By Ana Snyder, M.S., Exercise Physiology; CPT, FNS
Instagram is a very powerful networking tool. Most people probably don’t realize how much it influences their lives. One of the greatest powers Instagram has is the ability to impact our body image. Everything from the captions under pictures to the brightly-colored selfies in your feed can affect your self-esteem. This influence must be used carefully—you need to create an environment that uses content, stories, and selfies to encourage selfie esteem.
The term self-esteem is the belief in your own abilities. For example, self-esteem reflects your confidence in your intelligence, skills, and body image. It can be influenced by many things, but a great part of it, unfortunately, is shaped by cultural expectations. Body image especially gets hit hard by this. Oftentimes, people may find themselves comparing their height, skin color, or beauty to what the media advertises as attractive. It is important to not ignore poor body image because it affects a person’s greater sense of self-worth and is very important for mental health and personal success.
Researchers have become more aware of the significance of body image in recent years, generating a great deal of media discussion. A lot of that discussion surrounds social media, specifically selfies. Some journalists claim that selfies encourage people to rely on outside approval from others, resulting in egotistical behaviors. At the same time, they realize that selfies are a very useful tool on Instagram because they provide an instant glimpse into your life and what you’re doing in that very moment. They can also be used to fight social norms, promote healthy body image, and build confidence. The bottom line is that the selfie itself isn’t evil. The impact of social media on your “selfie esteem” depends on how you use it.
Several studies have examined how viewing and taking selfies affect our self-esteem. Although the media always seems to present a negative view of selfies, there are many studies that have found positive effects. Perhaps the intention of the photographer has the greatest influence on a selfie’s effects on “selfie esteem.”
A study conducted at the University of California explored whether taking selfies throughout the day had any effect on emotions. The students in the study took three different selfies throughout the day and were instructed to report their feelings after. When the results came in, the researchers found that each participant actually felt happier and more mindful.
Selfies can also boost our self-esteem by distracting us from anxiety and loneliness. How? Most people begin to feel nostalgic when they look back at old selfies of special moments. Their nostalgia takes away their negative feelings and brings them closer to the people around them.
Obviously, if we aren’t careful, selfies can also cause poor “selfie esteem.” One study found that, if individuals post photos with an intent to boost self-confidence, they may actually be left feeling more insecure. Looking to others for outside affirmation can be dangerous. You should never let someone else tell you who you are. When it comes down to it, most people also have differing opinions on body image that can leave you feeling confused and conflicted.
A huge benefit of Instagram is that you can have control over what images you want to be exposed to. Although you may never completely escape the temptation to compare yourself to people on social media, you can choose to follow accounts that are meant to inspire. There are so many accounts that promote positive self-talk and self-worth. Follow these and ditch the ones that make you feel bad if you want to get the most benefits from Instagram. If used wisely, Instagram can actually be an encouraging tool that teaches people to love themselves more.
Choosing what accounts you put in front of your eyes is key to receiving these benefits. The less you entertain thoughts about your body image, the more positive you will feel and the more you can focus on important tasks. In this way, selfies can be one of the most powerful tools for fighting cultural expectations. They allow people to show their real bodies, they normalize cellulite and stretch marks, and they boost the confidence of millions of social media users.
Instagram also benefits you by giving you a huge social network that spans every country. Through this, you can get a fashion inspiration, track news around the globe, and learn how to make friends in ways you never knew existed. Instagram opens up a whole new world at your fingertips. Social networking can have a huge impact on your life, so whoever and whatever you choose to follow, make sure it builds you up.
If you find yourself constantly obsessing and comparing yourself to certain users, you are also affecting your overall life satisfaction. One study examined 51 female college students that were instructed to follow 15 celebrities on social media. After the six weeks were complete, the students had a statistically significant decline in life satisfaction.
During other investigations, students came forward and said that social media made them feel pressure to be perfect, added stress to their lives, or caused them to portray themselves inauthentically. These anxieties were caused by social networks that focused on an idealized image of life. If left unchecked, they can cause a huge blow to self-esteem, leading to a variety of mental health issues.
The body positivity movement has helped social media create the biggest impact on self-esteem. Before this trend, fitness accounts overwhelmed their audiences with pictures of perfect physiques and unrealistic fitness habits. Now, fitness influencers encourage their followers to focus on how it feels to be healthy. They still share nutritional habits with them, but they’re also realistic about their weaknesses and shortcomings. Studies have found that body-positive Instagram posts result in huge mood and body image improvements. An authentic message encourages audiences and gives them greater fitness motivation.
