Is Social Media Destroying your Self-Esteem?

As a social species, we constantly find ourselves comparing our lives and assets to those around us. As technology has evolved, it has become increasingly difficult to avoid engaging in this behaviour as we are constantly plugged in to what others are doing around us. Online social platforms provide a breeding ground for self-doubt and insecurity. You see those around you with nicer houses, going on more luxurious vacations, in expensive bathing suits that flatter exquisite bodies. We often forget that social media is simply a projection of what each individual wants everyone to see, and does not accurately represent their lives as a whole. While on a small scale this kind of behaviour may be motivational, it generally leaves us feeling inferior.

When it comes to our bodies, one of our most personal possessions, this inferiority can lead to self-esteem or body image issues, and in the extreme an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder. It is important to be able to determine when our insecurities begin to evolve into a disorder so we can take the necessary steps to improve our self-esteem and avoid harm. Self-esteem conversations begin in elementary school, but most interventions in school focus on preventing eating disorders and decreasing negative body image as opposed to promoting positive body image.

Below are the main features that constitute positive body image as determined by Tylka and Wood-Barcalow (2015):

Body Appreciation

✓ Involves appreciating the features, functionality, and health of the body

✗ Does NOT involve solely appreciating one’s appearance or the extent that one’s body aligns with cultural appearance ideals

One study conducted in Native Canadians determined that honouring Aboriginal heritage actually lead to an increase in positive body image by allowing them to be proud of their heritage. Body Appreciation forces you to praise your body for what it is capable of and valuing its unique features.

Body Acceptance and Love

✓ Involves expressing love and comfort with the body, even if not completely satisfied with all aspects.

✗ Does NOT involve excessive narcissism and vanity.

Body Acceptance and Love involves focusing on assets as opposed to flaws.

Broadly Conceptualizing Beauty

✓ Involves having the perception that a wide range of appearances are beautiful, whether they are unchangeable (height) or modifiable (personal style). It also involves delving into internal characteristics and traits that contribute to beauty (generosity, kindness).

✗ Does NOT involve exclusively doing this with others and not oneself. It is not the same as sexual attractiveness. 

Broadly Conceptualizing Beauty causes you to appreciate the beauty in others who “try to be themselves” and demands that you have a more flexible definition of beauty.

Adaptive Appearance Investment

✓ Involves regularly engaging in appearance-related self-care (grooming related to style and personality).

✗ Does NOT involve potentially destructive appearance-altering methods to fit external standards of beauty, basing self-worth on appearance, or being preoccupied with appearance “fixing” behaviour

Adaptive Appearance Investment allows you to engage in certain harmless behaviours that alter your appearance by enhancing natural features through benign methods.

Inner Positivity

✓ Involves the connection between positive body image, positive feelings (body confidence, optimism, happiness), and adaptive behaviours (self-care, helping others), which manifests as smiling, asserting oneself, holding your head up, and emanating “outer radiance”.

✗ Does NOT involve vain or narcissistic attitudes or actions.

Inner Positivity integrates your esteem into your actions and assists you in maintaining a confident and competent presence.

Filtering Information in a Body-Protective Manner

✓ Involves filtering through only information that is consistent with maintaining a positive body image and rejecting any message that could be harmful to that image.

✗ Does NOT constitute a foolproof method. You are still susceptible to these threats to positive body image when vulnerable (fatigue, stress, or when threat comes from someone meaningful).

The protective filter facilitates awareness of the unrealistic and fabricated nature of media images.

Maintaining Self-Esteem & Body Positivity in a Social Media World

1) Use social media to your benefit to uplift you and surround yourself with people who inspire you. Remember that it’s not a competition.

2) Set internally derived goals that are independent from external validation.

3) Remember that many individuals on social media with a high follower count do this for a living. It is their job to be funny, beautiful, and air brushed. Their travel, clothes, makeup, nails, cars and other aesthetic elements are often sponsored.

4) Representation matters! You will be at your most confident when you fill your social media with body positive individuals that look like you—be it body size, age, ethnicity, or religion.

If you need help getting started, try following some of these wonderful people on Instagram:


 Author: Alexandra Medland, BSc Neuroscience (Neuropsychology specialty)

Tylka, T. L., & Wood-Barcalow, N. L. (2015). What is and what is not positive body image? Conceptual foundations and construct definition. Body image14, 118-129.


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