Images of perfect abs, everyone looking lean all year round, everyone staying on point with their weekly food preparations and waking up at 5 am in the morning to workout, never drinking any alcohol and never ever getting a bad night’s sleep either. Please, let me ask you… Is that a real life? Social media might be an amazing source of daily inspiration and motivation to ‘go hard or go home’, but is it always the case? Do certain movements and feelings create pressure, anxiety and mental health issues?
So many health and fitness people are presenting their lives in a perfect way and that, more often than not, makes other people feel guilty for not being able to do what health and fitness professionals are apparently doing. I remember, I used to look at this stuff online myself and think ‘I need to look and feel like that!’. But do I really? Well, I DON’T! Those of you who read my wellness story already know that I had a pretty complicated relationship with food and my body image and I tried really hard to achieve what media portrays as an ‘ideal’ body image. I have always been health-conscious, but for all the wrong reasons. Luckily, I stopped seeking for perfection and everyday now I come to understand the true meaning of it. I want to get to a place where I am happy as a person. And that to me is reaching optimal health and feeling amazing everyday. Being at point in your life when you are really healthy, really satisfied, really driven, where you can concentrate on life and be aware and in tune with your surroundings – that is actually just a starting point for being really successful in your own life.
Fast forward, let me tell you that I kiss the ground upon which technology walks. Social media, in particular, is a cost effective, powerful and incredible tool in the marketing world and it’s also a great way to stay close to people in your life, or stay aware of the news of our world. However, it’s not all good and I will tell you why.
SOCIAL MEDIA IS A BREEDING GROUND FOR ENVY
The simple act of scrolling through your feed daily can easily leave you feeling insecure, at least this what used to happen to me, but I don’t think I am alone anymore. There is much research coming out on social media becoming a key influencer of low self-esteem and rising mental health issues. A picture of someone waking up to a 5 am ‘morning workout’ is likely to make you feel guilty if you are still lying in bed at 7 am. What about those beautiful rainbow salad bowls on a Friday night when all you can think of is a mouth watering Indian curry? Which you will probably end up eating thinking about that 6 am spinning class first thing next morning, just to make you feel less guilty. Don’t get me started on ‘you won’t get the butt you want by sitting on it’ and pictures of abs only visible in perfect lighting.
WHAT CAN YOU DO: If certain social media accounts make you feel envious or upset about yourself, your relationships, your life in general, every time you log on – unfollow, unsubscribe and turn off notifications. You can also easily ‘hide’ their posts if, for instance, they are a friend on Facebook. This is exactly what I did. Once I decided to ‘screw perfection and just be me’ I pressed ‘unfollow’ to all of the accounts that were promoting unattainable body image standards, diets, quick fixes and superficial life in general, that would make me feel insecure about my body, food choices, life and relationships. If you don’t want to unfollow the account, but feel envious, try to explore why it is so. When you feel like that, ask yourself why are you feeling envious as this is likely to help you understand what you value and identify the things that you may need to work towards.
As there are many accounts I don’t follow anymore, I actively search for the ones that make me feel good and the content that is shared on such accounts is more real, raw, vulnerable and open. I now tend to follow people who actually inspire me to be healthy both mentally and physically.
YOU NEED TO BE PERFECT TO BE ‘HEALTHY AND HAPPY’
The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report, which has been created using interviews with 10,500 women, shows that pressure from social media to reach unrealistic standards of ‘beauty’ is rising and this is one of the key contributors in driving appearance anxiety as well as low self-esteem. The effect of this is that women (and men) are opting out of important life activities, because of low body-esteem. In other words it simply means that instead of counting their blessings and enjoying life, more and more people are obsessing and worrying about their looks, which usually results in putting ones health at risk (i.e. dieting, over exercising, overeating, binging, etc.).
The pressure to look ‘perfect’ was causing me to go to extremes to match this so called ‘ideal’ standard, which lead me to have a really unhealthy relationship with food and my body image. I know there are many people who could relate. Not meeting the standards is often perceived as ‘failing’, which makes people extremely insecure about themselves, not only online but in real life as well.
Social media lets us believe that in order to be healthy and happy we must be ‘perfect’, we must eat salad after salad, be extremely flexible and ripped. However, you don’t need to be ‘perfect’ to be healthy and you know why? ‘Perfection’ doesn’t exist. Any healthy habit that can be adopted is wonderful!
Aiming everything to be perfect often leads to obsessive thinking, which could result in you feeling anxious around food, starting to avoid any social gatherings as you might not be able to do your workout on the set time or won’t be able to eat the ‘healthiest’ meal that evening.
WHAT CAN YOU DO: Remember that yet social media has the potential to do great things and the solution is probably not to get off social media. Instead, the way forward might be getting more information out there, talking openly about our issues, finding people that feel the same way and connecting. Don’t underestimate the power of your message that you put out into the world. Every one of us can and should help to empower people in many ways, especially changing how our body image is being portrayed in the media by driving meaningful conversations with one another. Talking about mental health should not be a taboo topic anymore.
More and more reports are coming out showing that the more time we spend on social media sites, like Facebook, comparing ourselves to others, the more depressed we get. Comparison is likely to make you feel that you are ‘not good enough’ as we usually end up comparing our page 1 with someone’s page 365. However, what we see on social media usually is the highlight reel of one’s life. People tend to share only the best moments of their life on social media. We never actually see the behind the scenes.
USING SHAME AND FEAR AS MOTIVATION
Countless times have I seen various ‘thinspiration’ or ‘fitspiration’ images literally aiming to shame people’s choices other than working out and eating ‘clean’ foods. Although there is no doubt that in some instances shame and fear might initiate change, however, that will not necessarily be one that’s long term.
YOGA DOESN’T CARE IF YOU WEAR BRANDED YOGA PANTS
Nor if you wear mala beads, meditate or drink yogi teas afterwards. Social media creates these standards that makes you believe you need to follow all of them to be ‘good enough’ and get the ‘approval’ of the group. Any sport, exercise, class you do is happy that you showed up! That should make you happy, too!
GUILT AROUND FOOD
Food rules, fed by social media can easily become a source of anxiety for fear of breaking them. The ongoing dialogue portraying food as ‘bad’ or ‘good’, ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’ could easily lead people feeling ashamed when they choose to enjoy certain foods. Remember, unless you stole it, no food you eat should have moral consequences. Life is about balance and cycles of restriction, bingeing, and intense guilt are unhelpful. Eating should be approached with enjoyment, nourishment, non-judgement and wellness. All foods can have a place in our life, guilt free. Context and quantity are important. So instead of feeling guilty about eating that warm and delicious piece of chocolate cake that your mom made, you should feel happy with every bite you take! If social media is making you feel insecure, it’s harming your health and weight.
All in all, there is no doubt that social media will continue to thrive, therefore we need to learn to be careful not to allow social media to be a direct influencer to our self-esteem and whatever choices we make in life. Learning to take everything you see on social media with a pinch of salt is a good place to start. Social media is not something that ‘happened’ to us, we actually created it ourselves, therefore, all of us need to start some meaningful conversations going especially around the pressures people face daily and advocate the change we want to see happening.
I would appreciate if you could also share your opinions on this topic, as this would bring the discussion forward. Maybe you have been through something like this yourself? Or you know someone who has? Low body confidence and mental health is a global issue and it should not be a taboo topic to talk about. #EveryStoryCounts
Have a beautiful rest of the week!