Social Media and Self-esteem

Image: magicatwork, Flickr
Image: magicatwork, Flickr

My Facebook news feed is a succession of splendid successes. Over the last couple of days, one of my friends has gleefully announced her engagement; another received over 200 “likes” after uploading a photo in which he jubilantly held his completed PhD thesis aloft; and several people have been delighted to declare that they have won places on prestigious graduate schemes or been promoted at work. This morning, someone posted the following triumphant status update: “I have mastered soufflés!”

I’m pleased that my friends are doing really well. They’re kind and talented people. They deserve loving relationships and wonderful careers. However, upon reading about their outstanding achievements, it’s difficult not to feel pangs of envy and a crushing sense of inferiority. “Why am I still a novice at making soufflés?”, I lament.

My feelings of failure have been exacerbated by the fact that I tend to check Facebook during moments of boredom and inactivity. I read about other people’s exciting lives at times when my existence is particularly lacklustre. Yesterday, I looked at a friend’s glamorous holiday photos in Paris, the city of fine dining and giddy romance, while I was cutting my fingernails in dreary Preston, the city with the first Kentucky Fried Chicken in the UK and the second largest civilian cemetery in Europe.

While I’m scrolling down my news feed, I often think that everyone else has found the secret to happiness whereas I’m just muddling through each day and feeling that my youth is passing me by uneventfully. I do accomplish fairly impressive things occasionally, but I never seem to match the remarkable achievements of my friends.

For example, someone I know was invited to a swanky black tie event recently and had a lengthy conversation with Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the world’s most famous celebrities! In contrast, my biggest claim to fame is that I’ve had a brief but pleasant chat with the younger brother of Darius Danesh – the guy who came third in ‘Pop Idol’ in 2002. Hold the front page, editor of ‘The Daily Star’, I’m single and ready to mingle with siblings of long-forgotten reality TV contestants. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about all the juicy gossip that he dilvulge because there was none whatsoever.

Frequent usage of social media sites is demoralising and saps away self-esteem. Comparing ourselves with others constantly is not healthy. It can lead to mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. We must remember that Facebook’s news feed is a highlight reel. It’s like the one-minute trailer that’s released to promote a two-hour James Bond film – it only shows the most spectacular bits of footage (the loudest explosion, the most thrilling few seconds of the car chase, the wittiest one-liner, etc.) Any clunky dialogue, confusing plot point, or underwhelming joke is omitted.

Similarly, social media profiles are not an accurate representation of our lives or our friends’ lives. We carefully craft our profiles to present ourselves in the most attractive light. We cunningly add an array of filters to our photos to conceal our physical flaws. We don’t post status updates about mundane or disappointing events. We don’t talk about the horrible arguments that we’ve had with our boyfriends or girlfriends. We don’t mention that we made 20 unsuccessful applications before we received our first graduate job offer. We don’t discuss the tears that were shed at 4am while finishing an essay or PhD chapter. And most of all, we definitely don’t confess that it’s taken years and years of practice to master the soufflé.

Rather than refreshing social media sites dozens of times each day and feeling inadequate in comparison to our friends, we should aim to spend far less time online in order to focus on self-improvement and confidence-building activities.

We’ll never make progress towards our goals if our eyes are always glued to a screen. If we minimise our usage of social media sites and engage with the real world instead, we’re much more likely to accomplish amazing things that we’d be proud to post about on Facebook. We should view logging off for a while as the small price we have to pay to rake in hundreds of “likes” in the future.

Joe Fleming
History Graduate, St Andrews