look better?

These actions are commonplace in today’s society with the growing amount of social media users. The issue is that these distorted images of what people are doing and feeling on social media can lead to upward social comparison. Upward social comparison is when we compare ourselves with people who we perceive to be better than we perceive ourselves to be. The key word here is perceive. Because social media does not accurately depict someone’s life, it is important to be cognizant of how social media sites are affecting our own self-esteem, and engage in healthy ways to manage social media use if it becomes a problem.

Social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, provide an opportunity to view other’s lives in a way we normally can’t in real life, which leads many people to compare their social worlds. The issue with this social comparison is that social media users’ profiles do not always accurately depict the life they are living. Fun pictures of going out on the town, hanging out with lots of friends and engaging in exciting activities paints a distorted representation of what people are actually doing and feeling every day.

How exactly are social media sites related to self-esteem? One study suggests that social media sites and negative self-esteem are not directly correlated, but instead are linked indirectly by communication overload (Chen & Lee, 2013). Communication overload is described as feeling overwhelmed and overloaded by multiple sources of social media in a small period of time. This can lead to heightened levels of stress. The vast amount of posts and activity on different social media sites may enhance the sensation of being overwhelmed and overloaded, therefore contributing to decreased self-esteem. One way to combat communication overload is to ensure breaks are taken in between viewing social media sites. Breaks may include anything that doesn’t involve the Internet or a screen. Getting exercise or communicating with friends face-to-face lessens the chance of feeling overwhelmed by social media.

Body dissatisfaction and poor self-esteem related to body image is another extremely common side effect of social media. People tend to post pictures of themselves where they look their best or are participating in an exhilarating activity. Photos are rarely posted of  banal images. They are filtered, cropped and adjusted to please viewers and attain the most likes or comments. There is a theory that self-esteem is lowered when engaging in upward social comparison while viewing a social media site than downward social comparison (Vogel, Rose, Roberts, & Eckles, 2014). Essentially this means that our self-esteem is lower when we look at something we perceive to be better than us. This is especially true for images or content related to health and fitness.

How do we fight this battle? We can keep in mind this phenomenon when we view images we might perceive to be “better” than us. Accept the blemishes and regularity of our lives. Be okay with the fact that the cute Cookie Monster cupcakes you saw on a Pinterest recipe came out looking more like a sobbing Smurf, or that you spent the day reading while your Instagram feed shows friends at music festivals. Accept and understand that most content on social media sites did not simply consist of a snap of a camera and a click of the “Post” button. How we feel about ourselves should not be contingent on comparing ourselves to social media material that we view superior to our own. Let’s help ourelves and others to raise self-esteem by increasing direct, face-to-face contact and limiting time spent on social media. It may be harder than it sounds, but it is definitely worth a try.

Sources Chen, W., & Lee, K. (2013). Sharing, liking, commenting, and distressed? The pathway between Facebook interaction and psychological distress. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking,16(10), 728-734. doi:10.1089/cyber.2012.0272

Hobza, C. L., Walker, K. E., Yakushko, O., & Peugh, J. L. (2007). What about men? Social comparison and the effects of media images on body and self-esteem. Psychology Of Men & Masculinity, 8(3), 161-172. doi:10.1037/1524-9220.8.3.161

Vogel, E. A., Rose, J. P., Roberts, L. R., & Eckles, K. (2014). Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem. Psychology Of Popular Media Culture,3(4), 206-222. doi:10.1037/ppm0000047

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