I think that society makes it especially hard to form a self-image without comparing and contrasting ourselves to others. Even if you look at social media, there’s a strong culture of competition that makes many viewers feel the need to measure up. Content that showcases perfection, glamour, and success has become a popular preference, and this preference informs what we see. But, it also informs the way we see ourselves in comparison.
Humans are perceptive beings. We use sensory stimulation to live life, to understand the world around us, and to understand ourselves. We learn a lot about who we are just by the things we see and by the way others see us. Of course, the same process happens when we look at social media. If I understand that I don’t look like the people who get a lot of likes, this could give me the strong impression that I don’t look good or even the impression that I don’t belong as much. Most people want to find a well-liked image that looks like them.
So, there is no shame in feeling bad when content makes us feel unseen or unattractive. Like I said, we are perceptive beings. However, we shouldn’t perpetuate the cycle of putting others down ourselves. We shouldn’t feel required to put down the bodies, skin color, or the faces of others to build our own self-image. If we have no power over the body we’re born in, it is wrong to make someone feel as if they deserve a bad self-image. Self-image and likewise Identity should be up to the individual.
We need an identity to survive. And when a society is obsessed with ideas about superiority and inferiority based on appearance, a narcissistic culture is falsely presented as a natural part of survival. One of the most common things associated with narcissism is the need “to reduce others in order to elevate the self” (Perspectives for Psychological science, 2019). For example, in order to mentally combat the negativity that we’ve had to go through in life based on our appearance, we might say in our heads, “at least I don’t look as bad as her…” However, thoughts like this do mean we are narcissists. It means that our identities and self-image are very vulnerable, and we must address those thoughts. Having the need to feel good about ourselves or having the need to feel apart does not make us weak. It makes us human. We need to be able to categorize ourselves into social groups and feel apart so we can form an identity and a livable self-image. Basically, to thrive, it’s important that we don’t feel like a “before picture.”
So, when we’re posting on social media, we have to be careful of the message we’re sending. There’s nothing wrong with glamour, and there's nothing wrong with taking pride in your achievements. Although accounting for the personal insecurities of others is not always healthy, neither is content that exemplifies harsh and idealistic social standards about appearance. There has to be a balance. It’s important to assess if the content that we share or admire is potentially exclusive of others and even of ourselves. Wanting to share a good thing is natural and comparing ourselves to others is even natural. We just have to remember that everyone, including ourselves, is different, and that is completely fine.
This is our life, and it is up to us to embrace all of our physical similarities, quirks, and differences. At the end of the day, we should not be predisposed to a toxic cycle of comparison and contrast. In fact, I think everyone should have a fighting chance to form a healthy self-image. So, a small but consequential step towards this is the mindfulness of ourselves and others when we engage with social media.
Coverphoto cred: Getty