How social media changed the way I felt about my body

08 Nov 2021
By Hazel M., Freelance writer, journalist and total bookworm at Unite Students
Social media is a wonderful thing; it keeps us more connected, helps us share memories and can even let our loved ones know we’re safe during a national disaster.

But there are some terrible caveats to it – ones which can (and do) have detrimental impacts on our mental health. Here, I’m talking about our body image.

If, like me, you were born in the early nineties, you probably remember a time before social media took over and became a normal part of everyday life. For younger people, however, it’s something they’ve grown up with and, for the most part, they know no different.

But how does it impact how we feel about the way we look? When Instagram first came onto the scene, I’d already been using social media via Facebook for quite a few years. I’d never really noticed the impact it had on how I felt about myself visually but, when Instagram arrived, things changed.

For a while, all you’d ever really see on the social image app was people sharing pictures of food. And, I mean, what’s depressing about that? If anything, it just made me a little hungry (and helped me hunt out some amazing eateries).

Today, however, it’s a scrapbook of people’s lives, from their stylish holidays to severely edited versions of their bodies.

Now, I’ve never been overly worried about the way I look – or, at least, I hadn’t been before this. But when filters started to become a real thing, suddenly every picture of myself that I shared had to be absolutely perfect.

In fact, I’d say the classic Instagram filter has a lot to answer for.

This was part of a steady decline in how I viewed my body. I’d never dieted before and, while I’m not overweight, I’m certainly not a size six, either. All of a sudden, if I couldn’t post a nice picture of myself, I’d start to feel down about the way I looked and begin wondering if I needed to change things.

The worst part of all of this was the way that, if I did post an image of myself, I’d monitor the likes and comments rolling in like a beady-eyed hawk. The rate at how quickly people liked it and how many liked it (or didn’t) had a real impact on my emotions. Honestly? It was to the point that, if a picture didn’t generate a good response quickly enough, I’d go back and delete it and, once it was deleted, I’d feel an immense sense of relief.

Part of this reaction was likely down to the fact that I was also comparing myself to other people’s images and, in reality, feeling low after a little scroll through the ‘gram became a pretty normal thing.

Really, it shouldn’t have been.

At the time, I never dwelled too much on how social media was impacting me mentally; I was too consumed with listing everything I needed to change about myself (losing weight, buying new clothes, going to the right places) to think about the root cause.

But the truth was social media was making me feel miserable about myself – and I’m not alone in that, either. In fact, one study found that even just 30 minutes a day spent on social media can affect the way we feel about our bodies.

These days I’m much more aware of social media’s impact on our mental health generally, and I try to spend a lot less time on it (or, at least, follow accounts that are more aspirational and less about body-shaming).

However, I know that I got off pretty easy. Yes, I felt bad about my body sometimes, but I also know the impact could have been far worse. From eating disorders to rises in youth suicide, social media has created some huge problems in our younger generations that we’re probably going to be seeing for years to come.

The good news, though, is that we are now (finally) seeing a new movement towards body positivity, and I’ve been awed by the number of accounts celebrating bodies of all shapes and sizes over the last year or so. All we need to do? Follow them and drown out the body-shaming noise.

For now, if you’re struggling with your mental health or the way you look, take a little social media break. You’ll be honestly amazed at how much better you’ll feel for it - take it from me.

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When not stringing words together, can usually be found on the local beach with her cocker spaniel pup, Huey.