Have you noticed what’s popping up on your social media newsfeeds lately? I’m not talking about your friends’ kid pictures or Donald Trump memes. What I’m referring to is the stream of advertisements for the best concealer to hide your imperfections, the gym that will help you transform your body in 30 days, the under-eye cream designed to make your wrinkles disappear, and the carb-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, fat-free recipes (unless you’re “keto” and need recipes full of fat).
Add to this the filtered, Photoshopped pictures of the “influencers” – the people whose social media accounts we follow for “inspiration” and who brands target as great advertisers for their products. I remember when I loved fashion blogs because I admired the way the women I followed put their outfits together. I enjoyed their authenticity, their simple, amateur shots and innovative and accessible wardrobe choices.
Now it’s impossible to find a blog without professional, airbrushed photos of bloggers mid-stride, coffee cups held just so, professional hair and makeup and clothing and accessories that are way beyond most budgets.
Since the advent of the beauty and diet industries, companies have played on women’s insecurities to encourage them to buy. Fashion magazines have been setting impossible standards for years. But now, with social media, it’s in our faces all the time. We can’t pick up our phones without being flooded by the messages that we’re not young enough, fit enough, or slim enough. Our outfits aren’t chic enough, our yoga poses are lacking, our food choices are wrong and our children aren’t colour-coordinated to match our decor and we feel badly.
I don’t think it’s overreaching to suggest that social media is having a significant impact on our collective self-esteem. In fact, a study of 3000 women, conducted earlier this year at Simon Fraser University, concluded that higher Internet usage leads to greater body dissatisfaction.
I know that these days, I have a hard time looking in the mirror and seeing anything positive. A lack of self-esteem is nothing new for me (and it’s something I’m working on), but I can tell you that the constant underlying, subconscious comparison to what I see online hasn’t helped.
I’m sure that many of you can relate. We stare at ourselves reductively, diminishing our faces and bodies to a collection of imperfect parts. And then we think about all those workouts, creams, serums, diets, injectibles, fat-freezing and skin tightening treatments and feel like we have to jump on the latest bandwagon to get us closer to those impossible ideals.
I’m writing this piece today because I’m tired. I’m tired of not feeling like I match up. I’m tired of feeling guilty when I eat a piece of bread and of dragging myself to the gym when my body is crying out for a rest. I’m tired of always feeling like there’s something I should be doing or not doing to be a better version of myself.
A little while ago, my therapist introduced me to the work of Dr. Kristin Neff, an expert in self-compassion. Practicing self-compassion means that we treat ourselves with the same care and understanding we would a good friend. We suspend judgement and harsh criticism when we’re confronted with our mistakes or failures and we accept that perfection is unattainable. In self-compassion, we might want to make changes to live a happier or healthier life – but the motivation for change is not self-loathing but the love and care we have for ourselves.
So if you want to exercise, or get your boobs done, or eat less fat or more fat, by all means do it. But do it from a place of self-love, not self-hate.
So here’s what I’m proposing. Let’s practice some self-compassion and work on stopping the cycle. I know that years of deeply ingrained thoughts and attitudes can’t change overnight, but what about starting with baby steps? What if we begin with one single thing, a tiny drop in the bucket that might be the kickoff to a cognitive shift from a place of criticism and judgement to one of acceptance and empathy.
What if you look in the mirror tomorrow and instead of resenting the stretch marks on your belly, you remind yourself that your body grew human beings, and how amazing is that? What if you see your crow’s feet as a reward for years of big, squinty grins? What if you don’t respond to a compliment with a self-deprecating remark, and instead smile and say thank you? What if you go to the gym because you feel exhilarated by exercise, and not because you’re afraid you’ll get fat if you don’t. What if you enjoy a plate of pasta without feeling guilty? What if you fail and don’t beat yourself up, but treat yourself with kindness and understanding?
What if you see yourself as a whole, complete person, worthy of value and love – just because you are human?
And so are those social media influencers, whose pictures reflect one single highly produced, staged moment in time. We don’t see what happens after the shoot, behind closed doors, but I’m willing to bet a lot of them struggle with self-compassion too.
Let’s do this together. Let’s be good to ourselves together. Let’s agree that comparison is the thief of joy and show our kids that it’s important to love yourself for exactly who you are, right at this very moment.