Is Your Social Media Feed Affecting Your Self-Esteem?

Social media is a digital outlet that allows you to share about your life, connect with others, intake information, be entertained, and express yourself.

But as fun as social media can be, there is increasing research shedding light on how it can affect your self-esteem.

Have you ever felt like you were not pretty enough or your body was not good enough while scrolling through your social media feed? You’re not alone.

The 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report survey data found that 6 in 10 women believe social media pressures people to look a certain way. (1)

Similarly, research from Simon Fraser University concluded that Canadian women aged 12-29 who spent a minimum of 20 hours online per week were significantly more likely to experience body dissatisfaction. (2) 

The Best of This Life is partnering with Dove and Refinery29 to discuss the link between self-esteem and social media intake.

Dove has been leading the way on the conversation of self-esteem with projects like #ShowUs, which partnered with women and non-binary individuals everywhere to create a collection of 10,000+ images that offer a more inclusive vision of beauty for all media and advertisers to use. As well as The Dove Self-Esteem Project, founded in 2004, to help the next generation of women grow up feeling happy and confident about the way they look.

Do you feel pressured by social media to look a certain way?

Your social media feed could be influencing how you feel about yourself. 

Whether you choose to spend your time on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tik Tok, or any other of the countless social media apps, the accounts you follow could affect your self-esteem. They play a significant role in your intake of online content throughout the day. 

While you are doing simple actions like watching videos and scrolling through images, your brain is taking notes. 

What happens when your brain is registering countless images on social media that have been photoshopped? Does your brain have the ability to decipher what is real and what isn’t? Yes, and no. Even though you may be aware that images are modified with beautifying apps and airbrushing, the data your brain is collecting isn’t always making the distinction. 

A 2017 study published by Cognitive Research found that individuals could only recognize digitally manipulated images around 65 percent of the time. Furthermore, even when subjects correctly indicated that a photo had been manipulated, they could not necessarily locate the manipulation. (3)

What are the signs your social media feed is affecting your self-esteem?

The comparison game is insidious and takes a toll on how women lead their lives both online and away from the screen. Several clues indicate you might have an unhealthy relationship with your social media feed, and it might be time to change things. 

Let’s take a look at some of the potential reactions you should watch for in your behaviour as you are scrolling through your feed.

Tell-Tale Reactions It’s Time To Edit Your Social Media Feed

  • Zooming in: you are zooming in on pictures to get a closer look at women’s features and their bodies. Ask yourself, why am I looking closer? Am I comparing myself?
  • Audible sighing: you are scrolling through and taking deep sighs. Ask yourself, why am I sighing? Am I annoyed by this content? What purpose does it serve me to look at this?
  • Comparison: you’re looking at the image and feel the need to compare yourself. Pay attention to your thoughts. Ask yourself, what am I comparing? Why am I comparing?
  • Eye rolling: you pause on a picture or a post in your feed and your reaction is to roll your eyes. Ask yourself, why am I reacting this way? Do I need to follow someone who makes me feel like this?
  • Mocking: you find yourself making fun of people. Ask yourself, why am I tearing someone else down? Am I deflecting from my own insecurities? Am I identifying the image is unrealistic and it’s bothering me?
  • Depression: you experience feelings of defeat, exhaustion, self-loathing, and overall depression after spending time on your social media feed. You feel disconnected from the people and what they are posting. Ask yourself, what content is making me feel this way? Is it time and in my best interest to set new boundaries?
  • Altering your own images: you feel the need to keep up with the unrealistic beauty standards you are seeing on your feed and alter pictures of yourself. Ask yourself, why do I feel the need to change my appearance?

Does any of this ring true for you? 

The content you engage with on social media could be one of the culprits that’s wreaking havoc on your self-esteem and causing appearance-related anxiety. 

Jess Weiner, a Cultural Expert at the University of Southern California and Dove Partner, notes: 

A significant global amplifier in the spread of this anxiety are the media images they consume and create every day. Compounded with the pressure to curate and promote an idealistic online persona in which all body flaws are filtered out, and fears and insecurities are carefully hidden […] (4)

Let’s explore some of the ways you can empower yourself to have a healthier relationship with your social media feed.