Positive body image has also created a more accepting environment for every body type. This has been especially helpful for people struggling with eating disorders. As they feel less pressure for perfection and less judgment from those around them, they’ve experienced a significant boost in confidence. Instagram has also made some eating disorder hashtags unsearchable to help people focus on healthier body images. Due to several steps, Instagram has taken, some people have even found support groups for things they struggle with.
In an effort to increase self-esteem, and “selfie esteem,” even more, Instagram began an experimental update that hid likes. So far, there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence on whether or not the number of likes you get on a photo affects your self-esteem. However, some worry that likes may cause people to base their self-esteem on what others think of them. For example, not receiving many likes on a photo may cause depression, while receiving a lot of likes may give a false sense of self-worth. In both scenarios, the person’s self-esteem is based on other people’s opinions, not their confidence in their own abilities. It also might mean that they don’t feel liked by their peers and rely on likes to achieve gratification.
Getting a self-esteem boost from your photo likes may not necessarily be bad, however. Consider influencers who run businesses through their Instagrams. These users rely on audience feedback to ensure they’re sharing products their followers want to buy. The number of likes on a photo is one way to predict follower interest and may make the influencer more confident in their business approach. This may give them a higher sense of self-worth, but it helps them provide more relevant content, as well.
Other users have also reported using likes as a way to measure whether or not people understand what they are posting about. In this way, they are similar to influencers who use likes to more confidently gauge a post’s value.
Instagram likes can also build self-esteem by showing users that people care about what they’re sharing. If they’re posting information that helps others, this can be extremely rewarding. In addition, it may create a positive social network for many, encouraging them to press forward and continue to share.
If you find that you’re basing too much of your self-worth on Instagram likes, take a step back and consider how much they really impact you. Do they define your individuality and affect your future? Do the choices you make every day affect your future more? If you can realize that your personal life decisions are all that really matter, you will be less influenced by the opinions of others. Research has shown that having a purpose makes you more confident in yourself. This purpose can be defined by giving back, a goal-oriented attitude, or confidence.
Social media is still such a new concept that psychologists haven’t been able to identify the best treatments for Instagram-induced mental disorders yet. Because of this, there still isn’t a way to identify or prevent these disorders from happening. However, researchers do have some tips on how we can use Instagram to boost our self-esteem and body image. First off, ask yourself a few questions:
Instagram should be a place where you can enjoy yourself and connect with friends. If you find it isn’t fulfilling you in a positive way, you should consider taking some steps to change it. Specialists recommend the following methods for promoting body positivity:
If you feel yourself becoming discouraged by Instagram, it’s important that you take some of these steps or contact a mental health professional. Low self-esteem isn’t something you should brush off. It can lead to several more serious mental health problems and should be taken seriously.
Why do selfies seem to influence body image so much? Why do people sometimes take and retake a selfie so many times only to post nothing at all? Selfies are a very personal representation of a person, yet even these are staged to show their best assets.
One theory, Looking-Glass Self Theory, states that people use selfies to reflect the body/self-image they want people to see. They use the selfie as a mirror of sorts and can retake that image as many times as they want until they portray the persona they’re looking for. If you take selfies that make you look beautiful or confident, for example, people will probably view you that way, as well.
The Self-Verification Theory, on the other hand, claims people use selfies to gain approval from others. This means that they use it to measure their likeability and fit in.
With these two theories in mind, it’s important to remember that all pictures and videos on Instagram are staged. Many people post their best selfies so that people will perceive them as having a picture-perfect life. Others may post more realistic photos to help their audience see them as relatable. Neither is inherently bad, but it’s dangerous to base your body image solely on the content you see.
Since selfies are not an actual representation of life, they have often been criticized as encouraging egotistical behavior. Can selfies be used for good?
The simple answer is yes. Selfies can be used to boost confidence in others and make them feel good about themselves, but there are certain measures you must take. First off, don’t just post your selfie highlight reel. Of course, you want to be able to share those fun vacations and times with friends, and you should! However, you should also share your worries, your insecurities, or the days you felt unmotivated.
The captions you use with your selfies really come into play here, too. Write deep, thought-provoking posts that connect with your followers. The more personal experience you can share, the more you’ll be able to inspire others to become the best version of themselves. Yes, you could easily tell everyone the importance of loving yourself, but if you can also tie that into your own struggles, you’ll make a bigger impact.
Instagram takes a lot of flack for causing body image insecurities and mental health disorders. However, it’s the Instagram users themselves that should take responsibility. Users create content that directly influences other people’s happiness and life satisfaction. Choose to create uplifting material that brings out the best in those around you!