Most of us have grown up in the age of social media, where everything is there at the touch of your fingertips and we can follow the lives of our peers and celebrities with ease. Social media has a reputation for being detrimental to mental health and self-esteem, especially in teenagers. While this can certainly be true, not everything about social media is so bad. In 2019, people are becoming increasingly aware that social media platforms can also provide a positive space to promote healthy lifestyles and encourage our peers.
Instagram has been a mainstream social media app for several years now. Since I created an Instagram account at the age of 15 it has been my favourite form of social media and it still is six years later at 21. As a teenager my use of the app certainly wasn’t healthy. I was obsessed with following celebrities, models and influencers – comparing my body to theirs and feeling down about myself wondering why I didn’t, or couldn’t, look like that as well. This is no doubt a similar story for many people. The easy access of seeing size 4 celebrities all over your feed with people commenting how beautiful and skinny they are can have a really negative effect on the mind.
Flash-forward to around the age of 19 or 20 and I realised this wasn’t a healthy use of social media, and was never going to make me happy. I purged my Instagram following feed of people who I was only following because I wanted to be “inspired” to lose weight or remind myself that I didn’t look like them. I kept the accounts where I had grown to respect the person, and not just their body.
Now my relationship with social media is a lot healthier. Sure, I still follow a few skinny models and influencers on Instagram, but I follow them because I respect their stories, and I admire them a lot as people. Some have struggled with eating disorders and mental health disorders, some haven’t had good childhood experiences, and all of them are inspirational as people. They use their platforms to encourage healthy eating and fitness, which in turn inspires me to live my life in a healthier way. They promote the idea that it’s who you are as a person that is more important, and not to focus so much on looks. While that is easier said than done, hearing it repeatedly does have a positive effect.
Social media is not just seeing other people’s posts, the other side is what people say of yours. I don’t get a huge number of interactions and while I don’t post on social media platforms for likes/comments/responses, I simply enjoy documenting my life. I can’t help but admit there’s a nice confidence boosting factor that comes when someone comments that you look good in a picture or you get an abnormal number of likes.
I don’t think likes should ever be a focus, but increasingly comment sections in social media have become a positive space (although that does not mean the negative comments have disappeared). This creates a safer space for people to interact with their peers, and social media can have self-esteem boosting effects as a result.