10 Actionable Steps To Stop Letting Your Social Media Feed Affect Your Self-Esteem

  1. Follow new accounts that make you happy: while this may seem self-evident, many of the accounts you might initially follow for one reason end up affecting your self-esteem for another. Do an active search for accounts that inspire and uplift you. Join an online community. Explore content beyond sociocultural images that perpetuate unrealistic beauty standards. 
  2. Edit the accounts you currently follow: if you feel deflated after scrolling through your social media feed, it might be time to take a closer look at who you’re following. You are worthy of setting personal boundaries and that includes who you let into your virtual space.
  3. Take regular social media breaks: be mindful of how much time you are spending on social media. To help you have a healthy balance, turn off notifications on your phone, track your usage time, and take scheduled days off from social media.
  4. Make time for your self-care: survey data found in The 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report, that 7 in 10 women say taking time to care for themselves helps them feel more confident. (5) Spend time away from your screen – taking care of your mind, body, and soul. 
  5. Appreciate your body’s functionality: staying glued to your phone for hours a day can take a toll on your physical health. Take a break and focus on what your body can do! Find an activity that you feel good doing and also makes you feel proud of your body.
  6. Build your self-esteem offline: when you invest in yourself and your needs, it carries over into your body image. Make time for your passions, hobbies, and activities that make you come alive.
  7. Practice your digital wellness: determine what a healthy balance of online and offline time looks like for you. Write out a plan to maintain your digital wellness, set boundaries, and monitor how you feel. 
  8. Learn about media literacy: it’s almost impossible to avoid unrealistic beauty standards and photoshopped bodies on social media. Educate yourself on how media messages and content can shape your perceptions of reality. Watch Dove’s Evolution video – it shows how what you see in a photograph is often a heavily-photoshopped version of reality.
  9. Connect with friends and family IRL: in our increasingly digital world, going offline and connecting in real life with your loved ones can contribute to a healthier outlook on yourself and the world around you.
  10. Remind yourself you are more than the way you look: with pressure from social media to look a certain way, it’s important to remind yourself you are more than your appearance. Use positive affirmations, write down in your journal what you like about your personality, and reflect on your life experiences. These exercises help to counteract the influence of social media beauty standards.

Because social media is here to stay, it is vital that you feel empowered to make healthy choices when it comes to your digital wellness. Your self-esteem and body image are essential components of your overall happiness. If you’ve identified that your social media feed is affecting your self-esteem and causing body image concerns, you can take back the reins. 

Don’t fall into the trap of spending too much time on social media. 

When you are online, find content that inspires you, piques your curiosity, and provides a healthy stimulus. While social media can be a driver of body image concerns, it can also be a space where women can be inspired, have meaningful conversations, showcase their talents, and connect with communities for social change.(6)

You have the power to protect your self-esteem and body confidence, as well as shift your experience in your virtual space!

If you are experiencing low self-esteem and mental health concerns, the Canadian Mental Health Association has branches across Canada that offer support.

1 – The 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report, summary.
2 –  Carter A, Forrest JI, Kaida A
Association Between Internet Use and Body Dissatisfaction Among Young Females: Cross-Sectional Analysis of the Canadian Community Health Survey
J Med Internet Res 2017;19(2):e39 URL: https://www.jmir.org/2017/2/e39
DOI: 10.2196/jmir.5636
PMID: 28183688
PMCID: 5324010
3 –  Nightingale, S.J., Wade, K.A. & Watson, D.G. Can people identify original and manipulated photos of real-world scenes?. Cogn. Research 2, 30 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41235-017-0067-2
4 –  The 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report, p. 4
5 –  The 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report, p.19
6 –  The 2017 Dove Global Girls Beauty and Confidence Report, p. 3

Emily Smith
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  1. Social media is actually helping me feel more comfortable in my skin. I did a video without makeup, which is something I’d never do before.

  2. I sometimes find I compare myself to other moms who look more put together, like with hair and make-up and cute clothes, while I’m over here huddled at my desk with a sweatshirt on because I get cold, or another ponytail because having my hair down while I work bothers me. Most days it doesn’t really bother me, but some days it does. Thanks for sharing these great tips for how to be aware of and actively combat this growing issue!

  3. I am definitely one to keep it real on social media and be my authentic self. It’s the path to true happiness. I love all of the work that Dove has done to promote real beauty the last few years

  4. This is great! I think social media does have an affect on self-esteem….The “perfect marriage” or wanting to have another persons life style. It is important to take a break from social media to me.

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