Why we should learn to not compare ourselves so harshly to our peers online.
We are all guilty of losing ourselves down the social media rabbit hole, mindlessly scrolling through image upon image, status upon status, immersed in the lives of others. For most young adults in the UK, coming of age in the era of modern technology means that access into the lives of our peers is quite literally at our fingertips. This has given us the ability to saturate ourselves with a stream of information and images, all offering an apparent insight into the lifestyle of others. Not only does this provide a sneak-peak into the world of the rich and famous, but also provides a deluge of readily available information about those around us, including our friends, colleagues and acquaintances. One search on social media and we can uncover an entire repertoire of moments and memories, created and shared by the majority of people we know.
This can be a powerful and beautiful tool; allowing us to connect with each other and take control over the narrative we display to the world. We can place a filter over our existence, choosing only to share moments which present us in a positive light, displaying only the best version of ourselves. However, it can also have sinister consequences. Being constantly bombarded by images that showcase the “best lives” of those around us, our human nature takes over and we begin to compare our own narrative to the apparent narratives of those around us - something which 82% of 16-25 year olds have admitted to doing whilst on social media. Of course, this is not a new phenomenon: for example, Victorian women compared waist to hip ratios to determine who among them was the most attractive, and ancient civilisations such as the Scottish Celts compared tattoos to establish who was the strongest and most fearsome warrior. That doesn’t mean it’s not toxic.
Even more dangerously, it creates an all-encompassing and entirely unequal field for comparison in which we simply cannot prevail. The age of social media has seen “following” every moment of our peers’ lives develop into a fundamental part of our reality. One tap of a screen and we are ensnared in a web of their achievements, skills, love lives and appearance. This is where social media has the potential to become a poison rather than a place of connection; when it convinces us to compare the ‘social media lives’ of others against the unedited ‘real life’ in which we exist. This unequal comparison often leaves us feeling empty and unsatisfied with our own existence. It allows for an overwhelming feeling that we are not as talented, successful, attractive or popular as those around us. We see this generated happiness that appears to radiate from the lives of others and it leads us to question: why am I not as successful? Why do my pictures never look as beautiful? Why do I not have as many friends to post pictures with? Why am I never as happy as they are?
It’s crucial to recognise that, although there has been significant awareness raised in relation to “Instagram influencer” culture, there is still a consequential deterioration of our mental health that comes with subjection to the unattainable lifestyles painted by these professional creators. We also still neglect to address the feelings of invalidation and dissatisfaction which occur when faced with social media content closer to home. When asked, 71% of young people reported that comparing themselves against their peers on social media left them feeling more invalidated than comparing themselves against famous influencers. For the most part, we are more able to disconnect ourselves from an influencer’s narrative, as we understand that this is simply a filtered version of this creator’s “reality”. We are learning to view this content objectively, and recognise that online narratives do not portray an accurate reflection of an individual’s happiness. So, why is it far more difficult to make this distinction when faced with people we know?
When faced with content produced by those from our offline lives, it becomes harder to view it objectively for what it truly is, an edited reality. We know these individuals personally, we interact with them, we can pass them in the street; all of which allows them to appear more “real” to us, and therefore, more attainable. We see content posted by individuals who have perhaps grown up in the same town as us, or study at the same institution as we have. This connection and perceived “likeness” to ourselves obtained by our peers causes venomous questions to slither their way in our minds. If these people are coming from the same place as I am, then why are they so much more happy/successful/popular/attractive than me?
This sums up the invalidation that consumes many young people every time they’re online. A heart-breaking 82% of those aged 16-25 revealed that comparing themselves to their peers when on social media has made them feel as if their appearance isn’t good enough. This affirms the sad truth that social media and its “smoke and mirrors” games are nurturing a generation of invalidation, trapping us in a cycle of scrolling and self-loathing.
Not only is social media culture having a devastating effect on our own self-worth, but it also negatively impacts the light in which we view each other. Naturally, this breeds jealousy: we begin to feel envious of the “best lives” we endlessly scroll through, wishing we could be like our peers... questioning why we failed. This toxic mindset threatens not only our relationship with ourselves but also our relationships with those around us, as 56% of respondents reported developing envy towards one of their peers, a result of online comparisons. We must overhaul our relationship with social media, before our companions become our competitors. Social media has become a breeding ground for jealousy, leaving us invalidated,and forced to battle insecurity with every swipe. Our flaws feel magnified, and the pressure to prove ourselves online never felt stronger. Of course, we all love our friends, but is it possible that social media is pushing us to envy? All our lives are fundamentally different, none of our successes are the same and all of our beauty is unique. We must take control of this narrative and not allow ourselves to be fooled into believing that we’re failing. Regardless of what social media portrays, we are all human: we all feel both happy and sad, connected and alone, successful and, at times, like a failure. These emotions are inevitable. We all face lows, but they help us fully appreciate the value of the highs. Don’t allow social media to fool you into believing you’re not as worthy as those around you. We must disconnect ourselves, and leave our green-eyed monsters trapped under the bed where they belong. We must remember that public posts do not reveal private struggles. But most importantly, in our lowest moments, we must remember, we are not alone.
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