Picture Perfect

Picture Perfect

By Cathi Bond

In today’s technological world we are bombarded with hundreds of images of ‘perfect’ men and women every day in all forms of media. Photo-laden social media sites like Facebook and Instagram can promote negative social comparisons. Typically on social media posts, everyone appears as if they have the best. life. ever!

Keep in mind pictures are often manipulated, retouched, and edited to achieve the appearance of perfection. Photos of romantic couples, adorable babies, happy families, fun events, and exotic, expensive vacations give the impression of popularity and bliss, making you question why everyone else’s life is so much better than yours. It’s easy to get caught up in the trap of comparing our mundane, ordinary, everyday lives to everyone else’s ideal moments, and it can leave us feel dissatisfied with ourselves and our lives.

Researchers credit heavy Facebook use as correlating with poor self-perception, low self-esteem, self-shaming and guilt. Teens and young adults are the demographics one would expect to be most widely affected, but surprisingly young mothers are making an appearance as those experiencing the negative effects of social media comparison. While scrolling through highlights, it’s easy for young adults and moms to deduce that everyone has it all together—everyone except them. Often we base self-worth on social comparisons to others whom we feel are thriving by living a charmed life, while we are struggling, feeling dissatisfied and ‘less than’. This can lead to individuals asking, “What’s wrong with me?” We seek to find self-worth through recognition on social media, but often experience “FOMO” (fear of missing out), based on the glamorous lives others portray on their feeds. Comparison steals joy! People feel envy and jealousy when their lives aren’t as exciting or as cool as the faux-perfection they see on social media. On the other hand, social science demonstrates that relationship closeness is strongly associated with happiness and moderating envy.

Researchers also confirm Facebook users:

  • Number of ‘friends’ represents a pseudo “quantifiable popularity contest”
  • Offline interactions are changed when people are “too preoccupied with constantly documenting and uploading every moment”
  • Can be disappointed when a close friend or family member announce a major life event via an impersonal mass, public post
  • Spend time that could have been spent in face-to-face interpersonal interactions, work, sleep, or studying
  • Nearly 60% of children use social network sites by age 10

Studies also show technology-based social comparison and feedback seeking are associated with depressive symptoms. This relationship is especially strong among females and adolescents with low self-esteem. Individual vulnerability factors such as excessive reassurance-seeking, prior depression, and centrality of appearance can precede increased body dissatisfaction and other negative effects like eating disorders. The American Psychological Association tells us that perfectionism attempts to avoid rejection, criticism, and failure. “Socially prescribed perfectionism – believing that others will value you only if you are perfect – has been associated with depression and other problems, including suicide.”

According to Child Mind Institute, “Several students who have died had projected a perfect image on social media – their feeds packed with inspirational quotes and filtered images showing attractive, happy kids who seemed to excel with minimal effort. But behind the digital curtain they were struggling emotionally…Teens who have created idealized online personas may feel frustrated and depressed at the gap between who they pretend to be online and who they truly are.” There’s a difference in genuinely striving for healthy, personal excellence and the imposing demands of unending perfection and despair.

Dr. Pippa Hugo, child and adolescent psychiatrist from London said, “The vast majority of pupils feel compelled to digitally enhance their images before posting them on social media… [According to schools] as many as 80-90% of girls feel they must improve their photograph before it can be seen on screen. So how can these young people feel normal and accepted in real life if they feel compelled to change themselves in this way?”

People of all ages need to stop comparing themselves and their lives against misleading illusions of staged glamour and start connecting in face-to-face relationships. Reality is a good thing. Look for the joy in your own life!

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